An Easy Essay on Community

An Easy Essay on Community June 14, 2013

Abbey Church at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.

I’m just back from three days at the monastery with a working group on community–pastors, scholars, monastics and new monastics trying to understand what it is we mean when we say we want “community” and how this desire is cultivated and directed toward the common good in our society. One of my great heroes in the American pursuit of beloved community is Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement with Dorothy Day. He was a street teacher who distilled his message into “easy essays.” I’m not sure this is yet 100 proof (as we say in NC moonshine country), but I tried to do a little distilling of what we discussed in our time together.

Toward a Definition of Community

Community is not the crowd where we are together without being known (though a crowd is fine–unless it becomes a mob).
It’s not the club where we commit without encumbrance (though a club is fine–unless it becomes a clique).
Neither is it the clan where we find safety in shared history (though one’s clan is fine, too–unless it becomes a gang… or a military superpower).

Beloved community is, instead, that fellowship in which we know ourselves as we are known in mutual dependence.
It is the membership in which we learn to take responsibility for our future in mutual accountability.
It is the circle of trust in which we know our flourishing depends upon mutual welcome.

Because we live as bodies, this happens in a place. Our communities are beloved (or not) around the tables where we eat, in the neighborhoods where we live and play, on the streets where we conduct our business, and in those spaces where we gather to worship and remember.

Because we know the God revealed to us in Jesus, we know our lives depend upon the giving and receiving that reflects the love between the persons of the Trinity.

Because this Jesus has, in his flesh, destroyed the walls of our hostility, we can embrace a shared future without denying the wounds of history.

To face our self-deception, Christ’s body gives us the practice of truth-telling.
To face our failure, Christ’s body gives us the practice of forgiveness.
To face our forgetfulness, Christ’s body gives us the practice of gratitude.
To face our fear, Christ’s body gives us the practice of hospitality.

Beloved community is not an ideal we achieve but a gift we receive. It is the medium which is the message of God’s love in our world.

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