One of the values my wife and I are attempting to pass on to our boys is the importance and primacy of community. This is not always easy in a culture that appears to value the rights of the individual over and against the good of the community. Barbara Kingsolver has become one of my favorite authors. Her books are not only entertaining but also thought provoking. In her book “Pigs in Heaven,” two of the characters discuss the importance of belonging to a “tribe.” One is a musician and the other a painter. The musician is questioning why the painter must always sign her paintings; the musician goes so far as to suggest that this “need” to be noticed is a rejection of community:
“But how can you belong to a tribe, and be your own person, at the same time? You can’t. If you’re verifiably one, you’re not the other.”
“Can’t you alternate? Be an individual most of the time and merge with other once in a while?”
“That’s how I see it,” Jax says. “I’m a white boy, with no tribal aptitudes. My natural state is solitary, and for recreation I turn to church or drugs or biting the heads off chickens or wherever one goes to experience sublime communion.”
“The only people I know who experience sublime communion all the time are yogis and heroin addicts.” Gundi tests the water with the ball of one foot. “Do you think it’s possible to live without wanting to put your name on your paintings? To belong to a group so securely you don’t need to rise above it?”
As I have reflected on this conversation, it struck me that community does not happen because we say that it is a priority, rather, community happens in that place of absolute security. No matter what someone has done or said, his or her place in the community is never in question.
In many ways individualism is easier – I only have to worry about myself. When we buy into the idea that the rights of the individual are primary, the end result is isolation and fear. Building community is hard work. Setting aside individual rights for the welfare of the community is scary and almost un-American, but I suspect that it is pro-Christian.