Even though I grew up on the fringes of my denomination, somehow I was still infused with the value of community so prevalent within my faith.
My parents made sure I was connected to their families in upstate New York by driving 26 hours (one way) from Mississippi every Christmas. I experienced a Laura Ingalls Wilder kind of holiday season with Grandma's big house filled with lots of uncles, aunts, and cousins. Milk fresh from the dairy cows in the barn. Hay forts. Grandpa's carpentry shop. Trips to the sugar bush. Tables busting with the kind of food that only Grandmas can make. Snow forts, snow sleighs, snow sleds, snowmobiling, snow fights, snow shoes, snow anything. These trips connected me with my roots even though I was growing up in a very different place far away.
When a bunch of youth from our small southern church conference traveled to Ames 85, I still remember being blown away by all of the Mennonite youth at the convention (and to be honest, the beautiful girls there as well). It was a lonely time for me, but I did make some new friends and discovered that a community existed whether I was completely part of it or not.
The value of community stayed with me through college, moving from late night conversations to my sharing life in several group houses in Washington DC and culminating with my living for 15 years in an intentional community in West Virginia.
Last but definitely not least is the community of the church. Unlike some young adults, I never went through a time when I did not attend church and this community of believers in a variety of settings has impacted my life in powerful ways. Being accountable to others on the same journey has become a necessary barometer for my life. I am who I am because of those who have poured their lives into mine and who I have the privilege to pray and walk with.
With this framework in mind, I wish to call us back to this value of community, especially in the midst of this technological age. Our American society has always valued the individual, sometimes at the cost of the community as a whole. The building of great communal places such as Union Station has been replaced by single-family homes (emphasis on the word "single").
Thrown into this anti-stone soup are the I-pod, I-phone, I-pad, and the plethora of other gadgets designed for the ONE. There is a reason why they are named as they are. Could you imagine a WE-pod? You'd have this octopus like headphone contraption with a bunch of earbuds for several people to listen together, everyone trying to agree on WHAT to listen to, and tripping over each other in the process.
But that is the messiness of community. These gadgets are advertised as helping us stay better connected. There is some truth to that. I covet the opportunity that technology provides for me to write and connect with so many people.
But I would also offer that having our heads down engaged in some gadget be it phone, tablet, game, etc., even if we are connecting to someone or something far away, can keep us from being present to the present, to the here and now.
I can have my earbuds in listening to a book about caring for others when the person sitting beside me on the Metro may need an understanding ear. I can be jogging, listening to some great music and miss the bird song, the wind in the trees, or more than a passing conversation with my neighbor. I can be so absorbed in texting that I miss speaking the words someone may need to hear. God forbid, I might even miss that still small voice.
Perhaps I spend more time touching the touch screen than the beautiful faces of the people around me.
Relationships are hard. They are messy. But they are what keep us from falling into the black hole of self-absorption. In this increasingly narcissistic age, we are in danger of losing that which makes us most human, our ability to love and care for each other. Skin on skin. Flesh on flesh. We must be ever vigilant to avoid being completely subsumed by the i-Society.
There is an old adage that you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. In other words, this stuff will stay right here when I am gone. Since it is a one time visit and I have not made the crossing yet, I can't be completely sure, but I am 90% positive there won't be an i-Store open on the other side of Jordan.
All of the apps in the world cannot make me happy or save my soul. They and the gadgets they exist upon are a very, very, very poor substitute for the real, messy, complicated, exhausting, hopeful, loving world of community