Big-C “Community,” Facebook, & Infidelity

Let me first say that I am encouraged and challenged by you, my friends. Many of you are asking thoughtful questions and exploring suggestions about what makes a community a community, especially as you’ve experienced it, and I appreciate your willingness to consider them with me.

As many of you have said, sometimes community comes about because of obligation or requirement. Sometimes it seems to come about completely by accident or serendipity. But when our paths cross repeatedly with a given person, whatever the reason, we notice it. We pay attention. And then we ask ourselves: is this community? I think maybe it is. This morning, for example, I turned around in church to see the manager of our local bank who processed the check that I deposited last week. My heart was strangely warmed when I saw him there.

But thanks to you I’m also beginning to feel the need to delineate different kinds of community. Might there be a big-C “Community” that is different than all of these other glimpses of community I’ve spent the last eight months or so writing about? And, if there is, how much investment is required on our parts to bring that community into existence? What if we don’t want to invest or don’t feel like it or just get along better on our own? What if we want to sit in the last pew and slip out of church before the benediction is finished? What if ____________________?

These are the questions I’m thinking about.

Those of you who’ve read the comments from Friday’s post noticed that Facebook has come up in this discussion of what makes a community a community, and it probably won’t surprise you that I’ve been planning on writing about it. I was a long-time hold-out when it came to Facebook, but after blogging about community for a few months, I gave in and joined. How could I not? I needed to see what this whole Facebook thing was all about.

Let me be up front with you and say that I’m still ambivalent about Facebook. Still, it’s fascinating to me when I receive friend requests from people I can barely remember from my childhood, if at all, and even more interesting to watch how the language of Facebook is changing the way we talk about relating to each other. But one thing I’m pretty sure about, regardless of how wonderful it is, is that Facebook does not represent big-C Community, if such a thing does exist.

Last night, as I was continuing to think through some of the questions you all are asking about community, I picked up Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s little book, The Wisdom of Stability, which I mentioned last Sunday. Look what I came across:

The great advantage of a Facebook friendship, of course, is that it is so easy. I get to choose who I want to ‘friend’ and whose friendship requests I respond to. We gather around our common interests, share the stuff we want others to know, and log off when we feel like it. In many ways what we have is connection without obligation. But intimacy without commitment is what our society has traditionally called ‘infidelity.’

As with adultery in marriage, the problem of infidelity isn’t so much that it breaks a rule as it is that it destroys the fabric of trust that sustains a healthy community. . . . If our relationships with other people do not entail responsibility and obligation, they are easily reduced to self-serving transactions. . .

– Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability, p. 92

What do you think, folks? Is this too tough on Facebook? Is it too tough a stance on community more generally? Must we be invested–must we not be able to “turn it off”–for it to count as Community-with-a-capital-C? When we have little responsibility or obligation to a particular community, are we only serving ourselves? How does it make you feel to talk about infidelity when we’re talking about our willingness to invest in community? Does it make you squirm a little bit?

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