I care about community. It is even in my job title—so in some ways, I get paid to care somewhat about community. This weekend I visited a community that I didn’t much like.
It was a strange place. I guess some folks who were really into the late 60’s and early 70’s decided just to stay there. So they built a small commune, and they make and sell crafts and other handiwork by day, and do drugs by night. They do other stuff too, I’m sure, but definitely the drugs—the smell confirmed it.
Out back they had built an elaborate labyrinth garden where I they gather to listen to music and hold occasional festivals. Once I got over feeling like I was going to be murdered in the garden, I realized some parts of it—and their work too—were beautiful, and everything about the strange little place was certainly fascinating. It blossomed with color and half-formed ideas—and subsequent half-completed projects. There was an upturned canoe here, a gathering of broken wind chimes dancing in spring air there. Oddity abounded, and, like I said, I didn’t much like it.
Once back in the car, my mother discussed how kind the people are. She and my stepfather visit the little shops on occasion, and the people had always treated them quite well. A friend of theirs joins them on some of these trips, and he apparently has a different perspective on the people. He calls them names and makes fun of their shabby, chosen existence. My mother doesn’t like this, and was a bit disappointed that, though I wasn’t calling them names, I wasn’t thrilled with the community.
I’m not a terribly judgmental person, and I know there are worse things someone can put their life toward than making crafts and getting peaceably through life. So I couldn’t quite understand the unsettled feeling the place gave me.
But today it came to me, and it wasn’t what the place was that made me sad, but what it lacked. Sure there was peace and even kindness, but the thing that was missing—a thing that is key in genuine community—was progress. Sure, they would occasionally make changes to the stores and I’m sure their skills have progressed, I’m not really hitting on those surface-level progressions that everyone sort of makes—like shaving or brushing teeth. No, the progress I’m talking about is the kind that doesn’t barricade oneself in against time. The kind whose canoes are not upturned in the yard collecting litter, but that are afloat on rivers, moving downstream. Building a garden is great, but letting it grow unruly is an altogether different matter.
Progress is a gospel issue that should affect individuals and is an underlying need in every healthy community. Sure a progressive community can also be an unhealthy one; we could easily list dozens of examples of such, just as we could list healthy aspects of the community I visited over the weekend. But progress is a given pre-requisite to even have a shot at health. One doesn’t have to be tall to be successful at basketball, but one must have hands. The hands don’t make one a good shooter, but they at least get the ball in his hands.
And so it goes with every community, every culture. In its truest form, community will always be moving forward, will be striving for better, and will thus be following the words of Jesus. We do not live in a Titanic world which is sinking to the depths. If that were the case, destruction would have come way back in Genesis. God is not destroying the world, but remaking it. And we, created in God’s image, have this inner desire planted deep within us to see His will be done, “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Our efforts at progress are not some liberal agenda. They are not some new, trendy thing. They are hidden relics, Eden-esque gardens springing forth within us and causing us to grab the rope with others and pull some good—or at least some better—from the darkest of wells. And in that, there is what true community always is: a snapshot of our lives beyond this life, a glimpse of eternity.