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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Monday, March 10, 2003

Still More Community

Community seems to be the topic of the moment, in the corner of the blogiverse in which I spend my time. It's been fascinating to read what far deeper thinkers than I have to say. Start by checking out AKMA, Trevor or Tripp; then add Cliff's deep thoughts for good measure. They've all got good stuff in their posts, and they talk real purdy, too.

Me, I have a hard time getting too caught up in the philosophical nuances of trying to define precisely what community is. My geeky enginerd brain trots merrily on past all that, and settles on trying to look at what works, or doesn't, and how. I’m less concerned with form than function.

So when Laura asks, "How is it that WE (any community) can simultaneously have an identity, and have the possibility of growth and change?," my thoughts start to spin. I don’t believe that we can do otherwise. A community, formed by whatever definition, functions as a living thing, and its behavior can be described in much the same way as a physical organism. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that, in a closed system, entropy always increases. Entropy may be defined as disorder, as a deterioration of structure. The molecules separate, fall out of line, disintigrate; eventually, the system ceases to function. It dies. The only way to avoid that death is cease to be a closed system; to allow interaction with that which is outside.

This ties into Tripp’s discussion of boundaries. Whether crystal structure, cell wall, or community, boundaries of some sort do need to be there. They provide definition, and identity. Without them, our system, our community, is an amorphous, incoherent mess. However, if the entity is to continue to exist, its boundaries also need to be porous, allowing interaction with the outside.

In a community, keeping those boundaries porous, and thereby allowing both growth and change, means being open to shared experience-- new people and new ideas. Those people and ideas may alter the community, and/or be altered by it. Either way, change happens.

I would further suggest that the boundaries of community are primarily experiential. Common belief is important, but shared experience is also vital and foundational. Susie expresses this well when she talks about sports, and team building activities she used at camp. This last weekend provides another fine example. I was part of a group of Seaburians and associates who went into Chicago to see a play Saturday night. That shared experience builds a tiny bit of community, in a way that a description of the event cannot provide to those who did not attend. Further, a shared experience continues to affect community in a way that shared information does not. I could explain a line from the play at length (“Leg cramp! Leg cramp!”), but someone who did not see and hear it in context would not have the same fullness of meaning.

This is part and parcel of why the theology of the Eucharist as anemnesis is such a critical deal for the community that is the church. It is participation, shared experiencing of Jesus’ death and resurrection, shared salvation with believers through the ages, and those sitting next to us in the pew, and those sitting in other pews a thousand miles away, that binds us together into the body of Christ.

That’s all for now. Time to accomplish something in the world of seminary education.


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