Someone in my apartment building is baking. At first I thought it might be cookies, but then I sniffed more intently and decided it could possibly be a cake. There is definitely the scent of vanilla and sugar in the air, and that golden-brown fresh-baked smell. It is both my gift and curse that I have this incredibly acute sense of smell.
Now, there is a part of me that wishes I could/would go and hunt down the source of this heavenly aroma. I wish I knew the people on my floor well enough that I could start knocking on doors and find out who was baking, and why. But the sad thing is that I actually do not know anyone else, even in the building. Sure, I can recognize faces, and the guy in the apartment next door I know owns a motorcycle and keeps odd hours, but I have no idea what his name is.
I sit here at my desk with five quotes staring me down, five quotes that are hanging above me in order to help focus my critical thinking for my thesis work. They are all quotes about “community” because “community” is my obsession, my quest, my holy grail. I have plenty of “conflagrations of community” (as Catherine Keller would call them) in my life. I draw on both the past and future possibilities in my dreams of community (as Marjorie Suchocki reminds me to do). I know that community is difficult and tenuous and “not automatically ‘beloved'” (as Grace Jantzen puts it). And I realize that community should never force us to deny, stifle or smother out our differences (as Zigmunt Bauman challenges).
And so I sit, gazing at these quotes and dreaming of living where I can knock on my neighbour’s door and ask what it is they are baking. I dream of taking my own fresh-baked cookies across the hall to the guy with the motorcycle. I long to make too much potato salad because I know that someone in my building is too busy to make dinner and would love to share mine.
Sometimes I think these dreams are silly and childish. Sometimes I wonder if I dream of these things because they are what the demographic I belong to are supposed to dream of. But part of me believes that I dream of these things because there is some desire deep within me (and maybe within others too?) to huddle together and share food and laughter and tears and touch. I’m interested in how we can do that with fidelity to our post-modern, post-Christian context, and how connection and community can, indeed, even save us.
It is tricky to put these two things together: the academic quotes and the heartfelt dreams. Right now I can feel the two both weighing heavily on my heart and mind, because they are still learning how to speak each other’s languages and are still learning how to be patient enough to listen to one another. And yet I press on, convinced that somehow I might be able to say something that will take the desires of my heart and speak them back into my academic work in authentic and life-giving ways.
Maybe I’ll go bake some cookies.
Catherine Keller: A conflagration of communities “cannot draw opaque boundaries around either its individuals or its communities…. it clusters locally and vines globally.” (Apocalypse Now and Then. 218)
Marjorie Suchocki: “Who we are,” as individuals and as ‘the church’, “depends upon our past and upon our future possibilities.” (God, Christ, Church. 143)
Grace Jantzen: “Communities are not automatically paradise. Communities can be extremely powerful, and can use that power in destructive ways.” “Community is not automatically ‘beloved’.” (Becoming Divine. 225)
Zigmunt Bauman: We need to employ “the republican model of unity, of an emergent unity which is a joint achievement of the agents engaged in self-identification pursuits, a unity which is an outcome, not an a priori given condition of shared life, a unity put together through negotiation and reconciliation, not the denial, stifling or smothering out of differences.” (Liquid Modernity. 178)
Me: “Middle-class, North American congregations need to re-imagine what Christian Community looks like in their particular contexts.”