More thoughts on community

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ideally, community is with one’s immediate family, neighbors, and extended family. In the Old Country, this was pretty much one’s only option, though some people did migrate for various reasons. Consider Abraham. In America the pioneers left family behind and were driven west motivated by hunger for more private space. Considering the overcrowding of the cities they came from, I don’t think we should be too hard on them for that, the way they crowded out the Indians notwithstanding. Nevertheless this is the American tradition. Once they had their plot of agricultural land, they banded together with whomever happened to move in the adjoining acreage. This was because they needed each other for survival as was brought up last post where it was also pointed out that today we don’t seem to need these relationships so much. Now we get our necessities more remotely via online shopping at the extreme end of the spectrum. This makes relationships seem more optional. I don’t want to completely vilify this modern development because I think we can romanticize the past arrangements too much. Sometimes people had to flee communities because of dire circumstances, not because they were evil people for not appreciating the ideal clan situation.

Still we are a people of community. With ease of shopping, we can find our community at a distance and according to our individual taste. One can criticize this as being selfish and untraditional, but one can also point to people throughout history who were able to buy imported spices and meet imported people at the market and such. I don’t think anyone ever completely shunned imported things just for being imported. I was surprised to see the Old Believers using plastic laundry baskets in this video series (h/t Gabriel). Speaking of these Old Believers, their community was very selective, and not just based on what was locally available. Sometimes imported elements are needed because they represent one’s past roots, which of course are not all bad. I suppose every Christian who does not live in Jerusalem, Antioch, or maybe Rome has an imported religion, though in Rome some Orthodox Churches are there through more modern importation.

With all this, everyone has to figure out how to live where they are and with what they bring in. What if they are bringing in something that is at odds with what was there before? The American tradition is an enhanced sense of the tension between what the Protestants believe is right, and freedom to choose something else, even the lifestyle the Protestants abandoned in the Industrial Revolution.

Those of other traditions, like Orthodox Jews, often established their own isolated communities to keep their traditional way of life in this country. Others decided to look and act more like Protestant Americans. Of course Protestantism isn’t the complete opposite of Orthodoxy so one has to be careful. Nevertheless, converting to another tradition always places one in a dubious position. Both the cradles and the former community doubt if it should or could be pulled off. Probably not, but we stepchildren exist and have to figure something out.