My grandparents were farmers in west Texas much of their lives. They told stories of “shaking peanuts” during every daylight hour, and recalled the gatherings at the family barn with neighbors on weekends to share music and a meal. It was a hard life, but they managed because everyone leaned on one another.
I’ve heard stories and seen the images of the Rockwellian neighborhoods where families convened on front porches, mothers stayed at home with the children and borrowing a cup of sugar or visiting over coffee at the dining room table was common practice.
All of this, though interesting to me, is history. For better or worse, it really has little or no relevance in my daily reality today.
My wife, Amy, and I both work full-time, though neither looks like the typical office job. We work from home, from the coffee shop, or on the road as we travel in support of one another’s projects. Amy is technically the pastor of our new church that we founded on Pueblo, Colorado five years ago, but it’s a joint effort in every way. We don’t really delineate responsibility based on titles or education. We do whatever needs to be done at the time.
The flexibility of our work is liberating in a way, though one trade-off is a lack of colleagues found in an office environment. We bought an old Victorian house on the north side of town with the big wraparound porch, and we spend many afternoons and evenings there with our kids. However, the only time we see our neighbors is usually as they pull in or out of the driveway.
Some times, modern life feels like being stranded on an island, while surrounded by thousands of other castaways who just can’t seem to connect. So what happened?
For one, we don’t need one another like we used to. For hundreds – if not thousands or millions – of years prior, communities shared in times of both scarcity and abundance. I see glimpses of this in Amy’s mother, who lives on an orchard in rural New Mexico. When they need some milk, it’s too far to go into town; they go next door. And when the blackberry bushes and apple trees present a yield far greater than they can manage, everyone is invited to share in the bounty, or else it goes to waste.
But we don’t grow our own food. When I need apples, I go to the store and buy only what my family can use. If we run out of cereal, I run to the store and get more. The idea of going next door to beg breakfast supplies off of people I barely know seems awkward at best.
Efficient supply networks, transportation infrastructure and digital technology have “freed” us from direct dependence on the land and on one another. At the same time, it has facilitated invisible, yet tangible, social boundaries we hesitate to cross.
Though our material needs may be met, we still have the problem of feeling alone, so we develop virtual social networks for us and play dates for our kids. Because the connection doesn’t occur naturally, we end up programming our together time: even with family. My wife and I have had to carve out Friday nights as date nights so at least one evening a week is not consumed by church meetings and events, travels and the rest of life that inveigles its way into every hour of the day.
We rely more on the superficial paths of intersection like a chat at Starbucks or a fragmented post on Facebook than we do on purposeful time in relationship as family, friends and community. We’ve forgotten how to depend on one another, convincing ourselves that the craving for togetherness is too much of an infringement, and that we’re asking too much of each other to spend time.
The fact that we need each other emotionally, spiritually and psychically just doesn’t seem to be a good enough reason.
Meanwhile, our churches continue to depend on the old attractional models of “program it and they will come,” which depends heavily on two assumptions:
➢ the church knows what I need, and;
➢ I am comfortable enough with organized religion to walk through the doors of a church to get it.
Dangerous assumptions to make these days…
Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, which include Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.