Community as Story

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I had a chance to attend the 3rd installment of Formed this past Saturday at Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship and the topic for this month was CommunityMark Van Steenwyk from Missio Dei in Minnieapolis was sharing his story of community with us.  There was a phrase he used as he was talking that just jumped out to me as both true and a bit painful.  He said in terms of our American living: 

“We stay in to watch and we go out to spend.” 

  I would have let this pass without a note if it wasn’t so true.  In that statement he adequately unveiled 2 of the greatest sicknesses of American life:  Consumerism and Individualism.     Our culture teaches us that the reasons you go out is to consume and to spend.  We spend on things that we hope will give us meaning, most of the time we remain unhappy.  The slick marketing campaigns of billion dollar businesses caress our ears with the message that if we buy what they are selling, we will find the happiness we are looking for.  Of course it’s a lie, but yet we have an engaging appetite to consume and try again.  It defines our “going out”.    When we stay in, we can tend to organize our lives, evenings and weekends around the tube or the telly (I like to call it telly).  The drama, the celebrity, the sport, the action . . . they are there to give us entertainiment in our leisure.  If we are not careful, they can become the very story we live our lives around.  And it’s unending, one season rolls into the next and rolls into sweeps week with cliff-hangers and to-be-continued til next season if only we will hold our breath in anticipation.  The media we watch at home can dictate to us how to arrange our time based on our consumption of their drama.  Years ago, I stopped watching the news.  Rather now, I read it online in print and have RSS feeds to local papers.  That way I’m informed, but I was tired of the news dictating to me what I should fear and what I should care about.  They don’t care about me nor my family, they just care about my viewership.   I say all of this not to prohibit spending or watching.  Both are a part of our culture that we live in and can be healthy alternatives to life as usual.  But they are not meaningful, if you are looking for life in things that are dead, you will find yourself perpetually empty.  I would suggest that the Story that gives meaning is authentic community.   Finding the definition of who you are not by what you buy or what you watch, but based on who you belong to.  When you find that kind of belonging, it’s permanent.  It doesn’t wane with sweeps week or spike during seasonal sales.  It remains true, constant, the kind of story you can build your life around.  How do you find that kind of community?  Our culture doesn’t sell it, our culture doesn’t produce it, I think it’s found in a spiritual quest.  Something that cries out much deeper in us than a yearning to consume or be entertained, it’s a primal search for meaning.     I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes in my reflections about Community as Story:

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. ” Jane Howard

peace,Marshall

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