It’s an often used word. It’s bandied about in conversation. For me it’s a fundamental puzzle. A puzzle not to be solved but to be lived. The puzzle is two-fold: understanding what it is and more importantly getting to live as community.
Growing up I saw community as a stultifying rule bound presence. It wasn’t just a rebellious nature that made me see that. It was the cultural dislocation of having moved from England as a four year old. Our family could see our community in ways that others couldn’t. My school principal was another consistent critic of community. This made me yearn for individuality, for a sense of me. Conversely I yearned for something that in some sense is opposite yet feels natural and wholesome.
Belonging. This yearning for belonging made me behave in various ways. Individuality pulled me in other ways. As I write it is all too obvious that the frame of this writing is in itself skewed. It is fundamentally skewed towards and grounded in the assumption of individuality.
That’s probably because today, the individual, the conscious I, is percieved as the seat of being. Everything is geared around the individual. My daughters’ learning is measured in individual terms. The assumptions around society, politics and economics have the individual at the centre.
In itself this is no bad thing. I see these notions of individuality as the product of the reformation and enlightenment. Surely it has allowed us to frame justice and equity in ways unheard of in ancient times. If everyone is an ‘I’ as Adrian Plass said, then we are in some sense equal. We can’t think in other ways now. And there comes the problem.
For deep in us is the fundamental need to belong. In needing to belong we disrupt our individuality and in many cases act against others to preserve that belonging. There are obviously needs for power and other needs but for now I’d like to look at this conflict: the need for individuality and the need to belong.
But I’ve already gone too far. So I need to go back and ask is community just a collection of belonging individuals? Or does it become something else? I think it is something else. It is not the sum of the individuals. I base this on the scatterings of readings I’ve done over time.
Vinoth Ramachandra in his book Gods that Fail considers that the German people were simply not capable of the evil that manifested itself in Nazism. I’m probably misrepresenting here but I’ve read his argument to mean that the synergy between the people produced something demonic. So the relationships between various people produced something extra, something that wasn’t themselves, either as individuals or as the sum of themselves.
John V. Taylor in his brilliant Go-between-God considers that the Holy Spirit as the presence, the person that is between not just people and God but between all creation and God. This reflects who the Holy Spirit in some Trinitarian theology. According to Augustine he is the love between the Father and Son. Gunton critiquing this considers that the Holy Spirit opens God’s love to the world.
So in theology God’s relationship itself is a person. So it can be asked whether all relationships in some way constitute a presence beyond the sum of the individuals present. Could this account for the special experiences that people have when at concerts or at protest marches. Could this also account for mob violence? Does the relationship, the presence take a life on its own sometimes beyond the control of its participants?
To be continued… maybe…