In my last blog entry on this subject, found HERE, I discussed how Jesus's home community was unable to bridge the difference between the Jesus they had known from his childhood and the man who had grown into his calling. I used a New Yorker cartoon of a dog using the internet to discuss the disjunction between the boy they had known growing up and the prophet he had become.
Fundamentally, the people in his hometown could not get beyond their vision of Jesus as being like the dog in this cartoon -- as the hometown son of Joseph the Carpenter. They never could see him for who he truly was, in his "online" persona as a prophet. Yet, in spite of the tension between the blossom of his calling and his roots in the soil of his childhood, and the fact that perhaps in his local community he was a bit like a square peg in a round hole, Jesus did not abandon all ties with his family and local community. And we should not, either, even in the times when we feel slightly out of sync with our local community.
Local community serves a valuable purpose. First of all, we can derive important satisfactions from friendships within our local community. Not everyone in our local communities rejects us for who we are or sees us as dogs. Ideally, local communities are nurturing places where we receive as well as give friendship.
Secondly, my local friends keep me grounded, force me to keep to the center. Local community supplies ballast in the keel of my ship, helping me maintain equilibrium. Without this ballast, there's a danger I might capsize from lack of balance. Local communities provide valuable feedback, checks and balances that prevent me from becoming isolated and eccentric, as unrecognizable as the paranoid, neurotic, unkempt Howard Hughes at the end of his life. Local communities force me to remember to brush my teeth. Good hygiene is not a bad life skill.
Third, local communities provide valuable insight I might otherwise miss. Local communities force me to practice listening to others, being polite. Through building and maintaining local friendships with people who are not "just like me," I am forced (in a good way) to practice the skill of being interested in others. I must open myself to the possibility that I might be persuaded by viewpoints or perspectives I might not otherwise have seen. Their demands force me to be persuasive and social, as well. If I want to convert my local friends to my passion, then I must not be offensive, I must give them reasons, I must make them want to like me; I must persuade them. Honest feedback from my skeptical friends forces me to listen and respond and thus nurtures me toward a more coherent presence in the world. I am also made into a better person by being confronted with concrete evidence of my own imperfection. When I see myself through the eyes of others, I am reminded in turn not to be too harsh or insensitive or judgmental of others.
Fourth, local communities nourish the body and soul as well as the mind, by providing physical nurture to individuals, including me, who reside within their boundaries. This is a give and take. In my role as a friend within a local community, I might give a hug on a sad day, serve food at a soup kitchen, make phone calls for a local charity, or notice if my neighbor hasn't come outside in a few days. If I hope for my community to remain a vital, nurturing place, then I need to nurture it. Who else will drive for Meals On Wheels, if not me? Who else will answer the telephone for a local nonprofit, if not me? Who else will deliver bags to the local food bank, if not me? Our participation in civic life is what makes our community a place where we would, ourselves, want to live. Collectively, we do make a "difference".
What reasons can you add to the list of how we benefit from being in local community, by leaving a comment below?
Using the analogy of Mary and Martha in the New Testament, I argued in Part I of this series of journal entries that both aspects of community building -- local and nonlocal -- are important. We must not neglect the more intellectual, thoughtful side of our being which can be so strongly nurtured by online communities. Yet, we also must not neglect our local, embodied communities. I once heard an anecdotal story that as Constantinople was being overrun by Goths, the city leaders were having a debate about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. We must take care that online, disembodied, discussions, must never be allowed to displace pressing needs grounded in the here and now.
Okay, hopefully I've established the importance of both online and local community. Whether it is local or distant, being part of a community weaves us into the web of the human endeavor, of life. Participating in community building activities, if they are wholesome and not at the expense of ourselves or others, is good for us no matter where it occurs.
My goal is to stimulate thought about how community organizations can make the best use of new tools of technology to build that community. How can community organizations use social media to nurture individuals and their own organizations?
I can think of several ways: Click here for "the answer" ;-)