Communal Versus Community
By: Aaron Rohre
Many things make up a person's identity, and only some of them are one is able to control. My identity is made up of parents who raised me well, who taught me to think for myself, and to accept the consequences for my decisions. My identity also made up of very surface level things: I am a male; I am married; I am going to be a father in a couple of months; I am white, educated, and middle class. There are lots of things that I could write, but one thing consumes me more than others when I consider what I want other people to see in me.
It is this: I care more about being communal than being in a community.
Let me explain. The word community comes from the Latin word meaning to have something in common or shared. It is a passive word. My favorite example is this: you can move into a neighborhood, apartment complex, or any other place of residence and you are in a community. You will have neighbors, yet it will not matter. You will not be required by anyone to care about who those other people around you are. You won't be required to help them in times of struggle or to provide for them on any level. There is no expectation (other than not wanting to be the creepy one on the block) that you will do more than live peacefully where it is you reside. I think it is unfortunately an all too apt description of many local churches: many people sitting side-by-side but are not concerned with knowing anything about the person next to them. It is easy to take this path, and yet, I believe that we are made to take another.
But to be communal is a different story altogether. To be communal is to be active at the core. There is no “do-nothing” option, because in reality, doing nothing is doing something. Striving to be communal suggests that you care about something or someone enough to move toward it; and it is my hope that such movement is positive. Indeed there are plenty of things that are communal and yet destructive. However, at its most basic meaning, the word communal means to be doing things for the common good. And when we tease out the deeper ramifications of that meaning it suggests a move towards selflessness. For a more technical image of the ramifications of selflessness consider or read about the tragedy of the commons. The point being that acting in self-interest alone will doom the whole community over time, but perhaps not immediately. To be communal and to embody a lifestyle built around that seems to get at what Christ calls us to in his teachings. It also suggests that we will not abandon one another at the first sign of conflict and disagreement; rather we will live the long road or journey together. We will see ourselves as together first and in agreement about things second. We will value the relationships we have with one another and seek to build others up because of the tremendous love, support, and care we show between our lives lived together.
And ultimately a deep desire to live communally is what I hope people see in me. And if they don't, I wish they knew that I was striving toward this because I believe in the deepest places of my being, that in doing things communally we will truly make the world a better place.
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