Wednesday, January 27, 2010


An epiphany of sorts while reading Wendell Berry (whose writings are good for these sorts of things)...
There is one reason, and to my thinking, one reason alone why it is so hard for most of us to feel a real sense of community in our church, neighborhood, and among our circle of friends.
We don't need each other.
All of our various needs and wants can be supplied almost entirely by ourselves or through the agency of complete strangers. The internet even allows us a certain sense of companionship to be delivered wholly at our discretion, we can flit in and out of various on-line "communities" as we see fit.
One of the over-arching themes one finds in Mr. Berry's work is the manner in which the people of the community of Port William are truly members, each one an integral part of a greater whole. The roles change as people become elderly, or die, and new members attain adulthood to take their place (or not in the thread of sorrow that runs through his work), but the subtle interplay of strength, ability, and personality is always there.
Most modern communities, even "intentional" ones, do not and cannot have such a bond, because in most cases the bond is entirely voluntary, severable at will, or worse yet, an affectation.
What is needed is not a voluntary simplicity movement, but an involuntary weakness, a shedding of those things that make us independent and free, in order that we might learn what it is like to rely on others for our very existence. There would be, I think, also a grace found in relying on each other, with our failures and imperfections that is not found in the relatively seamless functioning of our interactions with modern industrial society.


T. Nathaniel said...

Christ is risen!


I read this post again today, and really appreciate what you have written.

I think I have seen other critiques of "intentional" communities among Orthodox bloggers, probably Owen.

Of course, here you are largely laying out a positive account of the conditions that are necessary for community, mainly weakness.

I wonder whether the key isn't in seeing our independence itself as a weakness. Since we have all become so isolated from one another we have the illusion of self-sufficiency, but really our disconnection from others simply makes us better consumers - because we then have to buy or pay for those products or services that used to be one of the ways that people in real community helped one another. Whst is more, the more isolated that we become from one another the more meager, lonely, and unfulfilling our lives become, which leads to still further purchases.

I am defending intentional communities because there is a flow and direction to modern life that if not resisted intentionally will lead to our destruction and diminishment. It is this diminishment that disguises itself as independence and strength, and which consists in the unlimited exercise of consumer choice, that truly is a weakness if we could only realize it. That we are addicted to this egoistic illusion is also a weakness. All that remains is for this weakness to be acknowledged and struggled against.

On the whole, I do think you are right though. If intentional communities are simply voluntary and can be severed at will, then they do not offer a genuine resistance to the spirit of the age which is bent on our destruction. The pharisee in me wonders whether the voluntariness of intentional communities could be mitigated by mutually submitting to a common rule of life. Obligations are what we need to combat the illusion of infinite choice, because obligations, by their very nature, bind and limit the will, lessening the voluntariness that threatens even our best intentions.

Anonymous said...

Those "critical" of intentional community as an alternative to the superficiality of Orthodox "parishes" in the modern world, simply don't have any desire to really live differently. The goal is NOT to be dependent on having to rely on others but interdependent. And anyone familiar with intentional community knows it's not as simple as willfully leaving whenever one wants when such community is designed to deter such. For instance, if you've thrown your financial savings in lot with others in order to communally "own" a business that supports housing, people and the land they live out, you won't simply leave when things don't go your way which is what typically happens in the status quo modernist, drive up "church" parish. If you don't think intentional community is viable alternative to the current superficial parish arrangement for "the Orthodox", then make a suggestion other than maintain the status quo. It's not working. The Amish retain 85-90% of their young in their community. The Orthodox don't because their community is superficial and expatriate ghetto. No matter how much they deny it, their young are Americans at heart, not "old country". They shop at the mall like everyone else. Their Sunday "attendance" is but another brand tacked onto their consumer self.