Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Soil of Community

The last few years have been rather difficult for me – in terms of my faith. It’s not that I have lost it in fact I think it may be stronger, but I have struggled with the place of community.
When I lived and pastored in Christchurch I would constantly talk about community, and spent lot of time telling the people I worked with if they could be a Christ centred community and do community everything else would take care of itself. However the house of cards I believed in fell down and I know realise that thought we talk community, we have little experience of true community.
A year or so ago I was introduced to the thinking of Anthropologist Victor Turner through listening to Michael Frost. Turner suggests that we should think about this somewhat differently. He offers the concept of communitas instead of community. According to Turner, communitas grows out of liminality (that is a state of ambiguity, openness, and uncertainty). This transition state opens the possibility for new ways of thinking, feeling and acting. Subsequently differences between participants also become less important and hence a truer sense of what we believe community should be grows.
Out of this liminal environment grows what Turner calls communitas, a new social structure that is based on equality and common experience. The focus then is not on building community, but due to a common experience a ‘type’ of community grows.
Turner was talking specifically about tribal initiation cultures and there importance in bringing life to the WHOLE tribe. But I think many of us see the same type of phenomenon in natural disasters, mission experiences, camps, dare I say even fundraising events etc. things that take us out of the ordinary and literally through us together. In Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. Frost notices this is what happened with the first followers of Jesus, they were: “Men who otherwise would have nothing to do with each other are thrown together by their shared devotion to Jesus, and as they journey together, they develop a depth of relationship that literally turned the world upside down.”I think the key is that when the church focuses on mission, communitas naturally develops. But when the church tries to create “community,” it often goes bad.
“The hunger for community is a legitimate one, but to pursue it for its own sake is the mistake. When we seek to build community without the experience of liminality, all we end up with is pseudo-community that pervades many churches." Exiles, page 121
A commitment to mission then is the soil out of which community grows.


Jim said...

Good posting, Michael. I just started reading Alan Hirsh's The Forgotten Ways where he comments on "Communitas, Not Community: The most vigorous forms of community are those that come together in the context of a shared ordeal or those that define themselves as a group with a mission that lies beyond themselves--thus initiating a risky journey." I've been pondering on this one comment for days.

michael said...

it's a fascinating subject, and i guess when you look at it it from this perspective you can see how simple it is - i love the notion of a shared ordeal