Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Little Community

apple double

"The idea of a modest dwelling all our own, isolated from the problems of other people, has been our reigning metaphor of the good life for a long time. It must now be seen for what it really is: an antisocial view of human existence." (James Kunstler, quoted in The Suburban Christian, p. 116)

Ouch. When I read that in Al Hsu's sixth chapter, "Won't Your Be My Neighbor?" I felt uncomfortable. I like my modest dwelling in this very urban exurb where I live. I find respite in "cocooning" which is going "out less and stay[ing] home more." (p.118) Indeed, I find that staying home works to produce a sense of meaningful identity, not linked to the conspicuous consumption that TSC warns against in other chapters.

I'm also not sure that having a modest dwelling, and spending a good amount of time here, means I live without community. I say this after I spent yesterday with a grieving widow, while my back yard neighbor watched my kids, even though she was nursing a cold. And I say this after spending Monday evening with another back yard neighbor, as mutual support for our recent grief.

This isn't to say that my residential geography doesn't make connection more challenging. I don't have a front porch to sit on, as Hsu notes can promote a sense of connectedness in our communities. It is true that I don't know my front yard neighbors very well. They are actually down hill from me; whereas my back yard neighbors are on the same plane (an interesting study in how our geography affects things, I guess.) Surely, I have miles to go before I sleep on this one.

But the issue of hospitality versus isolation has been with us for a long, long time. I remember that Isaiah shouts a series of questions to the people of Israel, regarding God's desires...

"Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house... and not to hide yourself from your own kin?" (58:7)

In the end, I'm undecided. Do I have enough community? Do my neighbors want more from me? I don't know. Surely there must be a way to judge this. I'm counting on you for wisdom.

Apple in Double photo, by L.L. Barkat.

Seedlings Invitation: If you write a post related to this post and Link It Back Here, let me know and I'll link to yours.


Amy Simpson's The Society Page


Al's Finding Community

Charity's Something to Share

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Blogger The Cob said...

Love this one. I feel the same pangs of guilt as I drive through my neighborhood realizing that I know my neighbors names but almost nothing else. It's my fault. After a day or week of "connecting" with people at church and at work or "counseling" with dozens of people, I enjoy a little cocooning. So while I am connected and am part of a community, it isn't at all geographical. My neighbors are just strangers who live in houses close to mine.
But does community have to be with those who are closest in proximity? Can genuine community not happen outside of our neighborhoods.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hmmm...seems like we can always have more human interaction, but that doesn't always take community. I don't know if you consider yourself introverted or extroverted, but as an introvert, I know that I need time to recharge so I can actually BE communal (psychologically and spiritually present), and not just physically present, when I'm with others.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

I don't know that there can be such a thing as enough community on this side of heaven. There are many factors that work against community (read: loving your neighbor). Working to build community is something that must be intentional, and then woven into our every-day lives, don't you think?

You have a back yard, and what are you doing with it? You are building community. That's great; keep it up. I have a chair at my front door. I think I'll sit there for a bit this weekend while reading and greet whoever passes by.

2:46 PM  
Blogger bluemountainmama said...

this CAN be a hard balance. and to tell you the truth, i think so much depends on personality types and how you get refreshed/rejuvenated. whereas extroverts do this by being around people, introverts do this by having quiet/alone time. i am more of an introvert...i love people and being around them to a degree, but i need a certain amount of quiet/alone time to stay sane/rejuvenate. like sarah said, if i'm around people too much or on the go constantly, i go into burnout mode. our old neighborhood was somewhat of an overload to me, b/c you could never be out without having someone on your porch, in your yard, or kids running in and out of your house. i enjoyed the friendlines and comraderie, but sometimes it was a little much.

i think the important thing is that you are available when there is a true need. and to know when there is a true need, you have to know your neighbors. not just in a smile and "hello" kind of way, but in a more intimate way.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

Reading this makes me so grateful for my community. Kerrville is small by national standards--only 20,000 people. That means we see our church friends at work, our work friends at the grocery store, our theater friends at the movies, you get the idea.

I love Al's book, though I'm no longer the audience.

