Is community still possible?

by Geoff Hall on August 3, 2015

Mentoring for word, image and performance art.

Mentoring for word, image and performance art.

 

 

 

July, 2015.

In a response to Sheona’s guest blog article, I commented about my desire for community; whilst we understand that we make things in isolation from each other in the hope of one day making the work public. But our calling and vocation is not to work in an hermetic bubble, but like a body, strengthening and inspiring one another.

So, I’d like to ponder the question as to whether we still believe that community is possible and if we think it is, then what would it look like? Or has society become so atomised that we can no longer connect?

Much of  human relations that we now experience have been institutionalised, be it in the form of the hierarchical structures of church, or NGO’s such as the Arts Council. Everywhere we go, there’s a hierarchy of people having ‘authority’ over us, telling us how to make art and what ‘the message’ should be.

Within the Arts Mentoring Group community is probably best expressed by the times we share together at the Tree House and such adventures as the exhibition (“Set All Free”) at the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster, way back in 2007. Along with this I found I belonged to a church that was actually asking people to leave; an interesting tactic when ones only agenda is ‘church planting’!!

I now belong to a smaller community which meets every other month or so, at a coffee shop in Broadmead and which we have christened “Saint Caffeine’s” along with this I have friends(!)  who pop around to watch a film, drink tea or beer, eat chocolate and sometimes we pray for one another.

Jeanette and I talked last week about this thing called ‘community’ and whether or not churches actually personified community or membership; where you don’t have an identity, just a number. We also pondered what we thought this allusive life together is. Our conclusions were, I have to say, anti-institutional and non-hierarchical. We moved along the lines of community based on a common unity, of shared commitments to care for one another, to God and whatever we are called to work as; a writer, a health-care professional, an artist, musician, teacher, a mother, a father. It’s a community of everyday life.

It wasn’t based on the naive model of community, the kind where we all live in one big house, share the bills and the income and provide a babysitting service.

Yes, our sense of community had a geographical component, namely closeness, so that care and encouragement were not an hour’s journey away. No one was the boss, no sanctified position of a ‘leader’ above us. Community comes with a warning though. Here are the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his book ‘Life Together’:

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

And here are some words of encouragement:

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.

"Head of a Black Woman" 1910. A Postcard dates 15.5.10

“Head of a Black Woman” (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner) 1910. A Postcard dated 15.5.10

I noted many years ago a community of artists called ‘Die Brücke’ where the sense of artistic community was very inspirational. Scattered across a city, (Dresden or Berlin) they would send each other postcards to show their latest projects. A simple way of keeping in touch,discussing aesthetics or planning a meeting, but which also expressed something of their vocation as artists.

The Impressionists in Paris were well-known for meeting in cafés, discussing art, politics and society. And yes maybe imbibing a little too much French wine!

These are but a few ways of expressing life together. In the 21st Century, how do we achieve this? Has society become so fragmented and our lives so self-interested that we can no longer connect.

 

I’m cast back to Bonhoeffer’s words; that the starting point of community is that we love those around us. May we be of the same mind.

Be Well.

Geoffx

 

 

2 comments

Great questions Geoff. I love that quote by Bonhoeffer.

My gut feeling is to say “of course community is still possible”, but I think I know what you mean. We all have a picture in our heads of what it looks like, and no doubt that picture changes from person to person.

We’ve all seen ‘intentional’ communities fail, and unintentional communities thrive, and everything in-between. The social concept of community is just morphing with the times (e.g. Facebook), and there are ups and downs to that. No doubt we have become less connected in some ways because of the digital age. On the other hand, it has also enabled so much connectedness…

I think we would be in error if our picture of community was like Acts, or biblically based in almost any way. The times have changed, people have changed, technology has changed. I think of modern-day community as a sort of parallel path alongside ‘normal life’. Much can look the same, and yet as Bonhoeffer puts it, we fail when it’s about anything other than loving others. Conversely, LOVE is what makes it succeed.

I think the ‘atomization’ of society and social constructs is largely a bad thing, and perhaps the biggest thing in the way of connectedness today. We have to un-learn the Facebook lifestyle and re-learn the physical aspects of community; eating & working together, living in close proximity and things like that. Technology can only go so far toward knitting us more closely together until it faces its inherent digital wall. But human connection demands physicality.

by Chris on August 3, 2015 at 6:41 pm. Reply #

Hi Chris,
Jeanette and i actually talked about the book of Acts as our inspiration for community and that there were certain characteristics that we felt were needed for authentic community.

One was compassion and the care for the poorer members of the community. Another was generosity, in that the not only had a meal together, but sold their surplus stuff and gave to those in need.

Yes, they were also prayerful and no doubt there was healing.

Today, yes i don’t think we can decry the digitally connected age. We still share stuff right. We still say, like Die Brucke, ‘hey this is what I’m working on’! What i suppose that lacks is the physicality of a drawn artefact, that thing we call mark-making and of course in terms of digital output, we don’t see those ‘marks’.

Community these days is something you share with a few people, not a mass, unless you are in the public arena or marketplace. But there is something to be said about a physical connection, probably because that is how we were made. We weren’t a digital creation!

In my mind it’s not just the fragmentation of society that makes authentic community difficult, but also hierarchically created institutionalisation, which can be equally dehumanising. There is never one simple answer to the problem!

by Geoff on August 3, 2015 at 8:17 pm. Reply #

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