A Divine Society
Everybody loves community.
According to sociologists Colin Bell and Howard Newby, 'everyone
- even sociologists (who usually like to sit on the fence) - want to
live in community.'
In his book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Williams reports that the word 'community' - 'unlike all other terms of social organisation (such as 'group', 'party', 'network', 'association', or 'institution' etc.) - is never…used unfavourably.'
I think it is probably an exaggeration to say the word 'community' is 'never used unfavourably', but it is true to say that it is seldom used unfavourably. And the reason for that is because the word 'community' is essentially a heartfelt word - like 'love', 'romance', 'friendship', 'marriage' or 'family' - which has deep, positive, passionate connotations for most of us most of the time.
I can think of many examples where people have talked unfavourably about issues to do with their community, or about the leadership, direction, and/or organisation of their community; however, I can think of only one example of people talking unfavourably about the notion of community itself. And that was about the 'communities in Queensland' - the state of Australia where I live - where the word 'community' was a euphemism for a reservation run by the state for aborigines, who had been removed forcibly from their land at the point of a gun. So the only example I've come across myself - where people do not talk favourably about 'community' - is where the word 'community' was political double-speak for the destruction of a much-loved community.
When we talk about a community, we are usually talking about a particular context in which we feel at home - 'a place, or a group of people, or a tapestry of meaningful relationships which creates a gracious space that embraces us in a strong-but-gentle, undeniably beautiful sense of belonging'.
David Clark says it well in Basic Communities:
community [is] essentially a sentiment which people have
about themselves in relation to themselves: a sentiment
expressed in action, but still basically a sentiment or a
feeling…People have many feelings, but there are two
essential feelings for the existence of community: a sense
of significance and a sense of solidarity.
Aussie commentator, Hugh Mackay, says that human beings are like mobs of kangaroos, because - like them - 'we are creatures who thrive on our connections with each other. We are at our best when we are fully integrated with the herd; we are at our worst when we are isolated.' In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam observes that
We are most healthy when we are most connected. Due
to the encouragement of healthy norms, assistance in ill health, advocacy for proper healthcare, and 'herd immunity', people who are connected are less likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes, cancer - even colds! They are also two to five times less likely to die prematurely.
We are most happy when we are most connected. The best single global indicator of happiness is connectedness. Those who have strong relationships with family and friends are much less likely to experience loneliness, low self-esteem, eating and sleeping disorders, and sadness and depression, than those with weak relationships.
We are most honest when we are most connected. In relationships, long-term credibility is worth a lot more than any gain from short-term treachery. This explains why there are a lot fewer unreliable used cars returned to second-hand dealers in small town communities.
We are most generous when we are most connected. The most
common reason for giving is being asked. The most common
reason for not giving is not being asked. People are more likely to
be asked if they are in contact with others. Thus, people in clubs
and churches are ten times more likely to give help than those
who are not.
We are most prosperous when we are most connected. When
people know one another, they are much more likely to share
access to jobs, promotions, bonuses, and other benefits. Moreover, when people trust one another, there is a significant reduction in expenses from the cost of security to insurance.
We are most safe and most secure when we are most connected. The willingness of neighbours to look after one another, and to actually intervene to protect one another when someone causes trouble, can reduce all kinds of crime in a neighbourhood. A local neighbourhood watch can reduce graffiti, muggings, even gang violence.
I am part of a community workers' co-operative called the Community Praxis Co-op. The Co-op exists to empower people and resource and strengthen the capacities of groups and organizations in order to develop just, peaceful and sustainable communities. It undertakes projects in teams of two or more members, and the Co-op member I have done the most work with in a team is a brilliant community development practitioner by the name of Peter Westoby. In the car on the way to and from our Co-op work on government sponsored community development projects, Pete and I have had many long
and vigorous talks about the art of community development.
Pete believes that community development is much less about technique,
and more about soul, and that community development practitioners cannot simply move in and quickly mobilise a community to solve their own problems. According to Pete, we can only participate along with others in the community in invoking the 'soul of the community'. He often cites a quote from the mystic, Thomas Moore, who says that 'human community [is] the work of the ghosts of memory, the spirits of place and the soul of culture.'
Pete says that 'true community can only be born if there is some transformation of awareness and attention'. Community as a reality'can only be dreamt of' when we are in touch with 'the archetypal mysteries of our psyches' in the depth of our souls. He says that we need 'models, images and pictures that enable us to imagine a new world' and can 'inspire a hope that ignites possibilities that seem beyond reality.'
If we are going to enable one another to imagine a society with a greater sense of community, both Pete and I believe there are four things that we need to do. Firstly, we need to help one another recognize our hopes for the world, which usually involve some kind of renewal of community in our society. Secondly, we need to provide one another with an opportunity to explore alternative approaches to the renewal of community. These include those commended by the archetypal metaphors embedded in our psyches that are expounded in the mysteries of the major religious traditions. Thirdly, we need to establish places for substantive conversations - around those metaphors - about the possibilities of developing a renewed sense of
significance and solidarity in society. Fourthly, we need to encourage one another to engage the world in the light of the possibilities that those metaphors provide, so that we do our best to create as many gracious community spaces in society as we can, to embrace our fellow human beings in a 'strong-but-gentle undeniably-beautiful sense of belonging'.
The archetypal metaphor of community I would like to offer you for your consideration in this process is the Trinity, as it is so poignantly depicted in Rublev's Icon, The Holy Trinity.
According to Baxter Kruger, the Trinity is the most beautiful doctrine of the Christian faith. But it has been disastrously neglected and forgotten, and when it is talked about, the discussion is dominated by those philosophical types that get caught up in all the technicalities and miss the main point of it all.
The famous philosopher, Immanuel Kant, probably spoke for a lot of people when he said, 'even if one claims to understand it, the doctrine of the Trinity provides [us with] nothing, absolutely nothing, of practical value.' He said that we need to face the fact that it 'offers absolutely no guidance for conduct.'
However, Leonardo Boff, the liberation theologian, spoke for millions of poor people in basic ecclesial communities around the world, when he said that the 'divine society' was their 'permanent utopia' - the true social program for any human society seeking participation, equity and equality.
My hope is that A Divine Society will provide a practical theology of the Trinity you can use as an imaginative framework to work towards more community in society.
This book is dedicated to my children and to my children's children.
'Dave Andrews is one of Australia’s most innovative community workers. His vision for social change, however, comes out of a well articulated theological vision. Dave clearly demonstrates that Jesus’ vision of the in-breaking reign of God rooted in Trinitarian theology can be the inspirational centre for contemporary community work. This challenging piece of integrated writing can be a guide to all who seek to bring the shalom of God to all the places of pain and injustice in our world.'
Dr. Charles Ringma Professor Emeritus, Regent College, Vancouver, Canada
'When I met Dave Andrews a few years ago, I could feel the fire burning in him. Then I heard him speak. Then I read his books. Ever since, he has been and continues to be a major inspiration for my life and work.
'A Divine Society offers a powerful example of what a prophet - and a teacher - can mean (to us) today.'
Brian McLaren, pastor (crcc.org), author (anewkindofchristian.com)
'The doctrine of the Trinity - that God is one yet three and three without ceasing to be one - is for many people the most perplexing of all beliefs. How does one make sense of it?'
'Dave Andrews…has meditated long and hard on what this most mysterious and beautiful of religious beliefs means, not just at a theoretical or speculative level - but also at a practical, down-to-earth level. It's an indispensable paradigm for living together in a cruel, violent and lonely world.'
Dr Chris Marshall, St John’s Senior Lecturer in Christian Theology, Religious Studies Department, Victoria University New Zealand