And part of me agrees with Craver. I wouldn't say community isn't possible, but it's certainly not fully realized. Sometimes I've wondered if every community isn't just an approximation of the Church that God has planned for us. And I mean the church universal, not the piddly things that meet together every Sunday. (And yes I do love my church, y'all.)

But even my church is just an approximation of community.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Gasp! I have neighbors?
Things just haven't been the same since Mister Roger died.

4:56 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

The Cob... yes, I was thinking this myself. Of course, the advantage of knowing one's community and being involved is that it probably impacts things like how land is developed and cared for, what things look like, and whether we can get a jumpstart when we need one. I find myself searching for an adequate definition of community.

Sarah... I too need time to recharge, though I'm very social when I'm in a group. And I was thinking that we needn't put the same energy into all relationships to foster a meaningful community. Maybe it could work to even get to know about three families on a street?

Craver... you know what? This is going to sound terrible, but the one-big-happy-family (read one trillion trillion trillion people worshiping at the throne) image of heaven is hard for me. It makes me feel like I'll be overwhelmed, lost. I trust that God will somehow work that out in me, but it's just the way I feel.

Blue Mountain... so the question of boundaries arises. Does community mean no boundaries between people? (In TSC, for instance, Hsu recommends taking down fences.)

Mark... so, realistically, how many people do you think a person could be in community with? (If you read The Tipping Point, he's got a theory.) And what are the implications of this? Do we need to know everbody on the block to be a community?

Heather... yup. That's what we call those two-legged creatures who are just now walking by your yard with a doggie and a scooper.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Llama Momma said...

As one who lives in the suberbs and knows her neighbors, let me just say...people crave community. We find it easily at church, with people just like us. And yet our neighbors are right there, and many of them don't know Jesus.

I've been working to build community in my neighborhood for the last two years, and it's been incredible. It started by organizing meals for a neighbor who had a baby. She cried when I told her we would be coming, one by one, for two weeks. Her husband works for playboy magazine, and she's never stepped foot in a church. Now her kids come and play in my backyard, and a few months ago, she asked me to pray for her.

Here's the thing: we get in our christian community bubbles and forget that the people around us are dying. And many of them are craving community too.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...


I'll stick my neck out here - I think James Kunstler's comment, albeit read here without context, seems a tad judgmental. I don't believe that most people buy homes (modest, luxurious, or otherwise) because they're antisocial or because they don't desire community.

In fact, the longing for community is the silent cry of many, if not most suburbanites. They just don't know how to get there - with the 50 hour work weeks, hour long commute, family commitments, kids soccer on the weekends, church, etc...

Where you find community in suburbia isn't always via physical proximity, it may be through other associations.

LL, as always - thanks for making us think.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...


And one more thing - from what you've shared on your post, it hardly sounds like you're in danger of being antisocial. You seem like a caring, gracious friend to those around you.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Shona Cole said...

I found your blog via the blog of makoto fujimura. I spent some time reading through your blog and it seems that you have a nice community online. I was wondering, how many of your regular visitors know you in person?

8:09 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I think it's always good to strive for more community--in your church, in your neighborhood. Community could be just getting to know that guy at the gas station who pumps gas, or the checkout lady. One by one.
What's not good is to be comfortable with our community and only reach out to others like us. That I think we all know.
And I do agree with every square inch. I don't think we are purposely buying houses to cocoon or hide in. I think it's a product of a lot of things. However, now that you point out the geographical location of your back yard neighbors, and how your house is situated, I can see that you *could* pick homes that are more *conducive* to community, now that you are aware of it.

Either that, or move out of NY. ;)

(and Llama, I love how you reached out to your neighbors...very inspiring.)

8:26 PM  
Blogger Ted Gossard said...

It is good to get away and want know one to know where they are, even as Jesus did. Of course he did so as one in mission to all those around him.

I really admire those Christians who seem to make alot of space and time for others as a habit of their lives. Some are especially gifted in this way, but really all Christians are to practice something of this.

Real friendship needs to occur. As ESI notes here, there are too many irons in the fire for too many of us.

