“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don't need a lot of money to be happy--in fact, the opposite.” Jean Vanier
“God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1:31
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m reading the book Bowling Alone. This book examines the decline of community in America, and the important role community plays. One of the things that has surprised me the most as I have read this book is the timing of the collapse of community. I would have thought it began with the advent of television. But that’s not the case. Community continued to thrive until the late 1990’s. The internet has had much more of a negative effect on community than television. Who knew?
One of the statistics that jumped out at me was that in the heyday of community, a survey was taken by Gallup to determine American’s confidence in their neighbors. The results of the survey indicated that a strong majority of people (77%) believed that most people can be trusted. While the book doesn’t spell it out, I suspect that it’s because we knew our neighbors and were in community with them. (Of course, neighbors are more than just those who live in proximity to you).
The book goes on to say that in the late 1990s, several surveys were conducted. Here are some of the startling results:
- “77% of those surveyed said the nation was worse off because
of less involvement in community activities.”
- “75% said that the breakdown of community and selfishness
were serious or extremely serious problems in America."
- “Only 8% of all Americans said that the honesty and
integrity of the average American were improving, as compared with 50% who
thought Americans were becoming less trustworthy.”
- “The number of people who thought Americans were becoming
less civil was 80% versus 12% who thought we were becoming more civil.”
- And finally, “Our society is focused more on the individual than the community and yet more than 80% felt there should be more emphasis on community, even if that put more demands on individuals.”
It seems that we are becoming a country of extremes. You either have money or you don’t. You are either overly self-confident (bordering on arrogant) or you lack confidence and self-esteem. These extremes foster a breakdown of community, in part because we don’t know our true place in it.
As I said, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Seminary will do that to you, but that’s not my only perspective. I’ve been watching the number of people participating in my store, in churches, in civic groups and even in politics decline over the years, and research is supporting my observations. Why is that? Maybe it’s because we haven’t given any thought to it at all because we’re busy. Maybe it’s because we think we are just one person, so how important can it be whether or not we participate in community. Or maybe we think we’re too important to spend time in that way.
My first Guided Meditation workshop is this Wednesday at 9 AM. We’ll be using the poetry of the Psalms, and the first one we’ll be meditating on is Psalm 8. It addresses the age old question “Who am I?”. I’ll be providing you with a journal to record your thoughts as we go through the session. You don’t have to share anything aloud, if you don’t want to, so don’t be nervous to join us and explore who you are and what it means to be in community.