In some ways, every religion encourages the formation of supportive communities.
The concept is so deeply woven into Christianity that the community of believers has a special name -- the body of Christ. The idea is that in this post-resurrection period of time, the followers of Jesus are to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ on Earth. Indeed, it is said that Christ has no other hands but ours, so we must do the works of mercy, reconciliation, love and service that Christ taught his followers how to do.
But, in fact, forming and maintaining community is hard work. And in this digital age of social media (I have more than 2,700 Facebook friends, only a few hundred of whom I've ever met in person) true community is even harder to create and sustain. As Charles E. Moore, editor of the new book Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, notes, we live in a time of fragmented family life, mobility so high that people rarely live in the neighborhoods in which they grew up, a demand for big houses with big yards and work places that are separate from where the workers live.
The result is "a post-familial, disconnected culture where self is king, relationships are thin and individuals fend for themselves," he writes.
Moore has gathered together dozens of writers from today and earlier generations to help us think anew about community and what communal life might look like.
The book is deep, challenging and important. Indeed, many of its lessons would apply to people of any faith and of none, though it's clearly written for Christians.
I paid special attention to a chapter on how an intentional community of people in Kansas City -- at Cherith Brook Catholic Worker house -- has decided to share money in a common purse because the author of the chapter, Jodi Garbison, regularly attends my church, along with her husband, the Rev. Eric Garbison, a Presbyterian pastor, and their two children.
Each of the half a dozen or so people who live at Cherith Brook with the Garbisons has agreed to work no more than 20 hours a week outside the home (which provides showers, meals, clothing and other support for the homeless) and to pool their earnings, even though what each one brings to the common purse may be quite different.
"Is it working?" Jodi asks in the book. "It certainly isn't easy. We have struggled through many difficult conversations and we have all learned and grown from each one of them." But, she adds, "we have realigned our hearts to be sharers and not hoarders and to live in truth of God instead of fear."
Certainly not all the 52 essays in this collection have to do with living in a community like Cherith Brook. Most, in fact, are more broadly focused on what it means to be responsible to one another in any kind of community. And the essays come from many authors, some quite well known, including Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Benedictine monastic movement; Leonardo Boff, one of the most famous of South America's liberation theologians; German Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Sister Joan Chittister, a Catholic nun and author who writes a column (as do I) for the National Catholic Reporter; the late American Trappist monk Thomas Merton, and British novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis.
In our deeply divided, fragmented world, we say we long for community, for belonging. What we must be careful about, however, is finding a community that is healthy and constructive, not one like ISIS or the KKK that feeds our fears and encourages the building of walls instead of bridges.
This book can help with that. A lot.
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GULEN EXPLAINS HIS NON-ROLE IN TURKEY'S COUP ATTEMPT
Fethullah Gulen, head of the so-called Gulen Movement in Turkey (and now around the world), has written this essay for The New York Times in which he denies he was behind the recent military coup attempt in his native land (Gulen is self-exiled in Pennsylvania). The authoritarian instincts of Turkey's president are worrisome, especially in a nation that is predominantly Muslim but that in some ways has shown how such a nation can be democratic, religiously pluralistic and an active member of NATO.