L.L., The simplicity of your life and what you share here I think is helpful for us. And most if not all of us need to keep working on this. Good food for thought.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I'm going to have to agree with ESI on this one - having been raised in the South (yes, it actually does have a capital S) where you knew your neighbors and interacted with them daily - it wasn't always as deeply as outsiders think. In fact, to this day, while I think the open and gracious manner of Southerners is wonderful, I realize that it is also a protective veneer which allows you to know them so much and no more. While "Yankess" (sorry to all you Midwesterners - but my family thinks I'm freezing in the midst of Yankee land and cannot be convenced that Chicago is really Midwestern) may be more reticent and a bit harder to get to know, I actually feel like I really do know them, as real people.

And ESI is right - for some of us, it is not lack of desire for community, it's lack of time. The commute added to an already long work day doesn't leave much time for visitng with neighbors

and also affect the quality of my yard!

10:10 PM  
Blogger Inihtar said...

Thanks for this post. . . I think you had something similar a while back--was it the one about people throwing things in your backyard? :))

I've come full circle in this issue (in the wrong direction). From being born into a culture where nuclear families were a rarity, and nobody needed invitations to drop by, I'm now wondering how I'd even get used to sharing my life and home with another person (if that were to happen one day). I don't know any of my neighbours, due both to a lack of initiative and to the language barrier. . . or maybe the language thing is just an excuse?

I love Llama's way of reaching out, especially to non-Christians, and showing them the love of a Christian community. Thanks for the example!

10:49 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

Gosh. LL's post was thought provoking, but the comments have fleshed it out beautifully in all sorts of directions.

I sympathise with all you introverts out there. I need my own spaces, and time to myself, and a little quote like Kunstler's isn't going to change that. Still, perhaps the operative phrase in that quote is "isolated from the problems of other people". In that case, Kunstler is describing a position that I hope I don't hold, for all my introversion. We can take our own spaces, and time for ourselves, without trying to distance ourselves from other people's problems.

10:50 PM  
Blogger Llama Momma said...

I feel like my post yesterday left so much out, I had to come back. And then I saw Lynet's post, and the last sentence of her comment sums it up well. Oh, can I paraphrase? I'll try. We can be accessible to people and relationships and still maintain some personal space, which we all need too.

I want my neighbor to knock on my door when she is in the middle of making cookies and runs out of butter. And she does. And I do. This is community.

And we have an edger for our lawn that half the block borrows on Saturday. This is community.

And the single Mom on the corner who is too busy to care much where her kids are most afternoons. Letting her know that I care about her and her daughers; giving her my phone number and letting her know that one of her girls is at my house almost every day, so if she needs her back home, to call; and welcoming "one more" at our lunch table most afternoons. Filling her up with hugs and healthy snacks and a listening ear. This is community.

Watching the children play t-ball in the front yard with all of the neighborhood kids and Moms, realizing I'm almost out of milk and my husband's out of town. Asking the neihbor Mom to keep an eye on the boys while I run to the store. This is community.

And when a neighbor's husband comes home late and drunk, and domestic violence becomes a reality inside her "safe" space, she realizes she is not alone. She has community. So at midnight, her and her babies come knocking on my safe house. This is community.

Okay. I've gone on too much. I guess I am just so passionate about this because I am experiencing it in my neighborhood and it is powerful and wonderful. I have friends I wouldn't have had if I had stayed inside, and I am better for those friendships.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Llama Momma said...

Okay. Last comment! I just re-read what I wrote, and I realize why I am so passionate about this: I was the little girl in the neighborhood that the other Moms took time for. I was growing up in a home that was difficult, and I often wonder where I would be if not for the caring concern of the families in my neighborhood. (Which was very rural.) I'm sure I was a nuisance and hard to love at times, and yet they loved me anyway.

The nurturing of the Mom next door taught me how to nurture. It also taught me that what I was experiencing at home wasn't normal, and there was, in fact, another way. And when I grew up, I vowed to be a "macaroni and cheese" Mom. A Mom who made lunch for her kids.

And so I am involved with people in part because I want to be a beacon of hope to children who may not have much hope.

Okay. I'll stop now. Obviously, you hit on one of my passions!

7:51 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Every square... it is an interesting thought though, isn't it? That different physical choices make for more or less community? Like the fact that I live up hill from my street neighbors (even though the houses are practically on top of each other!)... it never occurred to me that this would affect things, but it does. And thank you for your kind encouragement. As a person who struggles to be gracious, it's always nice to hear that someone thinks it actually comes through from time to time!

