What does it mean to be community?

I have been wondering about this idea of community for months now. I have found myself in a situation where many people are considering, “What does it look like to be in many kinds of community with a community.”

So what is community? In a very clinical way a community is a unified body of individuals, a people with common interests living in a particular area, the area itself, and/or a group linked by a common policy, a common history or common social, economic, and political interests.

I look around and examine the communities I am a part of. I ask the question, “Am I part of a unified body of individuals?” Check! I am human. Wait, we are not unified as a body, well not entirely. I am Christian. We all believe the same thing. We are all rooted in the Bible. I am not sure that Christendom could be considered unified. I am male. Come on? We are all obsessed with sex and expel gas as obnoxious rates. Again no unified front here either. No unified body of individuals here. My guess is that narrowing the gap between “us” and “them” is beyond our ability as a depraved creation.

Am I part of a people with common interests living in a particular area? Yes. I am part of the Dodger loving folks in America. I am part of an online community striving for new ways to be church to this world. I am into film noir and bourbon. I bet there is a facebook group reflecting the love of bourbon and film noir. I can lay claim to being part of a people with common interests living in a particular area because it affords me flexibility to be individual and express communal values I support or can adhere too.

I am part of a particular area. I live in Louisville. I have lived in Nairobi, Los Angeles, Austin, Watertown, Seminole, Westminster, Encino, and in the Valley. In all of these places I have been part of the local community. My presence alone has allowed me to stamp my passport to community presence. My presence has not always afforded me the right to have a presence in the community.

I am part of a group linked by a common policy, a common history or common social, economic, and political interests. I am a football player. I am a Republican, a Democrat, and a Libertarian. I am a part of celebrity fan clubs and am obsessed devote of all things Olympic. I am part of the 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion. I am part of the 80’s Valley Girl horror. I am part of a pre and post 9/11 America. I am Caucasian. I am Pawnee and Kaw. I am a progressive Christian seeking to “be” church in America. I am a husband. I am a pastor. I am a dreamer dreaming dreams of a creative future full of creating creatures blessed by a creative Creator. I am part of the working poor. I am part of the upper middle class. I am concerned for those afflicted with critical and chronic food and water shortages. I am worried that tomorrow may not be better. I am part of a community that seeks to walk with the other absent of our historical, social, economic, or political differences. I am part of a community that hungers for the labels of social communities to crumble like the Berlin wall.

The problem in this is like the actual fall of the Berlin wall, when the symbols of power and corruption that define communities and segregates powerful and powerless people into those communities is destroyed it does not guarantee the destruction of the systems that prop up that division and communal inequality that follows.

I want to discover ways to be community as we shed power and enter into relationships that move us beyond the societal norms. In a way I want to look at communities from the subaltern perspective.

Dr. Spivak [a postcolonial scholar] offers, that subaltern is not just a classy word for oppressed, for Other, for somebody who’s not getting a piece of the pie….In postcolonial terms, everything that has limited or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern – a space of difference. Now who would say that’s just the oppressed? The working class is oppressed. It’s not subaltern….Many people want to claim subalternity. They are the least interesting and the most dangerous. I mean, just by being a discriminated-against minority on the university campus, they don’t need the word ‘subaltern’…They should see what the mechanics of the discrimination are. They’re within the hegemonic discourse wanting a piece of the pie and not being allowed, so let them speak, use the hegemonic discourse. They should not call themselves subaltern.

See we define community to enhance that space of difference. We marginalize the Other in this action of forming communities. It is the very community in which we seek healing and transformation that may lead to marginalization of the Other and the space of difference creates a place of inescapable misery to those on the receiving end of oppression.

Even asking the question, “What does it look like to be in many kinds of community with a community” creates space of difference. Who has entered the conversation? How is leading the discussion? What are the questions being asked by those captured in the space of difference? Communities defined by being a unified body of individuals, a people with common interests living in a particular area, the area itself, and/or a group linked by a common policy, a common history or common social, economic, and political interests limit the entrance of the Other by the nature of the power held in the structure itself that is asking the questions and defining the parameters to which communities are formed or created. Is participation in these actions what Jesus the Christ would call us too? I imagine that if one were to hang out with Jesus the Christ the subaltern would be very dear to his heart.

How do we move beyond these questions and be communities that are full inclusive and are the voice of the subaltern? Is it at all possible? Is there a place in the Gospel message for the subaltern perspective? What would a community look like that is driven by the subaltern perspective? What do you think?

One thought on “What does it mean to be community?

  1. Pingback: What is Community [Reflections on Humility] «

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s