There has been a welcome flurry of posts on several blogs regarding community. I hasten to add a few thoughts of my own. Community means a number of things; the term is primarily used for groups of people connected by proximity or interests. But the community we all yearn for is more than that, isn’t it? It is community as sharing, befriending, communing. Community as a verb.
In that sense, the term ‘community’ misleads; it is a concept, an abstraction. It describes an experience, but describes it as a noun, as if it were a thing or a creature. And things can be built up of parts, if we put them together right, and if we work hard at it. So people get confused and begin talking about designing and building community as though it were a house or a bicycle. They also speak of giving community time and effort and commitment as if it were a living being. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian communitarian and Nazi fighter, once said something quite profound. “Love community and you will kill it. Love your brother and you will build it.” He realized that the urge to love one’s community misleads. One cannot give love to an abstraction, idea or dream, and expect flesh and blood human beings to be nurtured by it.
‘Community’ does not need time or trust; human beings do. It occurs to me that community is an emergent characteristic. Like the glow arising ’round a burning candle, community arises ’round a group of people who get good at caring for one another on an ongoing and committed basis, helping one another, acting neighborly, sharing their lives. Community comes as a gift of grace to those who reach out and forge living bonds. Abandoning efforts to cherish an abstraction, they cherish other humans.
Community cannot be built. But when we care for one another, community takes care of itself.