catapult magazine

catapult magazine


living communally without the commune


Mar 22 2002
12:40 am

Yeah, that’s it exactly. When the fire truck pulls up, everybody comes out to talk and watch. I suppose in some communities around the world, people would be actually helping to put the fire out or something, but we have professionals to do that.

In a recent article in Harpers, Wendall Berry bemoaned the fact that in our corporate culture, everything is for sale and consequently, everything can be purchased. I would never suggest that eliminating fire departments would be a good thing, but when there are crises of any sort, we turn to the professionals to help sort things out. As a community we watch and comment, but do little.

And that makes me wonder about the church. Alice, you mention the importance of community in the context of the church. I agree, and love my church family. I wonder though if there is any way to get the world to take the church seriously. We are in a time of crisis (and it is arguable that we always have been and always will be until Christ’s return) and the church offers truth, shelter, vision, and community, but people from outside the church only seem to turn to it (if at all) as a last resort.

I wonder whether that’s because churches are often a disconnected community in a sea of disconnected communities. I drive 25 minutes to get to church. There is a church of my denomination five blocks from my house, but I go to the church I go to because we have been members there since before we lived where we do now, we are committed to that family, and we and we slightly prefer their theology. As a result, though, my church community grieves, aids, and celebrates its particular losses, problems, and triumphs — without connecting (much) to the losses, problems, and triumphs of my residential community, work community, or friends. I have a feeling that this disconnected fragmentsation is part of the problem. Anyone have any suggestions on how to fight it?

Oh, and I like Willa Cather too. I’m looking forward to the day I can introduce my daughter, Cricket, to that book too. For now, just Farmer Boy though. :)


Jun 23 2002
03:51 pm

Oooooh, Steve, I like the CD thing!

I was wondering today, as I thought about what would happen if we had some huge national catastrophe that eliminated our ability to use cars, if we might start banding together in churches more because you would have to go to the church near you and wouldn’t be able to pull up stakes if you wanted to.

It was a happy day — I just happened to be thinking apocolyptic thoughts.


Jul 02 2002
04:04 am

That is a good thought.

In the South and in Europe it seems like everybody is much more open and friendly, much more hospitable. Even the poorest people living in the slums of New Orleans will offer you whatever they can share, treat you with respect, and though you may not know them, they will converse with you for hours.

Europeans are so friendly and so easy-going, guys can hug and kiss each other just because they’re saying hi, and not even be slightly suspected of homosexuality. They definetly take life easy there, as well; here in America we have no trouble finding something open for 24 hours, seven days a week. In European countries, the shops open at ten, close at five, and are closed for an hour and a half for lunch and tea.

Admittedly, some European countries are among the poorest in the world, but does our American rush rush work work go go go society eliminate and destroy community?

Let me rephrase that.

It does.

If we want to truly live communally, we need to slow down and think more about others and less about ourselves. Even our architecture reflects how we live. New homes being built now (and the past 3-4 years) have little or no front porch, as opposed to older homes where the porch would often stretch across and often around the entire home. We used to sit and talk on our porch with our neighbors. Now we can’t get them off our front step fast enough (hasty generalization, I know, but even Jesus used hyperbole to make his point).

To give an example of what I mean, Steve’s CD idea is wonderful. But the only reason Steve had that great idea is because he thought about someone other than himself. Our culture today screams “I want all the CDs for myself” — Steve though of something what would benefit everybody, demonstrate good stewardship, and be fun.

Way to go, Steve. Have a big porch.


Jul 16 2002
02:15 am

And part of the reason for the small porch is the television. Not just the idea that we can withdraw into our houses and veg out, but the message of the TV. Think about it. Commercial messages want to sell stuff. The message repeated over and over is that you, as an individual, are important. That you, as an individual, deserve stuff. That you, as an individual, need to have this. Even that if you, as an individual, want to be part of a community, you need to consume this. And the big trick of tv is that we don’t think about how those messages sometimes make no sense. We drink in the notion that we need to be good to ourselves as individuals, and forget about the rest.

Happily, tv’s viewership in on the decline, and some people are starting to rediscover communities.

Hey, want to read a cool book about community? Bob Green (the Chicago Tribune Columnist) just came out with a book called Once Upon a Town, which tells the true story of a town in Nebraska that decided to feed and entertain all the soldiers in troop trains that rolled through their town on the way to WWII. It is a wonderful story about purpose, sacrifice, and community (and surprisingly little flag waving).


Aug 29 2002
04:34 am

I think television is a good example of what joelspace was talking about when he remarked that communities shift and change. Television has added to the ways in which we communicate and therefore also to the ways in which we understand community. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds an immediate shared interest with people by exchanging Simpsons’ quotes with them. It’s a great way to break the ice.

Sure, many of the messages on television do promote individualistic materialism, but that’s only because our media always reflects our values. If we valued community so much, I’m sure television would reflect that. I don’t think it’s in the nature of television that we watch it as individuals and close ourselves off from other people ( 911 is a case in point: I’m told that in the U.S., everyone stayed in their homes to watch the events; but in Europe, people packed the bars to watch the tv together; and in my own personal experience as a child, our family watched tv together, which helped me to learn how to watch television, how to critique it and enjoy it, love it and hate it etc.)

I’m not sure I want to go so far as to say television always fosters community, but it definitely brings a big world (nation) together. Perhaps, if tv indeed only promotes individualism, it goes against a true community in the long run, but I don’t think talking with neighbors is necessarily to be regarded as a higher form of communication than television. Both acts are acts of communication (of sharing with eachother); one is interpersonal while the other is mass communication. Different? yes. One good, one bad? I don’t think so.


