According to Fabian Pfortmüller, gatherings and communities are two different things, because we join a community but attend a gathering. Community demands commitment, while gathering relates to attendance. Community is experience, but gathering is just an activity or an event. Community is an identity since it involves shared values and an ‘us’ness. I recently noted an unobtrusive but effective device in community dynamics – talk and tale!
Within a span of 6 months, I had the chance of attending a wedding and a funeral in a rural setting. Two occasions that seem the opposite of one another helped me understand the nuances and importance of such events in the life of a community.
There were certain similarities and differences between the two. Both instances saw a gathering of people (family, friends and family of families the church etc), sharing of food and fellowship, exchange of gifts and presents, besides a time of worship and word.
What was different between both was that, one looked to be a joyous and positive event, while the other a sorrowful and piteous one. One saw an addition to the family, while the other saw the loss of a beloved one. One brought a fullness, expanding the family circle, while the other left a void, shrinking the family. One extended the boundaries and bonds of relationship, while the other narrowed down the reach and extent of influence
The astonishing factor common to both functions was the amount of gossip, criticism, bias, judgement and analysis that was being generated and articulated in each. Almost everyone, one or another, pointed out what was lacking or amiss in each event and circumstance. Not many were to say what had been done right!
This exercise of talk and tale is a special feature and unique culture that is part of the social fabric of India, evident more in villages than elsewhere. People in rural areas are given to free speech, often commenting on others affairs, with no qualms whatsoever about articulating their opinions. It is almost as if they have a birthright to do so, a special nature of a citizen of India, more so its womenfolk. This is both a bane and a boon, often to be endured or tolerated, sometimes enjoyed!
Such action is really not a negative indulgence, but an action born of a sense of responsibility towards one another in the community. It is an inborn quality and inherent trait woven into the very fabric of small communities where everyone knows everyone. It is unavoidable and not something one can get rid off from people who move closely with one another. In the city, we hardly care beyond our own and even that is sometimes lacking. So, what is truly a societal process appears to be unwarranted and unnecessary interference!
Small communities, that too rural ones, exist and survive through a pattern of relationships and associations. These are upheld by habits of interchange and primary of these is speech or conversation. Often held while working together in the fields or drawing water from the common source, such talk could border on gossip or tattle. To refrain from talking or discussing about others is a mark of disinterest and detachment, something that will actually exclude and isolate you from the community
It is true that often such talk could border on jealousy or malice or bitterness etc, but most often it is the thread that binds folks together. It even serves as a sort or mode of entertainment and enlivening activity in areas where there is nothing to do beyond work and sleep!
It is moreover an important form of communication in such towns and villages where people don’t live in clustered and cloistered as in the city. News of good and bad travel fast, covering distances and bridging gaps, a necessity where social media as well as internet does not exist or is patchy. It is the equivalent of the thandora or drum beat or the old time proclamation that existed in ancient times as the method of passing messages to all in the countryside. Also, such bonding is a need in village life where mutual dependence is a given and a must.
In the city, where things can get done without a community process, we do tend to live such isolated and individual lives, because we feel we don’t need each other. Each of us is bent on our own progress, most often at the cost of another. Many do not have any qualms or even a conscience that they are swindling another, often considering it their right to live off another. We live in the city, close to one another in space, but far from each other in reality. Even an death or disease doesn’t move us to reach out to others, but causes us only to draw the walls around us tighter. That is indeed the characteristic of urban areas and sometimes it is rightly so, since often survival and growth depend on such quiet consolidation and separate lives
Communities thrive and flourish through communication, different though they are in city and diverse in villages.
I believe that churches and leaders should consider and not reject this aspect, but realise its redemptive potential. We need to tap into this skill and transform it into gospel proclamation instead of decrying it.
That’s what Jesus did with the woman at the well at Samaria. He took the time and used the opportunity to interact with her. She then went and called the whole community together. A whole village turned to Christ because of a simple communication at a well!
The early church did the same, as seen in the travels of the Apostle Paul in Philippi: And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither (Acts 16:13 KJV); and in Athens: He discussed it with the Jews and other like-minded people at their meeting place. And every day he went out on the streets and talked with anyone who happened along. He got to know some of the Epicurean and Stoic intellectuals pretty well through these conversations…These people got together and asked him to make a public presentation over at the Areopagus, where things were a little quieter…Downtown Athens was a great place for gossip. There were always people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest tidbit on most anything (Acts 17:17-21 MSG)
Let’s follow suit and impact communities using ways and means relevant to them, speaking their own language in their own dialect of community talk!
Let’s lead them to gossip about the gospel!