Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Community and Networks

This weekend I've been reading and pondering John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing us Down (which, in short, is a public school teacher explaining why the public school system is inherently evil and anti-human, no matter what reforms may go through it).

One concept of his that fascinated me is the difference between a network and a community. In a community, all different ages and stages of people interact as whole human beings. In a network, people band together for a specific purpose and you are valuable in the network only to the extent that you comply with the purpose. Communities value people as individuals; networks value them as contributors. Workplaces, clubs, schools, and sadly, most churches, are networks. Indeed, most people nowadays have little or nothing in their lives but networks. Not that networks are intrinsically bad, but they leave people empty and without genuinely meaningful human interactions.

Now that I think about it, I think the primary reason we chose the church we did was its sense of being at least closer to the idea of a community. It was probably what was behind DOB's secret final test for a church: if they would offer to help us move. Not from a goal of getting moving help (though that was very handy), but to see if the church actually cared about its people as people, not just as names to fill in those empty slots on the Sunday School teachers' roster.

I think a big part of the lonely, helpless feeling I had when we first got married was tied to this lack of community. I was blessed to grow up somewhere where there still were elements of community, where people actually found out and did something if someone was sick or needed help. It wasn't that we knew no one or had no friends here, but we knew no one who was genuinely part of our lives.

I also spent the weekend re-reading some of L. M. Montgomery's books. And it strikes me that a big part of her enduring popularity is her skill at portraying not just people and place, but the presence of a community. You don't just know a few people of Avonlea; you know the character and flavor of Avonlea as a town. And it is a real community; people will gossip about each other, people will have feuds with each other. But people matter to each other as whole people. You may not like Mrs. Lynde, but she is still part of your life.

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