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An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Maybe we lost community because we don't NEED (period).

I know I have mentioned before that living in rural regions tends to more easily foster community and I've cited a number of reasons for why I think this may be the case, which I'd like to note again....one of which I will expound upon because of a recent discussion on the LOG.

One might be that since we have a greater degree of privacy that we feel more free to actually get to know our neighbors. That may seem odd, but I theorize that living in suburbia amongst houses stacked one upon the other tends to violate some natural sense of privacy that we need and thus getting to really know the people who sleep 10 feet from you is almost subconsciously seen as overkill. Now I remind you, I'm just theorizing here.

Another reason, that I really want to consider, is need. Now, I recognize that we folks who live more rurally aren't exactly in danger of starvation, but there are more subtle things that tend to give one a slight sense of dependence on neighbors. You may recall I've talked before about how tragedy has a natural tendency to unite and indeed I am willing to bet that many of you have spent the most time with neighbors during times of odd events. A bad car accident out front, a massive storm cuts off power for days, an earthquake, some police activity, the moving in of a level 3 sex offender, or something of this nature. These things that create a sense of need (however subtle or overt) bring people together, leading us out of our fallen inclination toward self. So, while not fighting for our survival by any means, in my 1.5 years here I've met more neighbors because of power outages, trees across the road, collecting firewood, chasing loose or generally caring for animals, and flooding than I have in the rest of my history of home ownership.

So what am I saying: community REALLY evolves from need. But geography and modern housing tracts are not, I think, the real killer of community. Rather I am going to controversially suggest that the real killer of community has been government social programs. Welfare, Social Security, Unemployment, etc etc you name it...any program by the government that seeks to fulfill our needs. By them you replace face to face neighbors helping neighbors with huge anonymous bureaucracies mailing out checks. Literally we don't NEED neighbors or friends anymore...we just have them.

And in a grand vicious cycle we have come to expect not having need. More than that...we think need unnatural, as if it were a right. And also our definition of need begins to change: food and clean water isn't enough; we must also have cable, high speed internet....blah blah blah - you know the routine. It all adds to our lack of really needing one another. As I said at the LOG: "We need not rely on one another when we have absolute anonymity of charity and help from Uncle Sam. We no longer even need to know our neighbors...heck, why should we? If Katrina comes we expect FEMA will save and help us and if they don't we'll raise holy hell over it as if it is our RIGHT not to get injured or killed by massive hurricanes. And when we actually come to believe that the government can save us from natural disasters, I might offer it as further reasoning for atheism. Not only do we no longer need neighbors, we don't need the divine either.

My friend on the LOG, Stan, mentioned another aspect of lost community: FAMILY. Consider how ridiculously mobile we are today...do you know many people who still live where they were born or raised? This is in part because we are less and less tied to our land, but this also spells out why we are so quick to piss on the environment with a new housing development of McMansions stacked one upon another wherein rich white liberals can lament lost rain forests in South America. Oops...I got side tracked...extended family have also been largely rendered unneeded. Stan says:

We can’t write laws that tell people to be generous, except by extracting taxes (and giving tax deductions for charitable contributions). Out multicultural, nonsectarian government is specifically designed to avoid matters of the heart and soul. I think that we are better off as a society by leaving the area of caring for poor and needy out of the arena of tax supported charity (except for tax deductible donations). Our poor people may not get as good an array of services, but I think that the exercise of people seeing and responding to the vacuum left by governmental inaction will have the best effect on society as a whole.

Along the lines of “Nature abhorring a vacuum…” There is a sort of “Social Vacuum” that is being currently filled by our governmental programs from the taxes that are extracted from us at the point of a gun (if you don’t think there is a gun at your head with the tax bill, just try refusing to pay!!!) There are all sorts of things that people used to do for charity that are now being performed via our tax dollars.

Our social services have been taken over by the government, making people less dependent on each other. There was a time, only a couple of generations ago, when it was the norm, not the exception for several generations to live in one roof. Now, it is abnormal for families to live multigenerationally in the same household. If it weren’t for Social Security, how many senior citizens would be living on their own, as opposed to the “Mother in Law” apartment? Is this really a good thing?

It seems to me that the ties that bind people together into social groups are weaker because of the social work performed by our government. One of the best guidelines that I have seen about charity is that it is best done on a personal basis. When a government functionary hands out dole, there is no community established, and certainly no personal challenge to “do better” to work hard and “earn your way”. In many ways, this is easier on everyone concerned. The recipient doesn’t have to look any of his peers in the eye and confess to being broke – and the friends of the mendicant don’t have to worry about his welfare. But is it the best? Does this model actually have the best shot at redeeming the recipient into a productive member of the community?

