I was reared just a few miles from the University of Chicago on the city’s South Side. As a kid riding past, I was certain that its buildings were haunted. After all, there were gargoyles clinging to the edge of every Gothic building, and where there are gargoyles, there must be vampires. It would be many years before I entered those haunted classrooms to study.
From the Academy of ancient Greece to the medieval schools, education was understood to be centered upon conversation (conversor, literally meaning “being together”). Plato’s dialogues and Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae are written in the form of a conversation.
Way too much emphasis is placed on making theological education accessible and convenient. With the rise of Internet courses and distance learning, seminaries have accommodated to the spirit of individualism rather then drawing on the biblical mandate that leaders be formed through intentional community.
The absence of community surrounds us in a daily way—in our neighborhoods, our work lives and the anguish of our own souls. The scarcity of community wreaks havoc below the surface of outwardly busy lives. From the ethos of economic life to the chatter of talk radio, our society is busy promoting the appetites and fantasies of the individual more than it encourages investment in the larger aspirations of a community.
Robert D. Putnam became widely known in the 1990s for his influential article “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” (Journal of Democracy, January 1995) in which he explored the significance of “social capital”—the social networks that are formed by church groups, bowling leagues and service and fraternal organizations.
I am not a high-tech person. That’s partly due to age, partly to disposition. The very mention of my technological skills sets my colleagues and family to snickering. I never thought I’d be an anachronism and I’m not particularly proud of it. But I do find myself resisting some of the places the new technology wants to take me.
Life Together: Family, Sexuality and Community in the New Testament and Today
When I visited a Baltimore neighborhood called Sandtown in 1997, my most vivid impression was that of disturbing, jarring contrast. I remember a whole neighborhood of abandoned houses—each one an oversized skull, with empty darkness peering out of its broken doors and windows and mocking the life that had abandoned it. In the midst of these ruins, however, there was a street teeming with life.
Have you ever felt a bit empty, a bit unsatisfied, after hearing politicians (even those you support) explain their vision of a good society? Are you tired of drinking that favorite political brew, Utopia Lite?