Shona... welcome to Seedlings. And Mako is one of my favorite people ever. Have you met him? Or have you ever gone to the IAMNY conference? About this community, it has slowly made itself. I only know one person from "real life" and one other I met at a conference... oh, and one I decided to meet in NYC after meeting him here. You would be a very welcome addition!

Andrea... and I'm thinking we don't have to know everyone deeply for this to work. But frequenting the same store, and going to the same cashier, etc. might be something to consider!

Ted... yes, some people seem to have a knack for this stuff. I think I'm one who needs to make room more purposefully. I really do love to be alone, puttering in my garden or curled up with a good book.

Halfmom... you've made this Northerner feel better! (And I've fixed my commute problem... I work from home.)

Inihtar... you've hit on an interesting dilemma... when two people marry, who have different cultural backgrounds (family can also be a culture, yes?). I realize that I am from a much more fence-like culture than my spouse. And at times this has been the source of some real confusion for both of us.

Lynet... an insightful comment. Some of us find it easier to get in close if we have the regular distance of healthy solitude. Again, I find myself reaching for a definition of community. Does it mean to always be with people? Your comment implies otherwise.

Llama... well, I love the passion. I'm so glad you feel free to bring it here in all its color. What an incredibly open home you have! This is the kind of thing that would raise my anxiety level way up. But you seem to be a natural (or is it just that you value it so much that you go against feelings of wanting to be separate, for the sake of your vision?).

2:12 PM  
Blogger 23 degrees said...

Laura, sounds like you have a wonderfully balanced world of creativity, community and caring.

Llama Momma, you rock my world, sis. Challenging and encouraging comments. You had my eyes watering.

I think that Blue Mountain is on the right track too: need to get to really know your neighbor, as much as you can. And Craver: we must be intentional in getting to know those around us.

The Hsu book sounds intriguing. I wonder if we have good community because we all have individual homes? I am sure it depends on the person/family. I live in a town that 100 years ago was built to be a utopian society (with common long-houses) and it failed in only a few years.

Also, just guessing here, that in a fallen world there are some who do not want close community and there are also folks with whom I do not want to have close community with.

Surely difficulties bring us together. I have heard the Brits look back at the difficult times of the bombings they had during WWII as some of the best times of their lives. Our closest friends are those we have bled and cried with. Lynet’s comment about the phrase “isolated from the problems of other people” does seem to be the crux of the matter, no matter what social situation we find ourselves in.

Mrs. 23 Degrees and I had the opportunity of being house-parents for a sorority for seven years, and later at a group home for pregnant teens for four. We had to cocoon to survive, but we made it a point to be available and to make a presence at key times. With a baby that got tougher. We were used to interruptions and rolled with it, even when that included 200 frat boys running through the house in their boxers at 2 AM. (Greek Row was a whole different kind of community.)

In Dallas, every house in every neighborhood had 6 ft. security fences, but we knew our neighbors seven houses deep. (Thinking back though, I would mow the grass behind all our fences (intentional) just to so they wouldn’t have to haul their mowers around the block. Some reciprocated, for others it opened doors to talk and connect even more.

I think kids add to community as well (mowing lawns, playing together, leaving May baskets on doorsteps.)

Now, we live in the North (hi halfmom!) in a small town. We have no fence, and although we talk with our new neighbors, it’s been kind of hard to “break in.” Volunteering at the food pantry, school and PTO has helped, but there seems to be an invisible barrier that only time and effort will be able to tear down. However, in just taking the initiative to talk with one neighbor about snow removal, my driveway gets plowed for free and I reciprocate with concert tickets. (I heard that it’s always good to keep this kind of giving in balance, and this is probably the one piece of good advice I have to share in my comments regarding community.)

2:43 PM  
Blogger ChiefHazelrah said...

I don't even know my neighbor's names. It could just be the rushed atmosphere of California; nobody's ever in the mood to talk to each other.

I think that's why many of us are inclined to go to church. There's much more community there.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Sandy Carlson said...

Great post. I think we all want a safe place to put our head at the end of the day--or in the middle of the day if the going gets tough. Being home where we are doesn't mean isolation and indifference necessarily. That's a leap. Sometimes creating inner quiet makes it easy to open the doors to people in need.

