Like pottery dashed to the ground, many people today have lives marred by fragmentation. A life lived in pieces—in fragmentation—is no life at all. Given that Jesus has come that we may have full and abiding joy, not snatches of happiness in the midst of a lonely and meaningless world, it is imperative that the church responds to this fragmentation. We should focus on developing trust in community as culture-shapers, valuing individuals through hospitality, and celebrating the Eucharist.
We live in an age of self-created identity and self-maintained community. Instead of breathing in the air of bestowed community, individuals often seek out their own communities in new places. Our culture’s reliance on the omnipresence of cell phones and Internet (with the included benefits of amenities such as Skype) increases mobility, since people feel freer to leave communities as the potential to ‘keep in touch’ always remains.
However, this propensity to rely on ‘keeping in touch’ with many people instead of investing in a fewer number of face-to-face relationships has severe consequences on our feelings of isolation and fragmentation. It is as if bits and pieces (fragments) of us belong to different people in different parts of the world. This can also have a deleterious effect on mission, which is always outward looking, if individuals are focused on finding an inward sense of integration through pursuing a multiplicity of long-distance relationships. It is doubtful that humans have the emotional capacity to “spend [themselves] in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed” (Is. 58:10) if they are spending an inordinate amount of energy and emotion on holding themselves together. In addition, as Robert Putnam notes in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, whereas “real-world interactions often force us to deal with diversity,” a cadre of extended community facilitated by technology “may be more homogeneous, not in demographic terms, but in terms of interest and outlook.”
In a postmodern worldview marked by distrust, “security becomes the new idol before whom all other gods must bow” (Bader-Saye, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear). This individualized focus motivated by fear is far from neutral, engendering “suspicion, preemption, and accumulation, which threaten traditional Christian virtues such as hospitality, peacemaking, and generosity.”
In contrast to the individual’s scramble to create themselves, the church should be a missional culture-shaper that develops trust within communities. Seeking to bring about shalom in this way would be a great blessing to our fragmented society. I agree with Putnam’s advocacy for a culture of reciprocity, where networks are expanded through mutual obligation. Trust will mainly be built as we seek the common good of our communities.
We should be salt and light in our communities: as voters, as individuals in civic organizations such as the Parent Teacher Association, or by organizing community events such as movie nights or festivals that welcome neighbors. Trusting in Jesus, who has overcome the world, we can work joyfully for the common good. In Journey to the Common Good, Brueggeman observes that “those who sign on and depart the system of anxious scarcity become the historymakers in the neighborhood. These are the ones not exhausted by Sabbath-less production who have enough energy to dream and hope. From dreams and hope come such neighborly miracles as good health care, good schools, good housing, good care for the earth, and disarmament.”
The hopes and dreams of a fearless church are manifested tangibly in generosity, especially in hospitality. In an age ruled by mistrust of the other (especially of institutions), hospitality in churches and in homes of believers is a powerfully subversive influence on our culture. Hospitality is opposite to mistrust of outsiders, as one’s most private space is opened to the other. It also provides a safe haven from the competitive drive to see others as obstacles. Through hospitality, people rediscover their humanity as their stories are shared. Communal integration takes place as individual wounds are bound up by Christ, “for he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Eph. 2:14). The church prophetically offers hospitality in place of hostility.
The church will need nourishment as it provides hospitality to a fragmented world. This is found in the Eucharist, as the church is hosted by Christ himself. On the night before he died, Jesus broke bread and proclaimed, “This is my body, broken for you” (1 Cor. 11:24). As we participate regularly in the Eucharist, we will find our broken pieces integrated into the broken body of Christ. We will find ourselves bound up and bound together, able to offer ourselves and Christ to others without fear. Having viscerally experienced the welcome of Christ, we will be strengthened to do the same for others. In a world of fragmentation and isolation, we adelight to find that in the Eucharist “the God who presides in this house is the great gatherer: ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them beside those already gathered’ (Is. 56.8)” (Brueggemann). In Christ, our fragments are gathered together so that we may “gather others” and make more room at the table.