The Necessity of Community
And why you're more likely to find it at your local CrossFit box than your megachurch.
The necessity of community is an inherent need in human beings, resulting from eternal necessity. The source of any community is that True Community, the Tri-Unity, the Trinity of the Godhead, the perfect communion of Father, Son, and Spirit in triune harmony. We are relational beings because our God is Himself relational; community is not something which is bootstrapped from the human necessity to survive and reproduce, nor is it a structure which is imposed upon the human race by some cold unitary diety.
Relationship and community are fundamental properties of being itself, not emergent properties or viable survival strategies. No man is an island simply because he it is not advantageous to be an island, but because it is impossible to be an island. Each of us begins in relationship with our own mother, or a surrogate for our mother, who nursed us and nurtured us into our maturity. We are effective in our work when we utilize the skills and knowledge of other to accomplish our own tasks. We cannot even escape community activities when we engage in solitary tasks like shopping for groceries; each item of food is made available to us only through a series of interactions, transactions, business partnerships, contracts, teams, farms, and families who make it all happen. Community underpins it all.
Markets, therefore, are inevitable. The differential needs of others is what brings people together to trade according to their necessity. One man who is a good producer of milk has a need for bricks, the other, a brickmaker, has need of milk: this is the beginning of a market. In the past markets were simple, and those wishing to trade often knew or interacted with one another over a few degrees of seperation to make transactions (“I can handle that for you”, “I know a guy who can help”, etc). You knew who you were dealing with, and even moreso, you were likely a seller in the same set of markets that you were a buyer in.
Modern life, by contrast, is an experiment in abstraction, allowing us to be dissociated from anything real and substantive in market participation. It is still very rare that you interact with a real merchant (you know, a person) when you buy a good. Many transactions are done with online merchants, and even in many brick and mortar grocery stores, hardware stores, or fast food restaurants, the clerk’s job is really to manage the self-checkout kiosk. The abstraction of buying has also abstracted selling. “Making a living” in 2022 is drastically more impersonal, being less about specialization and trade with individual people, and more about specialization and trade with large corporations. The degree of specialization has increased drastically from the relatively general (“I make bricks”) to the intensely specific (“I manage and develop ETL pipelines to support retail BI initiatives using Matillion integration in Snowflake and AWS”). It is difficult to feel like work in the business or technology sphere is actually a productive enterprise, since the usual markers of trade aren’t there: providing for the needs of an individual person in a real, tangible way. Our work, like our consumption, has been largely reduced to algorithmic interactions with the technological ether; indirect methods of providing for those in our community by routing our resources to them through the ubiquitous monolithic corporate-government Leviathan. Buying on Amazon, Netflix, and Microsoft has become habitual.
This level of abstraction has largely crept into many of our churches as well. Americans arrive to church expecting a “service” resembling something more akin to an entertainment event than a gathering of covenant people to worship the Lord. Picking a church is often done in a consumerist fashion, by finding a church which meets the preferences of the church-goer. Small groups and Bible studies have been abstracted away from crucial gatherings of Christians to discern the meaning of truth and obedience, having morphed into vain and fruitless times to share shallow platitudes, posture as a spiritual person, and robotically exegete passages of holy scripture. Needs, whether physical or spirutual, are expected to be met by the church as an institution, and not by the church as a body of people equipped and gifted uniquely to provide for the lack which is in others. The congregation is largely a body of funding for the eldership of the church to disposition, and not a body of saints who are keen on doing good works that week. We have lost something; we have lost the same thing that is lacking in a blog post when the alternative is a beer with the author himself.
At least a CrossFit gym is filled with the continual gathering of people to spur one another on towards a common goal.