By Brenda Carr
Community occurs at the nexus of space, time and relationship. Relationships are the building blocks of community. They are where we commune and communicate our beliefs, values, ideas, and knowledge. This is where we hone our identities as members of the primal family, clan or tribes with shared heritages and zip codes. All of these contribute to how we relate to one another and how we apply our energy to the work of survival on this planet we call Earth.
I began my quest for community during my young adulthood at a time when the theme of the day was about the “alienation” of citizens from each other brought about by the economic and political power structures that emerged from the medieval communities which also spawned Quakerism.
The “must read” books of the era were: “The Making of a Counter Culture” by Theodore Roszak 1969; “Escape From Freedom” by Eric Fromm 1965 Ed.; and “The Road Less Traveled: A new Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M.D., 1978. Each of these dealt with the “alienation” of [man] from the bonds of community defined by families, clans and ethnic traditions which now served the economic and political power structures of “modern” human organization.
The organization of land, labor and capital now served the factory system of production and labor [human communities] had become more dependent on locations of production and markets for exchange than bloodlines or ethnic heritages tied to place. Populations migrated to the location of factories and markets. Agrarian identities gave way to identities of place and relationship to capital. Within this matrix “faith communities” became the residual memory of the primal community and the structure of these faith communities shaped the political power structures as well as the spiritual dimensions of our experience of community.
Robert A. Nisbet, in his 1970 publication of his 1953 seminal book, THE QUEST FOR COMMUNITY, believed “that the single most impressive fact in the twentieth century in Western society is the fateful combination of widespread quest for community—in whatever form, moral, social, political—and the apparatus of political power that has become so vast in contemporary democratic states. That combination of search for community and existing political power seems to me today, ..…, a very dangerous combination.” He noted that “All too often, power comes to resemble community, especially in times of convulsive change and widespread preoccupation with personal identity, moral certainty, and social meaning.” He determined that this quest for community through “power and revolution” was “destructive of the prime sources of human community.” In tackling this problem Nesbit did not seek the return to old forms of community but sought new forms “which are relevant to contemporary life and thought.” To accomplish this it would be necessary to overcome the alienation brought on by the restructuring of power and the dislocation of primal connections. He defined alienation as “the state of mind that can find a social order remote, incomprehensible, or fraudulent; beyond real hope or desire; inviting apathy, boredom, or even hostility.”
So what do we mean by the term community. Its root is the term commune defined as the ability to “converse or talk together (usu. intensely and intimately); interchange thoughts or feelings.” Thus, community is where we communicate our thoughts and feelings, establish intimate connections and exchange knowledge, ideas and expectations. It is the “place” where we express our values through stewardship of relationships.
Quakers have developed a rich tradition of stewarding this process and meeting the challenges of our corporate gathering in this age of alienation. From them we have adapted the consensus process of corporate decision making and our Board has made significant strides toward maintaining the traditions and values expressed in our founding documents.
We are now considering expanding, or rather acknowledging, our commitment to the value of creating communities that express a strong commitment to Social Justice.
Please share, in this space, the experiences your communities have in seeking social justice. I have been working with HoCoHoward on issues related to the safety and security of our immigrant and refugee communities. Strong Schools MD is working to improve the services provided to students and developing educational programs for future challenges. Thru Patapsco Friends Meeting I am participating in promoting policies and legislation to curb the use of plastics and the recycling of organic compost. Please share in this space what members of your community are doing to steward the land and communities in which you live.
Additionally, how can the work of the Board best serve your community?