I wonder if you are familiar with the Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He has most recently been described richly by the biographer Eric Metaxas as a “Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.” At my college, his book “The Cost of Discipleship” was required freshman reading. The very first chapter of the book opens with the denuciation of “cheap grace.” Christianity is founded on the premise that Christ died to reconcile the world with God, repair creation, and atone for sins. This he did by extending grace to all through his death and resurrection. In the words of the televangelists “It’s a free gift!”
And yet, Bonhoeffer quickly and succinctly, on page one, begins to define what grace truly implies. It requires contrition for sins, desire to be delivered from sin, confession and discipleship. (Which, if you are looking for a great post on discipleship in the New Testament, look no further than this post by a very thoughtful Anglican friend on mine.)
What does this have to do with Community? Only that I see community lauded as the cure for our frenetic lives over and over on plenty of environmental and progressive websites. I see it as the punch line of do-goodism, and the sincerest answer to our consumer culture of individualism. Great. It very well could be.
Like grace though, I think there are two types of community, cheap and costly.
Paradoxically “Cheap” community seems to be mostly about spending money in order to feel good about your purchases and bolstering the local economy. The farmer’s market, local restaurants or bands, or businesses. I don’t want to sounds as though I’m against any of this, I’m not. In fact, I wrote a whole post about how great I think it is, and read that Small Mart book about how local shopping bolsters the local economy. Something which spending money at big box stores doesn’t.
However, I find it a little fishy that when we talk about community, we are very often saying something to the effect of “come support your community” and really meaning, “come spend money.”
Community is people, and people are not money. Mostly community is composed of lots of people who either don’t have money, or think they don’t have money. So when we talk about supporting our community, we should talk just as much about meeting our neighbors, volunteering in our schools, walking each other’s dogs, babysitting each other’s kids, and picking up each other’s trash. That’s costly stuff, but doesn’t involve money.
Instead of emphasizing spending money over helping people, lets rebalance our talk and our time to reflect what community really is, people. I belong to the non-profit Parents United of Salem, which is about connecting parents with one another and founder Sarah Gaddipati recognizes that “people’s time is as important as money.” This is one example of what community could look like, encouraging those in every stage of parenting.
In effect, what I think we should be cautious about when discussing community is emphasizing the aspects which are most likely to bring about quick tangible rewards to ourselves, like delicious products, and glossing over those which involve sending our kids to schools which don’t rank number one in the state.