While I often detest generalizations which lump all 20-30 years olds into one monolithic group (usually called “millennials”), I’ve noticed something generally true about many of my peers: we crave connection. Although various forms of social media exist quite literally at our fingertips, we find ourselves increasingly disconnected: from one another, from God, and even from our own selves. The almost overwhelming popularity of social media is a response to the perceived need to stay connected to one another at all times.
To tell you the truth, social media does surprisingly well at allowing us to feel connected to one another. For example, just this evening I’ve emailed, texted, and Facebook chatted people in New Haven, Connecticut; Tulsa, Oklahoma; West Park, New York; and Montevideo, Minnesota–not to mention the countless people from a wide variety of places with whom I’ve engaged on Tumbr and Twitter. While I’ve love to be physically present with and to my friends in New Haven, Tulsa, West Park, and Montevideo, that’s not a reality at the moment. Social media allows me to stay connected–albeit in an imperfect way–with the people whom I hold dear.
You’re perhaps asking yourself, “What–if anything–does this have to do with community?” Community, not social media, is uniquely situated to more wholly fulfill our need for deep and abiding connection with those whom we hold truly dear.
Life in community is about so much more than simply sharing a house. Life in community is about reconciliation, vulnerability, and transformation, for those are the very stuff of church. When we live together–intentionally, committedly–we create a microcosm of the Church, the Body of Christ. We are diverse and unique, each person bringing with her a complicated blend of calling, baggage, guilt, intention, desire, and vision.
This is my third year living in some type of intentional community. Each community in which I’ve lived has looked vastly different, but each has allowed me to connect on a wonderfully deeper level with other people, with God, and with myself. Each community came together at the beginning with as many visions and expectations as there were community members. Through the course of the year or so, the various formulations of community were shaped and sifted, shifted and honed into something truly remarkable.
Don’t get me wrong. Living in community is at times remarkably horrible. Community, while creating the sacred space necessary to be about the business of the Church (reconciliation, vulnerability, transformation), it also allows unhealthy attitudes, behaviors, and practices the space to flourish. Because of–not in spite of!–these unhealthy (and even dangerous) situations, the community is pressed closer together, forced in many ways to either address head on or completely avoid the cause of discord and dis-ease.
In her autobiography The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day writes, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
Although she predated Facebook and Tumblr by decades, Dorothy understood the need for connectedness, which I think is a pretty universal need throughout history (although different generations might utilize different words and expressions to describe the same sentiment.) Her answer was not Twitter or Pinterest or texting, although I imagine she would have been somewhat engaged with those media (the Catholic Worker, of course, mastered the medium of print.) Instead, Dorothy found balm and succor–indeed, light and love–only in the context of community.
Like Dorothy, I use social media to stay connected with a wide and diverse set of people. Also, like Dorothy, I realize that the most whole, truest sort of relationships are best found in the context of community–where the imperfect, the broken, the vulnerable, the transforming, and the reconciling are greeted, welcomed, and cherished.
n.b. This post was requested by Ed Watson, Social Media Missioner for Saint Hilda’s House, an intentional Christian community in New Haven, Conn. in which I lived and served for a year.