Aug 31 2002
08:24 am

You make some good points, but surely you don’t see television only as a reflection of what we are. We are a many facetted people and television reflects the facets that will benefit it most directly. If I live in close community with my neighbors, we share, I buy less, I am more secure and less likely to seek reassurance through shopping. Television does reflects us partly, but it also helps determine how we see ourselves.

The very nature of the medium, for example, is opposed to contentment. As long as television revenue is based on commercials, it will be telling us over and over that we should not be satisfied with what we have, but should get more. Certainly North American culture has always been materialistic, but you have to concede that television has accellerated the process to an amazing degree.

I’m not sure that television has imporved other sorts of community either. The Simpsons example is a good one (and I am a fan of the show) but I don’t know that a conversation started qualifies as a whole new mode of discourse. Before TV existed, people broke the ice by referring to newspaper columns, or to something they read.

I think you can make a pretty convincing argument that the internet offers a new form of community (one in which we are participating in now) but tv is one-way. There is no dialogue.

I’d argue that tv does little to build community, but does a great deal to tear it down.


Aug 31 2002
02:33 pm

Forgive me for jumping out of the thought here…Just wanted to jump back to BBC’s book reference…I just finished Once Upon a Town (Green)…read a good review, checked it out, enjoyed…yes, purpose, sacrifice, community…to an extent that people participated within a hundred mile radius. What struck me even more though was the response and memory of the soldiers that experienced the sacrifice and purpose of the community…they never forgot and now some 50+ years later it still moved them to tears. Could it be that we can impact people in the same way today as we live communally within our neighborhoods, churches, workplaces? Sacrifice was involved…I’m not sure I fully comprehend what sacrifice means anymore…I confess my living is often insular. Ouch. (I was also impressed that they sustained this throughout the war years and beyond…it didn’t die out)


Aug 31 2002
05:10 pm

Sacrifice in both hebrew and greek means: To slaughter, kill. It usually comes with the appeasement of tension between distinct somethings or someones. It requires exchange. And sacrifice comes in different measures for different people.

Perhaps, Alice, if you could recognize places in your life where there is a “death” within you, say the exchange of your life for someone/thing else, so that there is an appeasement of a given tension then maybe you’ve not missed sacrifice in your life as much as you think you have?

Sacrifice, according to the Christian tradition, is maximized in the selfless expression of Christ’s life given in exchange for sinful mankind to appease the holiness and justice of God’s wrath.

We’re called to daily respond with that sort of love, hope, faith and selflessness, being as was/is Jesus a willing sacrifice. Daily pick up your cross and follow Him. It is not I who lives, but Christ in me.

Sacrifice is as internal as it is external. Does that help clarify?


Sep 01 2002
06:50 am

Feel free to come back to the sacrifice discussion, if you wish. I just wanted to respond affirmatively to BBC’s last post here. I agree that television cannot reflect every facet of our lives; that’s why it’s so important for kids to learn what television’s limitations are. It should not be used as a substitute for talking with your neighbors; it should not be listened to like a parent when it comes to making life-style decisions about spending money etc. In many ways, it functions as newspapers, magazines and radio did in the past, but its own nature adds another dimension to the way we think about being in a community. The reason I’m stressing that television reflects society is to go against the notion that television has such a great effect on societal behavior. It no doubt has an effect, but the very invention of the television, of cars, of air travel already reflected the desire of our culture for bigger, faster, more convenient. Going back even further, we could say that discontentment was really one of the feelings upon which America was founded. Which brings us to a question perhaps too big to treat under this topic. To what extent does discontentment go against God’s norms for us? Discontentment has been a prime motivating factor for artists, revolutions, reformations, even *cino itself. I know that you are critical of television for attaching discontent to material possessions, but television itself is still governed by the people’s discontent that, when applied properly, saves us from stupid programming, Britney Spears clones and the like.


Sep 04 2002
12:21 pm

good suggestion to take the discontentment topic to another place…i’ll do that since it’s been on my mind.

but on the topic of sacrifice—“servanthood” is more of a buzz word for me in this area, and unless there’s some subtlety of meaning that i’m missing, i’ll use the two interchangeably. i like jen’s notion of “death” in the self as an indication of sacrifice. most often, i think serving or sacrificing involves the death of pride.

the most ideal situation is that in which everyone is serving and, therefore, everyone is served. it’s easy to put others first when others are putting you first. but in the absence of such a supportive community, what are our options? this was a topic that came up on the camping trip—how much is too much? is it okay to say ‘no’ to a person who is taking but never giving?


Sep 05 2002
07:08 am

Yeah, the idea of giving, of a gift, is definitely intimately tied up in sacrifice. I just saw Tarkovsky’s (a Christian film-maker) final movie, which is called “Sacrifice”, and he is given a birthday gift that he says must have been too much of a sacrifice. The giver of the gift says “Of course, it was a sacrifice for me. It wouldn’t be a truly good gift if it wasn’t a sacrifice”…or something to that effect. It is often not a sacrifice for us to give a beggar a few dollars. The true sacrifice would be to orient our whole lives around the purpose of serving such people. Communal living is also changing one’s way of life. Though there are many financial benefits to living communally as well, it is a lifestyle that starts with sacrifice. However, when you’re living obediently, it shouldn’t feel like a sacrifice, should it?