Monday, April 28, 2008

Family, Community and Friends

"You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family." Yet we are far more intensely close to our family than to our friends. So where does community fit, in this three-way balance?

You might think that community is like friends. We are not (usually) born into a community; we join one. It has to have something to it that attracts us, or we would not begin to get involved.

We do not have friends we dislike - indeed, we only have friends we like. If we find someone a pain, we do not stay friends long. If they become a drain on us, if they irritate or depress us, that friendship ends. Friends strike a chord, fill a gap, meet a need, in us.

And at the start that's a fair analogy with a community. Yet as time goes by a true community entails more than just meeting our needs. If it is truly a community, our membership of it not only brings us benefits but also incurs for us obligations. We find that within the community are people we don't like, or tasks we don't want, or duties we resent. A community that never imposes on us is likely to be pretty transient.

If that's right, we should expect a community to be more like a family - we're in it, and though we can always walk away it has deep bonds and entails inconvenient commitments. We accept them because of the ties, the shared-ness, and the core that we all hold on to. Something like "a dog is for life, not just for Christmas"?

Augustine originally thought that a wise man would live alone with his mind. He learnt that we are not like that; we exist in community. Indeed, God is in community from the beginning of time. There are truths we can only discover, depths of our inmost spirit that we can only reach, in community; in communal worship, in communal debate, in communal obligation.

So perhaps the core of our search in moot for Christian community in the city is a search for what makes us ready to incur those obligations, ready to meet the inconvenient commitments, ready to discharge the resentable duties. I suspect it's in the shared journey, the learning together in prayer, the collective exploration of the life of the Companion Spirit.

Nest step, I guess, is to work out how as moot we can be that for one another ...