The Call of the Intentional Community

Photo Credit: @SNMIPHC

My last post described the concept of the unintentional community, that which is formed as a result of a cataclysmic event where survivors employ ways to exist and more importantly, to thrive. Today I want to describe the intentional community, one that is formed by choice constructed by social connections of similar values and beliefs. Think Walden II, Shakers, Brook Farm, Kibbutzim, and later, communes like Twin Oaks, still in Virginia. These are just a few of the intentional communities which are fairly well-known. (I hope to work on a theory of religious life as a collection of intentional communities, but that is a project of another kind.) The point here is for us to decide what kind of intentional community will we construct following the coronavirus? It will necessarily be intentional because much of life that we considered normal will no longer exist. We will have to make a new community.

According to Nicholas Christakis, the scientist I have used for this discussion, we humans automatically draw on what he calls a “social suite”, an innate social network which emerges from our capacity to recognize individual identities (diversity), love, friendship, co-operation, mild hierarchy (egalitarianism), to name a few and weave them into a cohesive, intentional community.

Christakis strongly holds “…the social suite offers a successful evolutionary, time-tested strategy for group living.” If a group is not sensitive to the basic human elements of the social suite, says Christakis, “ …it will find no other viable alternative.” It will construct non-viable, and sometimes evil communities that rule with tyranny and divisiveness. Insensitivity to the innate goodness of the social suite will inevitably destroy the community as witnessed by 80% of intentional communities in his study which dissolved after one year of existence; 63% after two years.

Christakis writes that being aware of our innate social suite, our human blueprint of basic goodness, we can create a new community from the upheaval of the community that was, the community to be replaced. He says, “This is not just something we can do; it is something we must do.” And perhaps we must do it now more than ever. This is a religious call, this call to be an intentional community to be the Church instead of attending church. One recent article in the New York Times reminded us that when the plague spread all over Europe, the rich were running out of the afflicted cities, but Christians were running in. In another article, “How Should Christians Act During the Pandemic,” Peter Wehner suggests Christians should emerge “…more kind and generous, more able to mourn with those who mourn, more able to model how love can cast out fear.” We should start now laying the foundation for a renewed community because whether we like it or not, we will be forever changed. It is up to us to remake our nation, our world, our faith using the gifts of our human blueprint, our social suite of caring, love, and generosity.

Reflection

There are simple things I must do to start making an intentional community: wear a mask in public, follow the distancing and sanitizing requirements, communicate by technology with those who are suffering loss or illness, be on call for when and how I can help. I must also listen to the wisdom of scientists and physicians who are recognized for their contributions to the welfare of others. They are like the “Angel Messengers” of the Bible who led God’s people through ordeals and suffering to find the right way.

Take this time as an unexpected Sabbath when I can expand my knowledge and ask humbly:

What are you teaching me Lord?

What must I learn about myself and my spirituality?

Please share your comments; they help all of us.

2 comments

  1. As abhorrent as these conditions are, we may have an opportunity for a “do over.” Reaching out, putting others before us, taking a good long look at ourselves and what we can bring to those who need us most. We have the opportunity to observe within and find what exists that is fresh. This is what we can offer; a new spirit that is accessible, untarnished, clean=a metamorphosis of our own identity.

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  2. Oh, this is wonderful! The Church is not empty, it is deployed! Wow, this is very powerful. Thank you for all these great ideas. Let us think about how the Holy Spirit is calling us to an intentional community of love, compassion and kindness to all. Pentecost is just around the corner, let us build the new Church!

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