“Life in community is no less than a necessity for us––it is an inescapable ‘must’ that determines everything we do and think.”
“We live in a social order that has confused freedom with the isolation of the self. We may think we know one another, but our ‘knowing’ only intensifies our isolation from one another.”
––Stanley Hauerwas (p. xiii)
When I moved to Seattle two years ago, I didn’t realize the cultural shift I was making in how this city versus my home city of Chicago thought about and embodied community. Upon moving into my first apartment in Seattle, I asked about our neighbors and I quickly realized how hard it was going to be to meet and befriend neighbors in a city that prides itself on self-sufficiency. The boom of the tech industry in Seattle has fostered a high value of independence and autonomy.
In the midst of the effort to create community in my new city, Plough’s new book Called to Community hit home. The book offers highlights and practices of community as a significant aspect of following Jesus from some of the leading practitioners and theological thinkers in the Christian community, past and present. Writing from Christian leaders like John M. Perkins, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Henri Nouwen engage the practice of community as it is rooted in the Kingdom of God––a non-negotiable aspect of embodying the spirit of God’s Kingdom. Don’t be fooled by thebook’s charming cover or subtitle, “the life Jesus wants for his people,” remember the life of Jesus and his followers was not particularly one of ease. It is with this in mind that the editor gleaned a selection of readings that offer an honest look at community––how hard it is, what it can cost. Living in community is not all ease, shared meals, block parties, and Bible study gatherings. It can be rather sticky. If you are hoping to live in honest community with your neighbors, it will likely involve conflict, misunderstanding, or relational rupture at some point. But I believe the call to follow Jesus into community is one that moves beyond relational rupture into a space of healing and intimacy. The book quotes Thomas Merton, who wrote that living alone doesn’t necessarily mean living in isolation, and living together doesn’t necessarily entail communion with self or others. This is the work of living in community––both internally, with our selves, and externally, with our neighbors.
This book is timely, as we increase our platforms and modes of communication, announce our statuses and happenings to a world of people we may be only minimally connected with. Editor Charles Moore notes Sherry Turkle’s work, which observes that the “bottomless abundance” of technology has left us “inwardly and relationally famished.” We may be living with an inward scarcity, yet our external culture continues to champion a life of abundance. As several of the contemporary authors note, living in a culture of abundance has left us largely “alone together”––not needing one another, finding community more of a sacrifice than a necessity, or creating a false sense of community as we increase our virtual connectivity. Have we killed our desire for community because it is unfamiliar or too costly? Our culture bears the flag of an idealized freedom and autonomy––one that leaves us, sadly and simply, quite alone. In the forward, Stanley Hauerwas observes that loneliness created by a false understanding of freedom and autonomy fosters a deep desire for embodied connection, a “hunger.” This book is a gift, then, inviting Christians into a life of community and offering sound advice from those who have gone before us.
With the plethora of voices culled for this book, I appreciate the diversity of perspectives on what community looks like as it is lived out day to day. As I first scanned the list of names and excerpts in the table of contents, I noted the predominantly male names of contributors. If I had one critique of the book, it would be the overarching lack of voices from women. When our history books have largely favored the voices of white men, it feels important that we work hard to emphasize the key voices of women who have historically shaped and currently form our Christian communities. Part of reversing the crippling effect of sexism and racism in our society is recognizing and cultivating the work and writing of women, especially women of color, in our midst.
I have no doubt that the selections from practitioners who have pioneered life in community will be a source of encouragement, provocation, and resilience as we seek to follow the call of Jesus to share life with our neighbors. With that, I also wanted to offer a brief list of women, including many women of color, who have contributed to a rich understanding and experience of Christian community:
Rachel Held Evans
Ada Maria Isazi-Diaz
Brenda Salter McNeil
Barbara Brown Taylor
Many thanks to our friends at Plough for offering a special discount for group orders: 50% off up to 14 books, 70% off 15+ books. To order, contact Rebekah Domer, [email protected] or 1-800-521-8011.
Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People
Fifty-two readings on living in intentional Christian community to spark group discussion. Gold Medal Winner, 2017 Illumination Book Awards, Christian Living Why, in an age of connectivity, are our lives more isolated and fragmented than ever? And what can be done about it? The answer lies in the hands of God’s people. Increasingly, today’s Christians […]