Thanks for this thought and for the beautiful photo.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Llama Momma said...

LL -- Thank you for allowing me and all of my color into your tidy living room! :-)

Your question is a good one -- am I a natural at having an open home? I used to be more closed and seperate, and then when the twins came and all of the drama that came with that I needed community. And once I discovered it, there was no turning back.

So it's probably a combination. Though there are days when I just want quiet -- and I turn everyone away and cocoon here in our home and backyard. (Well, all except the Kindergartener on the corner. She has captured my heart so completely, she's like my own.)

Great conversation here, by the way. I love reading everyone's thoughts!

3:10 PM  
Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

Wow. This conversation exploded. (In a good way.) Great comments and long.

You asked me if you need to know everyone on your block to feel in community.

No. And 20,000 is too many to know. But there's a sense of community here that feels different from San Antonio. Not that a city can't have it's sense of community too. Fiesta or Oyster Bake or a good Spurs game made me feel part of a community because we were all sharing in the same festive atmosphere.

In Kerrville, you run into people you know. This happens often enough so that it seems it could happen anywhere, anytime. There's not the same sense of potential anonymity here.

Except when I'm commenting on someone else's blog.

But then, you've met me in person. So you know the picture is really me. And I know you're really... an apple.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Eve said...

I think Jesus had this down pack.

He "visited" with the masses, instructed his disciples, went out of the way to help the needy person, and withdrew to recharge in prayer and rest.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Shona Cole said...

L.L. thank you for welcoming me. I will check in to your blog and say hello from time to time. I have not had the time to keep my own writing blogs going, but I do keep up a visual one. A few artsy folks from my church do a photo a day blog along side me, it has been a fun way of keeping our community going throughout the week. Our church is called Grace Community.... so this concept is pretty big in our life! I like the tone of your online community here.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Simply Authentic said...

I think it's possible to enjoy your modest dwelling and not have disconnected from the world. Regardless of where one is located, you can still contemplate beyond yourself and you connect to others through the majority of daily living whether you realize it or not. When we buy anything we are impacting all those that participated in its production, when you drive you interact with all of those on the road. When you blog, you are also part of a blogger community. So the fact of the matter is that unless someone is completely off the grid and never got any of their food or materials for living from one is truly unconnected.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Ambre said...

I love your photos and have linked you to my page. I hope that you don't mind. If so, just let me know.

Your photography is stunningly beautiful. You have a great eye!!


9:16 PM  
Blogger spaghettipie said...

oh no! I left a comment the other day and evidently it ran away...

the gist of it was:
i loved reading your thoughts.
i loved reading all the comments.
community is dear to my heart, especially right now as i've been thinking a lot about it.

oh, and i'm sure there was more but it's gone now, just gone. :(

12:45 AM  
Blogger Mama Monk said...

This has been an amazing thread of conversation to sift through.

Lately and with summer getting us our of the home more, I have felt a real desire to intentionally reach out to our community/neighbors.

I think for me, I often feel I have many dear people in my life already that I want to love more/ spend more time with.

This makes me feel that I don't have the "space" to let more new or "unexpected" relationships in.

I think this is shortsided and closes me off from receiving God's gifts surprises. It can be a controlling attitude that blocks access with a "fence".

My husband and I are carving out more down time inour life, and as we do, I realize I have way more relational energy with strangers: at the bank, grocery store, walking along the street. I am more mindful, more open to interruptions and serendipity.

Reading this post encourages me to continue slowing down our life, creating more open space for neighbors.

What a great post, L.L. As always, thank you for your thoughts.

1:12 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

I would have to agree with Ambre. You have a great eye, but I have not been able to determine whether it is your left eye or your right eye.

1:31 PM  
Blogger su pantalones said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Su Pantalones said...

There are so many ways to connect with people from detached, single family homes. When we start to cocoon inside McMansions, and create entire communities where only our family is welcome - that's when things start to get dangerous.
A new book, refuting Kunstler's theory of suburban isolation, is "Craving Community: The New American Dream" - at amazon Not all suburbia is meant for disconnection.

7:10 PM  

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