THE DIFFICULTY OF COMMUNITY

THE DIFFICULTY OF COMMUNITY by Timothy Keller for Core Christianity

GNN Note – This is one the biggest struggles that I have. Everyday I have to bring issues regarding community to Jesus. I pray all the time for healing and still struggle.

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Many things in our culture work against the maintenance of real community. We are conditioned in countless ways to think and act as individuals only, not as members of any body, and even our individual relationships are ‘thinned out,’ based on images rather than presences. Since this is the opposite of how we are supposed to live as Christians, let’s look at how just one cultural reality contributes to this—contemporary communication technologies.

Images and Presences

The electronic media radically ‘compress’ time and space. Just thirty years ago it was expensive and difficult to make a long distance call to another country. Today we are able to stay closely in touch with others from another continent with little effort or expense. In a highly mobile society, this means that fewer and fewer of our friends and loved ones are actually fully present to us. We get their words and images only, not their embodied selves.

Media can also create the illusion that we have community with people that we don’t know at all. TV and film viewers come to see actors and other figures on the screen as friends. Because we see them, even experience them in one dimension, we get the impression they are in an intimate conversation with us. Online contact can give us even more of a sense that we are in a real community. But through these media it is easy to project an image that is not real at all. The NY Times ran an article recently on a young mother who attracted a loyal following through her unremittingly sunny and celebrative blog about marriage and child rearing. When she was injured in an accident, many readers sent gifts totalling nearly $100,000 within a couple of weeks. When the Times reporter asked some of the donors about their generosity to someone they ‘did not know’ they responded, with a snort, that they did know her, that they made no distinction between online friends and ‘physical’ ones. And yet the article ended with a kind but honest statement by the blogger’s sister, who noted that while she her relationship with her husband and her children ‘wasn’t perfect,’ in the blog she chose only to focus on the positive. Her sister knew her in an embodied, fully present (soul and body) way. The blog readers had an illusion of intimacy.

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