Christina and I met some friends at a bar here in Columbia, SC recently. The bartender and I started talking and he asked why I moved from Orlando to Columbia. I told him that I work for a church, gave him a brief rundown of the plan to start a new church. He seemed interested, so I asked him if he went to church anywhere. He said, “No, I don’t go to church, but I’m a Presbyterian.” There was an identification with a denomination, even though he would classify himself irreligious. He even named a particular church he would go to if he did choose to visit. I know this is the South and there is a strong culture of church-going here, but I just found this very interesting. There was some kind of identification, but not in a way that mattered in daily life. There was an identification in name only, not in a lived-in reality. The problem with this is that there’s no benefit from the community, and you don’t benefit it either.
Now for my bartender friend, this didn’t seem to matter. I think he’s really missing out because I believe the Christian community is the best place to discover what it’s like to be a human being, knowing others and being known.
But this post isn’t about proving that fact. This post is about how we all want to be just like that bartender. Because we value our own individual freedom above everything else, we don’t want to become part of any community. Not really. We want the community to serve us and we would like to give to it a little bit, but really we want to be in control. We don’t want to sacrifice for the needs of others and we don’t want to submit to ideas of anyone else in the group. Not in a full sense, anyway.
I can totally identify with the bartender. I’m part Armenian, but it’s not like I really am part of Armenian culture. I don’t know the language, I only have a cursory knowledge of its food, I’ve never actually visited the country. So I call myself Armenian, but only in name. It’s not a lived-in reality for me in daily life. It doesn’t affect who I am.
We all belong to different groups and communities, but how many of these groups really mold us into better human beings? Maybe the group itself isn’t good enough to do that, maybe it’s us who are not involving ourselves in the group. But the truth is, we’re all like the bartender, at arms length with others so as not to infringe on our personal freedom, nor ours theirs. And then we wonder why we feel alone and disconnected from the world. Then after some time, we think this is what reality is and get used to the lack of interaction, slowly numbing us.
Unless we get shocked back to life.
A real community requires all of its members to inhabit it. To live in it. For the group’s problems to be their problems (and for those problems to be significant enough to actually matter). We think that identifying with a community in name only will give us the benefits without the drawbacks, but the truth is we are the ones who are missing out.