Villages, Christian and otherwise
I am all about Dreher’s chapter on how Christians need to rebuild the concept of a village – a tightly knit social network rooted in a connected geography that is deeply committed to the good of each member. In fact, the village concept has rebounded across any number of fronts in the US as people recognize the value of interconnectedness and the barriers of the isolating lifestyle of our recent past. Aging Baby Boomers are forming villages, which were once inartfully called Naturally Occuring Retirement Communities (NORCs, which is a pretty clunky acronym), wherein in people choose to live in a supportive relationship with each other as they age, chipping in to provide services that they need, whether by helping each other directly with chores and rides and the like or contributing financially to pay for them. On the other end of the adult spectrum, city planners are re-emphasizing walkable, connected communities as not only a positive infrastructure model to enable community formation but as a feature to attract Millennials who value carless convenience and interconnectedness.
So while by no means the norm, there is a growing group of Americans who long for the relational scale of a village, and there is a trend toward providing the physical environment in which that can flourish. Books abound on what this means, and I am no expert but can still expound for days on the elements that facilitate the formation of community and the impact that a community of neighbors can have on their individual health and their common society.
Of course, in this setting, Dreher is emphasizing the need for the village to be like-minded and reinforcing of a common set of Christian values, and I can’t really argue that. His reference to Orthodox Jewish communities which spring up around synagogues because of the need to be able to walk to worship on the sabbath reminds me of my days living near such a community. While I always felt sorrowful concern for their safety, as they walked on roads with no sidewalks and significant traffic, I was taken by the sense of commitment to their values that the men and women of the community showed as they walked to worship.
About the same time, my wife and I came to a point in our faith lives when we realized the need for a strong connection to our own faith community. Living in academic circles, it was easy to separate from a parish community, and being young, childless and married, we found it hard to connect with others in our stage of life within the Church. Since then we have prioritized being involved and connected to a faith community that is more family than membership organization and in which we seek to build stronger ties of interdependence (despite being pair of exhausted introverts). It is hard for me to argue with Dreher’s call for others to do the same.
I will raise only this point. The tension between inward and outward facing groups is real. Robert Putnam of Bowling Alone fame refers to bonding and bridging social capital, with bonding being like-to-like and bridging being between-group. Too much bonding pushes you down the road of cliques and (in extreme cases) cults. Too much bridging risks losing the identity of the group within a larger mass. As much as that sounds like a more tolerable risk, I recognize that in order to become a diverse community we need also to be individuals confidently rooted in our different cultures. I suspect I would favor a more diverse village than Dreher’s, but I fundamentally agree with him that even within that diversity, there is a need for a uniquely Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim, or atheist) subgroup in order to encourage growth in our particular walk. I would ague that that subgroup, that mini-village, ought recognize its calling to be “salt and light” to the broader village in such a way that builds up the whole; I would think Dreher would agree.
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