Monday, May 23, 2016

Authentic Community Saves Lives

Covall Russell

The Real Church provides authentic community. (One of the best books on community development in the church is Ruth Haley Barton, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community.) Christ-centered community is one of the church's great distinctives. Therefore, nurture it. There will never not be a need for this.

Covall Russell was a ninety-two-year-old inmate in the Butte County, California, jail. Russell petitioned the judge to let him stay in jail after the end of his prison term. He had outlived his family and friends. Finally, this elderly bachelor had found a safe and caring community, in prison. Russell, in spite of his appeal, was released. He was interviewed. The "distraught Russell said his remaining options were to... violate his parole so he could return to jail, or maybe even take his own life." Shortly after this interview, Covall Russell jumped off a forty-foot bridge into the icy waters of the Feather River. (Adapted from Jean Lipman-Blumen, The Allure of Toxic Leaders, 79)

Humans were not made to live as isolates. Isolates "suffer the pangs of anomie and disconnection. They experience social death. They watch life from the sidelines." (Ib.) Unconnected to real community, they are the marginal people. (Remember "Brooks" in "The Shawshank Redemption?") 

For individuals to grow we need adequate social, spiritual, and economic support. Lack of these things cause us to be more anxious than ever. We float adrift, without meaning or direction. The meaning of "meaning" is: fitness within a coherent context. A human life that has meaning, that is experienced as meaningful, has found a place in a community of love.

Happily, Covall Russell had found a safe and caring community. Sadly, it was within constraining prison walls. Tragically, his radically individuated existence outside those walls drove him to a place of personal meaninglessness. Psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm wrote: "each step in the direction of growing individuation threaten[s] people with new insecurities." (In Ib.) Loving community provides a secure foundation in life. Russell had his pulled from beneath him.

Authentic Jesus-communities provide koinonia. This biblical word comes from koine, which means "common." What we have in common, in Jesus-community, is Jesus. Where two or more get together, he is there with us. It's life-giving and life-saving.