“Our lack of community is intensely painful. A TV talk show is not community. A couple hours in a church pew each Sabbath is not community. A multinational corporation is neither a human nor a community, and in the sweatshops, defiled agribusiness fields, genetic mutation labs, ecological dead zones, the in-humanity is showing. Without genuine spiritual community, life becomes a struggle (that is) lonely and grim.”
-David James Duncan; God Laughs & Plays
As a graduate of a liberal arts Christian college and current attendee of an Evangelical seminary, I am well versed, briefed and “here-drink-this-Kool-Aid” with the notion of community. In todays’ culture, community is to Christian higher education what “diversity” and “tolerance” are to our pagan counterparts. It’s the bread and butter by which a relationship with God is nourished; the concrete that holds each brick of the Church in place. Within community we find the accountability, the support and the encouragement that’s required for a relationship with God. And so, throughout the years I’ve learned enough to know that proposing community might, possibly, maybe, oopsy-daisy-what-am-I-thinking?, be a bad thing in the Evangelical circle is akin to standing up in a Planned Parenthood convention to offer: “what about the choice of abstinence?”
Nonetheless, propose it I shall. Maybe this is just because I’m naturally an introvert and feel more comfortable around books about people than I do actual people (“well, this explains a lot”). But beyond that there’s something to be said for examining our idea of community with a critical eye. Because I’ve had countless conversations with individuals who feel out of place in community, not to mention numerous moments in my own walk when I’ve found myself in a room full of Christians and felt completely and utterly alone. I know of many who can attest to the idea of being burnt out on community, of aching for escape and constantly fighting the dark though persistent impulse to slap the next individual who sits down across from you at dinner with a cheesy smile and asks:
It is not (oh, the irony) uncommon in our community-drunken age to find oneself with the horrible sensation of drowning in a sea of saints, all the while wondering where on earth the so-called “God” of our community is floating. In short, community can, often, suck.
What’s frustrating about these emotionsis not the feelings themselves but the confusion behind them. Why should community feel like a bad thing? Why is there such a disconnect? If I surround myself with so much of a good thing, then why am I not reaping the benefits?
Well, let’s think about this.
First off, the notion of community is by no means a new one; it began in the Garden with Adam. It was in paradise that God realized, rather quickly, that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone and thus, Eve was created. Here we have our first human community. And it was perfect.
Enter the fall, God’s command to multiply, Eve’s fruitful womb, and a couple other confusing Genesis passages
and suddenly you have a world that is filled with a lot of people and a lot of sin. Shortly thereafter, you have the first example of community sucking: the tower of Babel.
Here is an instance in which people got together, chatted over coffee, swapped numbers, added each other on Facebook and eventually decided that, because they were awesome, they ought to build a tribute to their greatness. So they constructed a tower that would bring them closer to heaven. Course, you know how the story goes. God’s all like
and He comes down and confuses the shiznit out of everyone making it a requirement (thousands of years later) that I take French. For that, I am bitter.
At the root of this narrative we witness a peculiar occurrence: that God disrupts human collaboration, a construction of a tower that was the culmination of a combined communal effort. In short, God disrupts a community: something any Christian who’s been to a dry wedding where they also decide to play Amy Grant wishes would happen more often.
“But Bryn, the sin behind the Tower of Babel was one of pride…was it not?”
Now, this is a true statement…sorta. God didn’t disrupt the tower of Babel because everyone got together and decided to sing “kumbaya”; for me to base my argument off of this assumption would ignore the reality that community was God’s idea. But what happened at the tower of Babel did involve community; it was a sin committed in community and one that is often repeated in Christian circles today.
Because what is often forgotten about community is that it wasn’t necessary. When God looked at Adam and said it wasn’t good for him to be alone, He never said anything about it being necessary nor about God’s relationship with Adam requiring some form of community. Lest you freak out, this isn’t in anyway a statement denying the necessity of women, but rather the necessity of togetherness. God realized it wasn’t “good” or “preferable” for Adam to be alone and thus created Eve, gave the command to multiply, and brought about the possibility of community. But keep in mind that after creating Eve, in the perfection of Eden, the ideal state of their community was together in the presence of God. The community between Adam and Eve was a supplement to a relationship with God. It brought a depth to man’s walk with God that couldn’t have existed without it. This is why marriage (the epitome and most perfect instance of community on earth), though amazing, blessed, sacramental and a miraculous occurrence for anyone such as myself, is not necessary… it is a way in which God can be worshipped but is by no means the greatest or only way.
We can all admit that community, in it’s God-given form, is beautiful and conducive to our walk with God. Yet, what community so often turns into is a group of humans hanging out, perhaps even with the common bond of a love for Christ between them, but eventually they forfeit that bond and develop the notion that together we can reach heaven. If we just hold each other accountable for the same sins, live with the most counter-cultural mannerisms, utilize the most Christian-y euphemisms and read Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas
then somehow we’ll build a tower of community that elevates us to the heavens.
Thus, you may begin to realize that my point in this is rather simple: in order for a group to be walking together with God, each individual must be conducting such a walk on their own. When this isn’t happening, community, rather than being a means of glorifying God, turns into the Babel-like notion that through togetherness we can manage just fine, “but thanks for asking, God”.
Inasmuch, we need to begin embracing solitude.
The idea of solitude is not only unpopular but it is also terrifying because it requires silence. Solitude mandates that we strip away everything that might impede our relationship with God and get down to just that. It removes the veil and shows our ugly, sin-laden selves to God so He can then redeem it. Furthermore, solitude requires intentionality. It demands that we, in faith, step into the Holy of Holies and allow our righteously quaking souls to approach God.
Because God is omnipresent, we can never be completely alone (a comforting thought, to say the least). We can, however, be completely unalone, meaning we can fill our lives to the point that God’s presence is a whisper among shouts and His impact on our daily walk minimal at best. Just like a marriage needs time behind closed doors, so our lives need moments alone with the Almighty, lest everything else become a moot point.
If our community seeks to avoid building the next tower of Babel, then we must encourage solitude as a precursor to everything else. How often we fail in this regard. For instance, if I confess to my fellow brethren that I haven’t had the chance to be alone with God in the past week, the most common response is:
Don’t get me wrong. Community is good, important and wholesome; it is necessary. Without community our walk with God can be hindered. But what is more important to my walk with God is just that: my walk with God. Jesus set an example for us of solitude, of seeking God first in His weakest and most trying moments but also in His everyday life. We find numerous examples of Christ fleeing crowds to be alone and pray and of God removing Him from His ministry for the sole purpose of development through solitude. My walk with God cannot sustain on purity talks, small groups and church dinners alone. When I find myself faltering among these things, I return to the truth and necessity of God Himself. If I’m to walk with Him, if I am to have a real relationship with God, then it must be nurtured by the silence of an early morning, the echoes of an empty room and the tender, ever-present ache of the soul for my creator, son for my Father and sinner for my redeemer.
Introversion, as it turns out, might have some positive tendencies.