A People Without a Home

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from The Listening Heart
A. J. Conyers

This book is written for those who suspect that this modern western world, even with its wealth and its productivity, lacks something essential to the human spirit. They see with their own eyes the army of "homeless" in the cities and along the highways in a and of unimagined wealth. At the same time, they sense an even deeper displacement that is more than geographic and deeper than material poverty, though it is a related phenomenon. There are, as it were, refugees of the spirit in a wealthy but spiritually impoverished part of the world. Too many people are refugees in their own land, some outwardly wandering from place to place, some inwardly. They are displaced people, wanderers who do not really know what to call home. What is often referred to as "home" is merely a convenient place to rest between days of work. The majority of people they work with, and too often even the ones they live with, are little more than strangers. Deep abiding relationships are not altogether missing in this world, but they are all too rare. Acquaintances are referred to as friends; strangers are called by their first name; but friendship and even the kind of kinship that was built on long years of life together, mutual trust, and sympathetic spirit, are so rare in some places that they seem to be altogether missing from common public conversation. The experience of community is one that is much discussed because there is a deep hunger for it; but it is this very thing that is so elusive.

Peer groups, so-called, or really age-groups, become more significant than family in the socializing of the young and increasingly in the social life of middle-aged and elderly. A market oriented society, of course, finds this more commodious. Families naturally impose a hierarchy of moral judgments, based upon the interdependency of generations and the availability of experience. Markets often find this inconvenient. Families are frustratingly resistant to the persuasions of commerce. . .

In some sense this is what we seek in blogging as well. It is interesting that blogging gives rise to small communities--St. Blogs, for instance--and increases the influence of "web-rings" and other chains that link together people with similar interests.

The truth is that outside of small communities, it is very difficult to find people who want to discuss the important things in life, the things many in St. Blogs tend to focus on. For example, outside my Carmelite community, and indeed, inside it much of the time, people don't really want to talk about the possibility of union with God or intimacy with God in prayer. I'm sure that there is a relatively small number of people who are really interested in Thomistic analysis of issues of the day--but being here on the web, that small number can find any number of places to visit and to listen to and try to absorb some of that learning and erudition that visit us so infrequently in the ordinary world.

Community is essential, where there is none, one will be built. Analysts blame the internet for making people less socially aware and hence less community oriented. But the truth of the matter is that a transient society in which forming close bonds that are too-often sundered does not lend itself well to the formation of strong local communities. We know that and so we don't often aggregate in the communities our parents and grandparents may have known. The internet is not necessarily perpetrator, but salve for those who have witnessed the limited opportunity for community.

Community is also built on shared ideas, values, and ways of doing things. Within a community the ideas of courtesy and the ordinary boundaries of what is polite are clearly defined. However, in a diverse mix of people these notions are hard to agree upon and lead to weaker bonds between people who, while not wanting to offend are just too tired to learn all the ins and outs of what is acceptable.

The idea of community is slowly dying, and as it does so we are losing any sense of self. Self is often defined against the backdrop of community.

And so it is my hope that this book does not merely analyze the problem, but suggests concrete things that can be done to help foster community--intentional community. And there is good reason to hope:

This book, therefore, attempts to answer some basic questions for those who would like to know if their sense have failed them, or if, in fact, something significant is palpably missing from life in the midst of such a world. Walker Percy spoke of the plethora of life-affirming books in our culture; and where there is such a flood of materials affirming life, one can be sure there is a lot of death around. Is there a reason for some of this widely shared sense of alienation? Are there concepts that help us to understand what is missing and what need to be recovered? Is there a model for life that would help the recovery of real fellowship, of genuine life together? Can it be that the church is such a model when she has not, herself, succumbed to the prevailing anti-culture of late modernity?

Is there a reason that the community with the most far-reaching common vision, an ecumenical vision, began with a Man who claimed nothing of himself, bur answered a call that ultimately meant his death?

The chapters ahead trace the meaning of the religious experience of vocation, in terms of a Christian theology of vocation. Here we find an alternative to the centrality of "choice." For it is precisely "choice," when it is the first word in our ethical vocabulary, that pulls us apart, and likewise "vocation" that calls us together.

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Great reflections! This is all SO true. People are so often isolated now, in spite of the attempts to build community. But real communities are organic--they evolve and grow over time. The communities which have been broken down in the last few years, such as extended family units, the old ethnic neighborhoods, and other tightly knit groups, are often things which took generations to build.

Very good post. Tnx!



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on February 21, 2007 8:07 AM.

This Lenten Journey--Abridging the Labyrinth was the previous entry in this blog.

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