Friday, August 24, 2007

GKC and Real Community

GK Chesterton has a marvelous essay in one of his first books (Heretics) called "On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family" which addresses the topic I've been raising in my last several posts. His basic thrust in this essay is that cliques and clubs are all well and good (in their place) but let's not pretend that they are somehow the type of community that the human experience needs and is really all about.

His essay addresses family and the neighborhood versus the cliques and the clubs, but could easily be applied to the situation of multi-faceted, multi-generational churces versus target-audience churches. I was going to paraphrase him, but he puts it so much better than I, I'm just going to quote him, and insert a comment here or there so you know what I'm addressing with his words:

"The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. . . . [because] in a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. . . . The men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell. . . . A big society [i.e. mega-church?] is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises. It is, in the most literal sense of the words, a society for the prevention of Christian knowledge. . . .

The club was valued as a place where a man could be sociable. Now the club [i.e. the target-audience church?] is a place where a man can be unsociable. . . . Its aim is to make a man comfortable, and to make a man comfortable is to make him the opposite of sociable. Sociability, like all good things, is full of discomforts, dangers, and renunciations. . . .

Of course, this shrinking from the brutal vivacity and brutal variety of common men is a perfectly reasonable and excusable thing as long as it does not pretend to any point of superiority [i.e. the mega-church obsession of Western evangelicalism? In other words, cliques and clubs are fine, we all want to talk to people with common interests, that's what friendships are about, but let's not pretend that this is the be-all-end-all of community, especially Christian community, i.e. the Church!] . . . .

So long as you have groups of men chosen rationally [i.e. by generation, music preference, etc...?], you have some special or sectarian atmosphere. It is when you have groups of men chosen irrationally that you have men. The element of adventure begins to exist; for an adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose. . . .

The supreme adventure is being born. . . . Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue. . . . In order that life should be a story or romance to us, it is necessary that a great part of it, at any rate, should be settled for us without our permission. If we wish life to be a system, this may be a nuisance; but if we wish it to be a drama, it is an essential. . . .

The reason why the lives of the rich [i.e. ?] are at bottom so tame and uneventful is simply that they can choose the events. They are dull because they are omnipotent. They fail to feel adventures because they make the adventures. . . . They say they wish to be as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe to be as weak as themselves."

This may seem a scathing rebuke. Maybe it is. I certainly think there is a crucial point to be made here that every generation needs to here. I'm certainly not againts finding people of common interests, even in church, and hanging out with them lots. In fact, this is and always will be a great potential source of relational, emotional, and even spiritual, nourishment. It can also add to the fellowship and productivity of the organization. But let's not truncate community and leave it at that. I could go on, but I'll leave it there for comments.

Go ahead and tell me if I'm out of line or need balancing on this. I'll probably disagree with you, but that's okay! In fact, that's part of my essential point! Disagreement is a crucial part of the adventure GK is talking about! In fact, it is a crucial part of Christian community (in a fallen world)! Without it we will hardly learn love and we will hardly learn truth! That does sound narrow, Mr. Chesterton, that does sound like hell.

[excerpted from Heretics, Dodo Press, pages 83-90]

4 comments:

Tony Tanti said...

Wow, I had to read this one twice. Some of this might be a little exaggerated but it did strike a chord with me.

I certainly think a person is permitted to choose his/her closest friends based on commonalities but as for the larger community, maybe commonalities aren't that important.

I kept thinking about something you and I have talked about while I read this, that the Christian community needs to be bonded not by it's shared opinions (voting intentions for example) but by how we treat each other. My best friends are not the group of people I share the most in common with, they are the group of people I enjoy being around the most and that has far more to do with how we treat each other than anythin.

Clubs and cliques create groups based on interests, that's ok but should not be the height of community in anyone's life.

jon or angie said...

yeah. i think this is a good conversation to have. don't get me wrong, i would PREFER to HANG OUT with people i connect with (some of this is common interest, much of it is just a common outlook or language or something, I'm not sure) but when we're talking about the larger sense of COMMUNITY, and what a church at least should point to when it talks about such a thing, then we shouldn't reduce it to just another club. Why should anyone join?

Monson said...

What do you know, the quote of the day is from GKC himself:

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.
- GK Chesterton

jon or angie said...

that's fantastic monson.

i'm going to have to watch it or my blog might become little more than a GK fan club. seeing as i'm in thesis work and a class on him right now though i won't be able to help leaking him into my thoughts more than usual though.