Yesterday, in my write-up of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition, I talked about Trashcan Man finding acceptance and community (albeit among devotees to the evil Randall Flagg). On page 619, which was part of what I read from The Stand last night, I read the following:
“Trashcan Man dug into his eggs, feeling warm and good inside. This warmth and goodness was so foreign to his nature that it almost felt like a disease. As he ate he tried to isolate it, understand it. He looked up, looked at the faces around him, and thought he might understand what it was. Happiness. What a good bunch of people, he thought. At the heels of that: I’m home.”
Trashcan Man is happy because he has finally found a place where he can make a contribution, where he feels welcomed and accepted, something he never felt before in his harsh life. But is he home? Or do these people only accept him on account of the contribution he can make to Flagg’s cause?
I’d like to ramble some about community. To be honest, I really did not hear “community” discussed all that frequently before I went to DePauw University. That may be because my family was only sporadically involved in churches, and the churches that we did attend did not emphasize “community” all that much. They may have talked about the importance of getting along with each other, and they had their share of pot-lucks. But I rarely heard sermons about how we should be more of a community—about how it’s important that we live our Christian lives together. An exception would probably be Ron Dart’s sermons about how we can’t really keep the Feast of Tabernacles alone, since the Feast is about God’s people coming together.
But, at DePauw University, I heard the word “community” tossed around a lot. Most of the students at DePauw were in fraternities or sororities, with the result that people were segregated from each other, as students primarily hung around those in their houses. (At least that was a concern when I went there.) DePauw tried to redress this at times by shoving campus-wide picnics down our throats. Basically, our student ID cards would not work in the cafeterias, and so we had to eat at the campus-wide picnic if we were to eat at all. (I waited until late at night to eat, which was when my card went back to working at the cafeteria.) That was DePauw’s way of bringing the entire campus together. I also attended talks about community and how we can build it.
When I went to Harvard Divinity School, the term “community” was tossed around there, as well. A professor addressed us and said that scholarship is not just about doing research in libraries, but it entails interaction with colleagues. When I attended Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Tim Keller stressed the importance of community—of small groups, service groups, etc. One lady who taught there told her class that the Sermon on the Mount is not about how we should go out and interact with the world, but it’s about how we as a church community should interact with each other. I seriously doubt that her point was that Christians should not practice the principles of the Sermon on the Mount outside of the church community. Rather, I think she was disputing that church is a place where we get instructions about how to live, and then we go out (on our own) and try to put into practice those instructions. For her, church is a community, where we interact with each other.
For some reason, I did not hear the word “community” tossed around that much at Jewish Theological Seminary or at Hebrew Union College. Many people there realize that having some sort of network is helpful, but the term “community” was not shoved down my throat at these institutions, in comparison with other places I have been.
The reason that I tend to recoil from “community” is that, whenever I hear the term, my initial thought is not, “Oh boy, people here are going to work on making sure that everybody is welcomed and accepted, and feels right at home.” Rather, my thought is, “Oh no, I’m going to be pressured to socialize, and that will put me into a situation where I feel rejected or ignored.”
A big reason I like my church is that I do not feel pressured to socialize, but I do feel welcome and cared for. And so my church is a community, even though it does not toss the word around a whole lot. It tries to make people feel welcome and included, but it does not idolize “doing the Christian life together”, or being in a small group.