My answer to Stan's last question would be a question: "What Community?" Truly, government social programs are a very very cheap and shallow replacement for people actually helping people. Wrap up such bureaucracies in the most flowery language you can imagine and feel good about voting for them...but they are still just a check in the mail - an opportunity to be alone and not have need.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:43 AM [+]


Ok, so the government pulls out, and then what happens? You say a vacuum would be created. Stan thinks that "the community" will be forced to fill the gap. I humbly disagree. Here's why:
You cannot force an individual to be generous; just like you can't force organizations to be generous. Or, hope that an individual will be moved by compassion to give. This assumes that you everyday Joe Blo is inclinced to give when, in fact, most of us are selfish.

Just a thought.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:10 AM  


I'm sure that selfishness plays its part in all our lives, but I'd also point out that confiscatory, unbelievably unjust taxation renders most families incapable of doing anything more than scraping by themselves.

It's pretty clear that generosity can't ever be a matter of force. In fact, no entity understands this better than state and federal government, which is why your money is simply confiscated and redistributed without your consent. (Oh, come on: a couple of measly votes on peripheral issues hardly constitutes consent.) And where is it redistributed? To those in need? Maybe, but how much do you think that comes to, really?

This is why the apostolic church, which is of course composed of both celibates and families, offers the only possibility of true community and true charity. We've been hearing "ultra-conservatives" say for years now that individuals must stop entrusting government with tasks that only personal initiative and sacrificial living can achieve. And how is one to do that? Why, simply join their party and enact their kinds of laws. You see? Conservatives are statists just as much as liberals are: Despite their apparent differences, they both believe in the State as the solution. They both believe that the State is responsible for providing cradle-to-grave security; they just disagree on the meaning of "security."

The Church needs to take care of her own, and as this occurs, the whole Church will be better equipped to take care of others who are currently outside her embrace. Instead, we talk a lot about what America needs to do here, there, and everywhere, while we can't even care for our own families as we ought. This is all just abstract blather. Don't worry: Your money will be taken from you in support of the welfare state whether you like it or not. It's what we do with the remaining 66% that matters, because it's all that we have any real control over.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:41 PM  


You cannot force an individual to be generous

Well you are right...but every paycheck you get has the US government forcing you to APPEAR generous. Which we agree is not the same thing.

I think you underestimate the extent to which people can be generous given the right circumstances. Generosity is a critical component of COMMUNITY and I would argue that what you perceive to be a lack of it is in truth the lack of perceived need combined with the belief that the government fixes such things. All of which play a role in losing more community. We lose community, we lose generosity, we look to the government, we see less need, we begin to think the government handles these issues, we need each other less, we lose more community and on and on we go spiraling further and further away from one another.

But, let me be clear...I'm mostly thinking out loud here, more than advocating any particular political action. I do genuinely believe that government social programs have harmed any real sense of community we once had...perhaps irreparably...EXCEPT as Gary points out, in the Church. Though even there we still have a degree of less need for one another...though in my experience that is indeed an environment (one of the few left) where people actually still gather to help one another from time to time. It is a part of who we are (needing and serving one another)...as a Christian COMMUNITY.

But I'm mainly interested, Jared in whether you think my premise is correct?

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 1:15 PM  


Rdr. James, I think your premise is interesting. Its applicability is probably context-driven. It probably has something to do with our being less of an agrarian society than we used to be. Certainly neighboring farmers were/are mutually dependent far more than urban neighbors are.

I'm sure also that technology has tended to make us more self-sufficient and isolated. Where we used to need our neighbors to gather around the fireplace or campfire with us and regale us with their stories, musical skills, and so on, now we sit in front of the TV or otherwise entertain ourselves.

On the other hand, the rather haphazard use of the word "community" disturbs me, but I can't really put my finger on the reason. I suppose it's the same thing that disturbs me about American life in general: The universal solvent, secularism, has gutted the meaning, leaving only a thin shell of pragmatic, multi-cultural political correctness and a generic sentimentality devoid of principled action.

For Christians, community and fellowship are rooted in the Eucharist (koinonia). It means "fellowship in Christ's suffering and death." It doesn't mean "His kid mows my lawn" or "We have lots of group barbecues" except very, very derivatively. And if it doesn't mean Eucharistic koinonia, I don't much care what other subordinate meanings might materialize down the pike.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, except that I have this nagging fear that we American Christians all too easily succumb to the temptation to replace authentic N.T. koinonia with secular hob-nobbing.

So, for example, you get 5 people at a major feast, such as Annunciation. However, if the parish had sponsored a smorgasbord instead --- well, you get the picture.

I've often wondered what would happen if the Orthodox Church got out of the restaurant business and served "only" Holy Mysteries.

