A recent article in Time magazine, entitled The Fraying of America suggests that oversensitivity, political correctness, and a culture of complaint is leading to the breakdown of community.
Perhaps the article isn’t everywhere correct in its analysis as to why community is, at so many levels, fragmenting, but it is depressingly accurate in its documentation of the anger, polarization, hatred, and hypersensitivity that today mark community life in both civic and church circles. We are indeed a culture of complaint.
But the presence of so much factionalism, concern for political correctness, and outright anger and complaint is, in the end, not the problem. It’s a symptom.
Ultimately, what’s wrong is that community is falling apart. Lately, all of us, are finding ourselves precisely more and more alone, cut off from each other, especially in terms of moral affinity. Factionalism reigns in place of family and, on virtually every moral issue, we find ourselves in a cold war.
Never before, I suspect, has a whole culture (and a whole church) been more morally lonely. We ache for community, especially moral community, and, daily, we become more acutely aware that it is slipping from us.
What should we be doing—beyond complaining and nurturing the paranoia that we have been unjustly done to? I think that if Moses came down from the mountain today, he might, after first smashing a few of our ideological golden calves, promulgate some further commandments… for special use during trying community times:
1) Thou shalt not get into personalities, namecalling, and into the narcissism of taking everything personally. This pain and anger is, in the end, not about personalities but about how tough is the long-haul struggle for community.
2) Thou shalt not fall into excessive self-pity. A “holier-than-thou” attitude is no worse than a “more-wounded-than-thou” one.
3) Thou shalt not let the archetypal warrior possess you. Warriors tend to be more interested in winning battles than in winning love. The battle for a community of the heart depends more on the beatitudes than on political fire-power.
4) Thou shalt not rationalize impatience with ideology and high metaphysical theories of history. This life is a vigil demanding great patience. Impatience remains impatience, irrespective of whether or not we attempt to invest it with positive moral meaning by defining ourselves as warriors of truth.
5) Thou shalt not rationalize disrespect and a breakdown of fundamental charity. Disrespect is disrespect, and it remains an obstacle to every kind of community. No cause, be it ever so imperative, justifies abdicating respect and charity!
6) Thou shalt not let the rhetoric of the right or the left create, in you, false dichotomies which force you to choose between good things and good people. Don’t buy rhetoric which separates the good from the good and makes you line up on one side… Are you for women or for children? Are you for laws or for people? Are you for obedience or for conscience? Be for both!
7) Thou shalt not lose the sense of sacred intimacy within the family. Practice the ancient discipline arcani. Intimacy is sacred so don’t discuss the family’s deepest secrets with the whole world—and especially avoid doing this on talk shows!
8) Thou shalt not succumb to the temptation to justify excess and lack of self-criticism. Two wrongs do not a right make! It is not justifiable to say: “Because we have been treated wrongly for so long we can now enjoy certain excesses ourselves.”
9) Thou shalt not become so pompous, puffed-up, and full of self-importance so that you see healthy humor as an affront to your “cause” and dignity. When you no longer have the capacity to take a joke, you lack the proper resiliency for healthy living and should leave political arena for the therapeutic couch.
10) Thou shalt not lose the sense of the Body of Christ. In Christ’s body no one part can ever say to another: “I don’t need you!” We are, on both sides of eternity, forever bound to each other.
We can grow angry and fight with each other, and even for a while go on sabbatical from community, but this concrete bunch of people on earth, for all its faults, is the only family we have. We bear its birthmarks and can never leave it even when we try. In the end, our final imperative is to come to peace with the family… and to die with a warm heart!