“It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” <Quote by Graham in the movie “Crash”, 2004>
Gordon Kaufman in The Theological Imagination: Constructing the Concept of God points out something that most of us know, but sometimes forget.
“We are social beings to the deepest recesses of our nature. The attachment of infant to mother and of mother to child, of members of families and other intimate groups to each other, and later the wider loyalties to community, guild and nation, are expressive of our fundamental interdependence as human beings. …the real human being exists only in community, in a network of relationships which sustain her or him biologically, psychologically, or culturally and without which he or she could not exist.” <pgs. 58-59>
When I was living in Orlando, Florida, a police detective came to my door, and asked questions about a neighbor. I had not known the person, and I soon realized that I knew no one in my apartment complex. The few people I spent time with were fellow students at school. We were friendly, but not all that close. At church I was put into the singles class, a dumping ground for church misfits My family and friends lived over 1,500 miles away. My situation then was not that different from millions in America and beyond today.
What does it mean for the 21st century church?
- The church must be countercultural. American culture drives people apart. Church culture must bring people together, developing interlocking networks of relationships… a community.
- The church should model cooperation, not competition. Leave competition to sporting events. Church should model a team concept where failures are dealt with within a supportive network, and successes are shared.
- The church should break barriers. Race, cultural background, and distance should not be barriers, but add excitement and interest to the community.
- The church should act as a communal organism. It is communal in the sense that it is made up of interrelating individuals, not mindless drones. It is an organism in the sense that each part has a function that works towards a communal goal.
- The church is on a mission. Church is not a love-in, a feel good place to hang-out. It is not a social club, but an organism created by God, for a mission. That mission comes together, in part, because of trusted relationships within the community.
As John Bowlby in Attachment and Loss, stated:
“Human beings of all ages are found to be at their happiest and to be able to deploy their talents to best advantage when they are confident that, standing behind them, there are one or more trusted persons who will come to their aid should difficulties arise.” <Vol. II, pg. 359>
Kaufman goes on to further:
“The strong undercurrent of anxiety which most of us experience much of the time appears to be directly correlated with the absence, or potential absence, of such supporting figures.” <Kaufman, 59>
Perhaps the church of the 19th or even 20th centuries did not need to have this sense of community, because other social structures existed that met basic human needs. That is no longer true, and the church must change to adapt to this new reality.