Friday, October 17, 2008

Achieving Community

As a caveat, this is an exploration more than an argument.

I have had a deep desire for some time to fully understand and experience authentic community. Living in the information age forces us to think even harder about community because it no longer depends on proximity. Last night, I read two things that challenged me to think more about the importance of community:

1) In his book, Faith of Other Men, scholar W. Cantwell Smith writes, “Surely the fundamental human problem of our time is to transform our new world society into a world community.”

2) Martin Luther King Jr. writes, “Agape (Greek: unconditional love) is a willingness to go to any length to restore community.”

Turning society into community, having the courage to restore community, where do these provocative ideas leave us? I want to explore what community is, where it comes from, and why it matters. Realizing that defining community is a potentially limitless task, I would like to err on the side of conciseness and argue that community is consensual interdependence formed on the basis of:

1) Interaction, the degree to which we engage one another

2) Common vision/ purpose

3) Shared narrative

4) Collective values

Which, when combined lead to a feeling of community, a sense of:

1) Belonging

2) Influence and voice

3) Mutual trust

4) Collective identity

These factors, in turn, create mutual loyalty and collective responsibility for those within a community. How then do we move from a world society into a world community? Why does love require us to restore communities?

Our ability to experience social justice as individuals depends on our belonging to a community, as it is only in community that our basic human needs are met. The disenfranchised of the world are those who have not been fully included within a real community; they have not reaped the benefits of voice, belonging, identity, trust, and mutual loyalty. Furthermore, perhaps a community’s experience of justice depends upon it being part of a larger Community that ensures its vitality. In terms of the disenfranchised of the world, maybe they are a part of a wholly disenfranchised community (think of an oppressed people group or those in an IDP camp). The question then becomes, how do we empower communities do ensure the vitality of their own members and how do we build bridges between communities to ensure the vitality of communities?

Responsibility then is three-fold in community, there is responsibility of one-to-the-other, of the community to the individual, and the Community to the community. Only when individuals and communities internalize these responsibilities can we move to a more inclusive world community, founded on agape.


AC said...


Great post! I'm curious though, what your thoughts are on the possible tendency for the disenfranchised to be less trusting in community, precisely because of their experiences being removed from it (often intentionally by those within the community). How can the unloved, the unincorporated, find it within themselves to place trust in that thing and love for those people that contributed to their life circumstances in the first place?

My two cents :)

Dave said...

Yeah that's a great question. Building inclusive communities with people whose conditions are caused by the breakdown of community is difficult. I think that's what social justice is all about, including those who have been treated unjustly into a restored order. Let me know if you figure out the answer :)

Tim said...


great post. my issue is with the inclusion of "shared narrative" in the ingredients for community. how can community be established in a pluralist society? or, in a closer example, do you believe the members of your community, whatever you would call that, have a very shared narrative? and if so, do you think that's a strenght/necessary factor?

i guess personally community is the place where learning and loving occurs, and i don't believe either can truly manifest themselves in their fullest unless some un-shared narratives are included (and perhaps this all comes down to what constitutes a shared narrative). what i mean is that difference causes critical thinking about things like "do i really believe this? why?" and "what is it that i truly love about x or y if they are so different from me? how does this shape my love for z who shares my narrative?" the unexpected, the unshared - this is what i think forces a confrontation with the familiar and makes the familiar take on a new, open visage.

or something like that... thanks again bud.


max said...

i think in some ways, the building of community based on a social justice model can almost create a false sense of community in the fact that there is an inherent hierarchy in place - i am helping those who need help but what are they giving back to me? how am i creating a community when the needs are not equal? i can understand that you get a sense of goodness for extending yourself by helping others but does that really create community? i'm just not sure.