When most Americans think of small towns, say Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, they think of churches: “Each of us carries a mental map of the perfect small town. Whether or not we are of religious temperament, this exercise in mental cartography invariably includes churches.” Frantz and Collins know whereof they speak.
How can hope be sustained when traumatic memories of conflict or oppression haunt a person or group? This question has become central in a course I am teaching with an African-American colleague. In “Remembrance and Reconciliation,” we are examining the legacies of racism and racial division in South Africa and the U.S.
Could loneliness be as contagious as the H1N1 virus? Is loneliness dangerous to the public’s health? Usually we think of “infection” or “contagion” only in relation to medical viruses and define lonely people as those who keep their feelings to themselves.
When Jim Douglass graduated from college, his father sent him a life insurance policy. Jim thanked his father but returned the policy. He could not accept the gift, he said, because he wanted to understand the truth of an “economics of providence” that he had read about in Matthew 6. Rather than pay premiums on a life insurance policy, Jim said he would store up treasure in heaven by sending a monthly payment to provide basic care for a little girl in France. I’m convinced that Jim is right.
I once heard a preacher say that it might have been crowded and a little smelly inside Noah’s ark, but the folks inside knew it was better to be on board than not.
The same thing goes for living together in the church. Traveling together isn’t always easy, but the ark saves us from drowning. And it does more than that—it gives us a space where we can learn to live together.
On a visit to Israel last year a colleague suggested that I visit Kibbutz Metzer, a community founded by Argentinean Jewish émigrés in the 1950s. So along with my Quaker traveling companion and one other American, I hired a taxi and drove north from Jerusalem for nearly two hours to the interior of the country.
A friend once described me as “charmingly eccentric.” I’m not sure about charming, but I can’t deny the eccentric part. I’m not eccentric like Howard Hughes or the Rain Man character—just a wee bit short of completely normal. In fact, two experts on autism have told me I have certain “autistic characteristics.” Weird though it may seem, while the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator lists me as an introvert, I instinctively act like an extrovert around people. I genuinely love people and love being around them—in limited doses. After any prolonged social interaction, however, I have to retreat into my cave.
There were 15 people in my house when the well ran dry. It was Thanksgiving, and everyone knew that they did not have to flush every time. Those who were spending the night had learned how to take navy showers: turn the water on long enough to get wet, turn it off, soap yourself, turn the water on long enough to rinse, and turn it off again. If the water ever gets really nice and hot, then you know that you have left it on too long.Everyone knew this, but we still ran out of water. When I turned the kitchen tap to fill the coffee pot after Thanksgiving dinner, all that came out was a long airy gasp. “We’re out of water!” I yelled.
In his recent book The Jesus Way, the unfailingly helpful Eugene Peterson observes: “Community is intricate and complex. Living in community as a people of God is inherently messy. A congregation consists of many people of various moods, ideas, needs, experiences. . . . It is not easy and it is not simple.”
Our culture’s ever-increasing individualism is about to take a decisive turn. Any day now self-checkout lanes in our stores will outnumber the lanes that lead shoppers to a human cashier. At that point, “going to the market” will become a solitary enterprise.