If you’re in your 20s with some A-Levels, chances are you are part of a community, but don’t live in one.
Our generation belong to interest communities rather than geographic communities. Our community may be professional, academic or online; it may be our knitting group, Monday night football or 20s group at church, but it’s unlikely to be those who live beside us.
Our neighbourhoods are filled with people of different backgrounds, classes, ages, ethnicities and needs. Our communities are not. Your neighbour, is no longer your spare key holder you go to for a monkey wrench or your friend. They’re just the person who lives next door.
At Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953, either you were at the house of the neighbour with the telly or you owned the telly, and the neighbours were round at yours. Geographic community breeds interdependence. Fast forward to June 2012’s Jubilee celebrations. You likely spent it with friends from an interest group (work, church, sports club) after receiving or sending an invite on Facebook.
As broadband speed has quickened, so our physical walls have grown insurmountable. We get notifications rather than knocks; phones ring, not doorbells. We spend time with our Facebook friends rather than those who live on our street. And since our social network includes only those we like and excludes those without internet access, primarily those older or poorer than us, the diversity range of this community is limited.
Ease of mobility, commonality of internal migration, a rural to urban shift and the advance of the internet means that how our generation does community is different to any generation before us.
It’s not bad. It’s not me calling for a return to ‘the good old days’. I just think life is better when our neighbours are our friends and our friends are our neighbours.
Jesus had a pretty interesting community around him. His disciples were diverse in their occupations (fishermen and a tax collector), interests (Simon the – presumably political – Zealot and Matthew the writer) and temperaments (quiet Andrew and tempestuous Peter). Yet all apart from Judas appear to be Galileans. Locals. Neighbours. Friends.
Our generation seems to shun the relationships available in their diverse neighbourhoods in favour of communities of common interest. We foolishly forgo the interdependence that only geographic community can bring and instead seek self sufficiency.
Are we worried that our neighbours may turn out to be weird? Are we tired of investing in transient people who will only move out of their rented accommodation in six months anyway? Do we think the moment has passed for introductions? Are we waiting, telling ourselves we’ll invest deeply once we are settled (whatever that means), ignoring the opportunities that await us now?
Ours is a generation who find themselves asking – albeit in a different tone – the same question as the first century law expert who spoke with Jesus: “Who is my neighbour?”
And if we don’t know the answer, the richness of geographic community passes us by.