Monday, June 5, 2017

The Community We All Need by Fr. Stephen Freeman

I once read that the Russian instinct, when under pressure, was to gather with other people, while the American instinct was to flee. Thus, the Russian landscape was marked by villages, while America was marked with isolated homesteads. My Russian knowledge is just hearsay, but I know that Americans like to homestead and to be alone. The American suburb is not a village, it is streets filled with little homesteads, islands of isolation, affectionately known as “my castle.” Americans are also frightfully lonely.
I have served for some thirty-seven years in ordained ministry at six different parishes, and worked in the establishment of a handful of others. Everywhere I have ever served, the topic of “community” has been popular. The very popularity of the topic points to the poignancy of its absence. My thoughts are that community is simply too shameful for most to bear.
The Russian vs. American description (whether accurate or not) will serve to point to the problem. The Russian experience for many centuries was marked not only by the dangers of wolves and the like, but the much more fearful danger of marauding Tartars. Villages and cities were frequently terrorized by an enemy who could occasionally be placated with ransom payments, but very rarely defeated. This pattern continued for around 250 years and had profound effects on the shaping of culture. The American experience, similarly faced with a vast open land for settlements, was that of conquering rather than being conquered. They vanquished their foes (native Americans) and took their lands. The so-called “pioneer spirit” was exalted as a virtue, with stories of brave individuals rather than fearful villages.
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