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athgarvan

GIVE ME THAT OL' TIME COMMUNITY

Once, we had settled identities and belonged in settled communities. Now, because we don’t live in communities any more, we replace them with social networks.

The difference between a community and a network is that we belong to a community, but a network belongs to us. We feel in control. We can add friends if we wish, we can delete them if we wish. We are in control of the people to whom we relate. It’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that we have almost forgotten the real social skills we need when we go to the street, when we go to work, or where we meet people we need to interact with. We use social media not to unite, but, on the contrary, to create a comfort zone where the only sounds we hear are the echoes of our own voice, where the only things we see are the reflections of our own face. Granted, social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they do not provide communities.

The Church provides one of the few places left that’s more like a community than a network. Even the town or neighbourhood is now more the place our home is located than a community. Work, may run by its own rules, but we live our lives with the people we like, which usually means people very much like ourselves.

Of course, the Church is somewhat of a social network itself. Still, in the average Catholic parish we find lots of people who are not like us in any way other than being Catholic. We might not think to invite them into our social network and they might not invite us into theirs. We find many with whom we have nothing in common besides the Church. They’re wealthier or poorer, more or less educated than we are. They may be of a different race or ethnic group or age than we. The Church mixes all sorts of people.

That’s a gift. With these people, people we did not choose and would not have chosen, we figure out how to pay for the new furnace or whether to raise money to clean the stained glass, or fix the organ. They tell us what to do when we help with the parish rummage sale. We have to talk to them at meetings without mentioning our favourite cat or how our garden is coming along! That’s one of the great things about the Church, and especially the local branch. It’s a community we didn’t choose. We can’t control it. It forces our horizons wider. We have to learn to love these people, or at least to act lovingly, when we don’t want to. The Church’s life teaches us charity in a way we couldn’t learn from a social network. More churches are pioneering a shift toward community service. Not only are they deploying their own members; they are engaging people outside the church to act together.

Comments

I think it depends where you live.

The town we have moved to feels very much like a community and a multicultural one at that.

The welcome we've received has been quite moving at times.
I agree that a cyber-community isn't the same as a physical one, but community is as outreach does.

If you live in a smaller community but stay to yourself, you won't have lots of contact with other members and there won't be strong ties to your area.

On the other hand, if you are involved with a community that is widespread but you are active and in contact with many individuals, there can be a strong sense of community, even though distance may be extreme.

- Erulisse (one L)