Don't take this to mean that I'm against BBQ's, shooting the bull, and mowing each other's lawns. But when I see people blow off services and come to the meal afterwards, I can't help but wonder what's going on. Not that I have a right to know; it's just an inevitable question to ask.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:59 PM  


James, I do think your premise is correct. Although, I would say that the "lack" of community in suburbia cannot be blamed only on the government. It is each individual's responsibility as well.

For example:
I live in what most would consider suburbia. I have recently found that my neighbors are very helpful. How, you may ask? James, as a single income family, I have lots of needs. I need help working on cars(because I can't afford the mechanic), I need help with home repair(because I can't afford the electrician, the plumber, the carpenter etc), I need help getting rid of a carpenter infestation(because I can't afford the exterminator); you get the idea. Well, I noticed that most of my neighbors practice in professions that can help me those above needs: one neighbor is an exterminator, Rada can work on cars, one neighbor is a painter, one is a home heating specialist, one knows how to do carpentry.

How did I find out about this? I LET THEM KNOW ABOUT MY NEEDS! I had to humble myself and ask for help. I hate doing that because I am so prideful. But, I had to do it, because there was no other solution.

My point: The individual is responsible for creating community where he lives by making known his needs AND making known that he can also help his neighbors when they need help, as well. Even those that live in suburbia have needs, but they need to humble themselves, come out of their front door, and be willing to TALK to his neighbors. Boy I wish the government could help me with all my before mentioned needs, but they won't. Believe me, if I could find some way to get them to give me money to cover those needs, I would have found out about it by now!

Community begins with the individual, I believe. As an Orthodox Christian, I believe this directly spiritually related matter. When you are "in communion" with God, you will naturally be "in communion" with your fellow man, or make every attempt to do so.

What do you think?


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:08 PM  


I guess I didn't realize we were just talking about pooling skills at the neighborhood level. Yeah, we do that out here. But we're still not a community in any substantial sense, simply because we have nothing in common, at least not yet.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:31 PM  


Can anyone diagnose the bizarre habit of modern people to replace an older sense of "community" with modern atrocities, like "the journalistic community," or the "hip-hop community", or hte "medical community"?

What is up with that and why do people seem to glory in using this word?

I can understand a longing for community (even if such a thing never existed in the way we tend to romanticize it), but I just don't get the attempts to just label professions or interest groups "communities."

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:39 PM  


Jared...you make my point precisely. First you note well that it isn't solely about geography...everyone develops NEED from time to time. Rural folk arguably develop more often plus we tend to find we are more removed from public services - sometime not even having them at all (e.g. volunteer firefighters)

But, more importantly you nail my point to a mast and proclaim it...though perhaps not intentionally. You note that you had to humble yourself to ask for help and boy do many of us relate to that. In connection with this you also note that you wish the government would help you, and I think we know and can relate to the reason why: it's easier than humbling yourself and asking for help. Plus, getting help from a real live person has implications...responsibilities...it requires far more of us than filling out an online form and then waiting for a check to arrive in the mail and then returning to our televisions.

You see my point? Government charity is EASY! It doesn't challenge us to step out and engage others..often humbling ourselves...often giving of ourselves. It allows for the avoidance of difficulties naturally related to community while reaping the material benefits of it. No entangling alliances. Simple...Easy...like microwavable instant Mac n Cheese as opposed to homemade, and probably about as healthy.

Yes, individuals need to make their choices...but if given the option we will almost always go with the easy road. And my point is, having tread that road for so long we have no inclination of what we have lost in failing to rely on one another and help one another.

Take it a step further from a car repair and pest extermination: how about losing your job and teetering on the edge of not having grocery money for the following week. Or having a critical component of you livelihood wiped out in a storm of some sort. Then you REALLY see community in action and people relying on each other...

What I'm talking about here is akin to the difference going to visit a neighbor and sitting at your computer playing "Second Life." The latter is government manifested "community" while the former is what you experience when you and and a neighbor shed sweat together in a fulfilling one or the other's need.

I'd say we, as a society, are largely drunk on "second life" charity and have less and less "need" for one another.

Our instant reaction to look toward Olympia or Washington DC for help...preferring it before suffering the humiliation of having to ask a real human being is precisely my point. Making that governmental help more and more available, just makes it easier and easier for us to avoid being uncomfortable having to humble ourselves.

In short, it hinders community.

GP, I am completely with you on the issue of REAL community as centered around the Eucharist. "Genuine" non-eucharistic community (whatever that phrase may be worth) pales in comparison to our unity in Christ, as surely as federal "community" is hardly a shadow of the first.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 8:43 PM  


Defining community is hard, isn't it?

