I grew up in a Christian environment. My family went to the Methodist Church, but our parents didn't stop us from going off to other churches when we got old enough to follow our friends. I followed various friends to various churches. Richard Erasmus was my youth pastor at the Baptist Church during a very interesting period of my life from age 13 to 17. He was incredibly supportive in more ways than I can mention and has touched many peoples lives. The idea of a person whose job it is to care for his community is one of the great things religion gives society. Rich is a part of who I am. I have really enjoyed reconnecting with Rich via social media. We had a chat...
The Rich and Cindy Erasmus of my Youth (1996)
Moral leadership traditionally came from those steeped in the tradition, culture and learning of the community. As communities have mixed and ideas have mixed, groups have split off. Within communities, sub-communities have broken off. I get worried that these 'holy' groups have become less of a place for people to gather, than people who agree to gather. Shared spaces are essential. It would be great if there were more shared spaces to discuss things that matter. There is an exchange of ideas on social media. But as conversation has shifted to an 'internet of things', an 'internet of relationships' requires physical space.
I'm convinced that face to face connections experience dynamics that some communication tools (such as social media) cannot experience. The best of those (added) dynamics are found in events such as "coming home for the holidays/after a business trip". Nothing quite like seeing the family that you've missed for a while. It's in the intimacy of that face to face encounter that we can experience the love/connections that fill our emotional tank. However... it's also that space that has the most potential to fill our lives with toxic and bitter emotions. For good or for bad, the proximity is powerful. I would suggest it's the rules of engagement that have gone awol in recent times... individualism, independence, plurality... often these things have lead to less need for rules of engagement... after all, I can simply choose the easy path, to go my own way... again and again and again.
I agree that a big issue we are working through is how we define ourselves. Are we individuals or are we a community? Top down defining of a community forces an individual to feel like if they disagree, they need to leave. Bottom up belief that there is no society, only a collection of individuals, ignores the power of seeing yourself as a part of the bigger whole. I don't think things have gone awol. 'The good 'ol days' illusion makes us think there was a time we all got along. I think we are better at getting along today. We just need to find ways, in person and on social media, of strengthening the connections.
Love that "top down/bottom up" perspective of yours... hope I can use it one day. Nevertheless, I would say we are plonkers not to recognise that some things have gone awol... which is not to say that we haven't (in many ways) improved. The natural, face to face, forums of a by-gone era (home life, market place discussions, neighbourhoods, family run businesses etc) have in the last few decades diminished in strength and significance. The worth of "those" old forums was that there was (I think) less opportunity to exit the conversation. Rules of engagement had to be determined... purely for the sake of survival. Shared spaces are essential, but it seems (as you have stated) that they are harder to find. Wouldn't you agree that a level of intentionality is required nowadays, that may not have been as necessary previously?
I have actually thought about the 'escape hatch' problem. Ken Robinson spoke of how 7 of his 8 Great Grandparents lived within a few miles of each other. It wasn't a case of finding the perfect relationships. It was a case of working at the ones you had. At school we were 'stuck' in the same class with guys we didn't choose for 12 years. There were regular personality clashes while kids were learning their social skills. As adults when we clash, we just move somewhere else. Choose somewhere else. So I do agree that we don't fight as hard to fix things. I am just glad our bubble has been pricked. We should, as you say, think of some of the 'good stuff' and not reject everything when we realise our community doesn't define (or suit) us completely.
It has (in a weird way) something to do with the spirit of adoption. At least at some level, adoption can be described as the act of inviting someone (a willing participant) into an inner circle. In this scenario, the relational issues are (to a large degree) sorted... I am stuck with you and you with me. Now, that we have the (committed relational) space to move in, we can get to grips with some of the issues that are close to our heart. Or to put it another way, our default setting when it comes to people around us is (often) tenuous at best but more often suspicious and shallow. If there is a "first hurdle" that needs to fall (in us finding the jewel of quality conversation), it is a greater willingness to adopt "others" into a relationship of trust and perseverance. It's at the hear of what Sofia Cavalletti once said, "Listening is a leaning towards others, the opening of ourselves in a receptive attitude toward the reality around us; it is only the capacity to listen that prevents us from revolving around ourselves."
There is a lot to be said for knowing someone is not leaving no matter what. Unconditional love. It does open the possibility for deeper levels of honesty and being prepared to work through the more uncomfortable conversations. When you are constantly aware that someone might walk away, you are naturally going to be guarded. The problem with unconditionality is that it requires vigilance about staying kind in your communication. An edge of risk that you might lose someone makes you choose your words more kindly. The naughty child in you might test the boundaries of just how unconditional unconditional really is.
We all have that kid in us. I guess we all have a level of intolerance (some of it legit). Churches are notoriously bad at this. We revel in the "insider/outsider" mentality (despite our "founder" being the exact opposite). Political parties are similar. Fashion trends may preach the same gospel, 'I'm in, you're out!'. It's everywhere. The alternative is to discover people like you Trev. You're an absolute breath of fresh air. In meeting people like you, we get a taste of another (far better) way of interacting. Social media reintroduced us back to each other. Maybe the gift of social media to us, is that we are introduced to an ageless, sexless, colourless conversation... that can translate into real life at some point. Whether it be around a cup of coffee, or in a pub, or at a running club.
That is what I am hoping for. I like the idea of a world where we are less concerned by who we are as individuals or distinct groups. Less need for folders, more use of tags. I think we are mad up of a web of individual connections based on relationships, ideas, and actions. Within the web, individuals and groups aren't lost, they are just holey. They can be in multiple places at the same time. No one idea being wrong breaks the web. Each additional connection strengthens it. There are wonderful people in this world, full of energy, and the one thing is that connects us is that we all think and feel. It would be great to share that.