I find it easier to be rather apohphatic about it...I know what it isn't. It isn't an MMORPG clan. It isn't sitting in one's house watching TV and trying to remember your next door neighbor's last name. I could go on...but you get my point. I think most of us have a sense of something missing...

...I think the romanticized version fails to take into account that community is difficult, painful, a struggle...it takes effort as do all relationships. And here I am again: sometimes easier to avoid it, get your check from FEMA and slip away back into isolation. But that nagging sense of something being wrong...

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 8:55 PM  


Something wrong? You bet. It's called "death."

What is death? Much more than the separation of soul and body.

In non-Orthodox soteriology, both sin and salvation are about morality: Sin as moral infraction brings about divine retribution, which requires satisfaction that enables God to issue reprieves to penitent criminals, but without actually changing them.

In Orthodox soteriology, sin and salvation are about mortality: Sin brings about death, which requires life.

What is death? It is alienation/separation of elements that are meant to go together: Man is separated from himself, from his neighbor, from nature, from his soul, and ultimately, from God. This latter is not due to God's judicial wrath, but to man's own free choice. As C. S. Lewis illustrates in The Great Divorce, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.

Now, in my estimation, all discussion of community that ignores this is irrelevant at best and destructive at worst. I help people because they're THERE, not because I think it will fix the world or in order to create some indistinct, secularistic community solidarity. There is no fixing of the World, in the ethical sense. The one and only solution available is for the inhabitants of the World to become members of the Body of Christ, for the sake of the Kingdom and World that are to come. Is this escapism? Well, yes and mo: No: Not any more than Noah, his family, and the animals riding atop the waves of the Flood was escapism. Yes: This present world order is passing away. Don't give your life for it, and don't expect too much from it, either.

Does the Ark of the Church exist to save the ocean, or surviving shipwreck victims? I think that there is a very strong element of what I call Northwest Neo-Hippyism that combines New Age Humanism with childish sentimentalism, environmental paranoia, and nostalgia about some silly faux-communal idealism, which tries to manipulate us into thinking that the agenda of the Church has changed from what it was from the get-go because we're now supposedly so bloody "enlightened." This is all the more laughable because it's so often espoused by kids who weren't even born during the Sixties, let alone living during them. At the risk of poking a much-needed and apparently much-overdue hole in some bubbles, let me tell you: I was there, and IT SUCKED. The only thing that sucks more is ignoramuses who seek to reproduce it in the name of Christianity.

Love your neighbors (which includes your enemies) because that is the shape that authentic Spirit-filled Christianity takes in those who really follow its path. Don't do it in order to make the World (in the sense of 1 Jn. 2:15) magically become something other than what it is. At best, you'll be radically disappointed. At worst, you'll make shipwreck of your faith.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:22 PM  


I just composed a beautiful piece expanding and responding to this whole thread.
Then I joined the Google community and lost everything I wrote!
Ah well, maybe it is for the best, in that I will be much more brief and concise this time around.

The point of my comments are that community is more about mutual meeting of needs and shared space than just about anything else that I can think of.

Jared, you articulated the manner in which you reached out to your community of friends, neighbors, and fellow parishioners to get help that you could not otherwise afford. As far as I am concerned, that is community building.

Gary talked about the community in the shared Eucharist. In the sense of the community articulated in the Book of Acts, I agree. However, merely walking into the same building, breathing the same incense, sharing the same cup, and then walking out and leaving is no different than sharing an elevator, in terms of community. Now, if someone were to rip a fart or the power goes out and the elevator is trapped between floors, all of a sudden that group caught in the elevator establishes a sort of community real quick!

It seems to me that community is a phenomena that is present when two or more people share the same space, however you want to define it. Of course the depth and quality of the community varies with the level of intimacy of shareed space and the level of intent. A group in an elevator is a pretty limited community - unless one posits some things like frequency, camaraderie, etc that could establish other bonds in the group.
One would hope that the community established in a parish would be extremely more significant to the members - but that only happens with the shared intent and commitment of the community members.
I agree that people can't be forced into being generous. One can be cajoled by someone who has a claim on that person by some community tie. Even Jesus spoke a parable about the guy who bangs on his neighbors door to borrow some bread in the middle of the night.

This isnt' about generosity, it is about people getting their needs met. They either do it by building a network of social interaction, or by building a government which extracts the resources at the point of a gun.

The problem with using a gun to the head, is that the real needs of a person are less about bread and shelter, and much more about getting to know friends, neighbors, being responsive to each others needs, - and finding some enjoyment in hanging out with them.

By Blogger Stan, at 9:50 AM  


Umm, Stan...oh, never mind.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:46 AM  


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