“Let us all come together in this time of tragedy.”
“I think it would be nice if we could all gather as a family.”
“Would some of you be willing to come forth and pray as a group?”
The idea of community has been impressed upon me for a long time. Quakers do not think that one has to be in a church to learn from God; the truth can be revealed to an individual when they are all alone, even out in the wilderness.
We still think church is a good idea. Pastors are a little more dedicated to their biblical studies than I am. Respect those paid to do the work. Also, those around you are almost guaranteed to have a different perspective. A person who is eighty and has worked the land all their life sees things in a way that someone who is thirty and never been camping does not. Middle-aged mothers tackle issues with an approach that teenagers do not.
However those variations in lives can cause complications when trying to form community. About the only thing I have in common with half of my congregation cohorts is that we all want to be good little Quakers. I do not have a retirement fund buoying my income, I do not worry about my kids, and I certainly do not ask for healing on my fourth surgery this year. We come from different walks in life, which is fine, but does not provide for much common ground when we are on dissimilar paths.
Another church I went to took things a step further. They tried very hard to make community happen. Granted, their ages were much closer to mine, but I never really felt like I fit in. Years have passed since I spoke to any of them and I feel no void. Remorse at no close ties, perhaps, but they and I never really cohered.
As a wise friend told me, you cannot force community to happen. For some, the very desire to have a group to belong to is enough of a common denominator that it works out. I was not wired for communal living. A multitude of people in a confined space sounds like a nightmare to me. A person here or there will do fine, thanks. I like all the elbow room I can find.
Some of this shirking of crowds arises from my inability to plan successful gatherings. When I try to arrange more than three people for one activity, things go horribly awry. I try to get eight people to go hiking; two or three were sick and the rest were concerned that it was raining. (If you only go hiking in sunny weather, I am not sure I want to be outdoors with you. ;} A key indicator, do you not agree?) A birthday party? Disastrous. At least we had plenty of lanes to bowl in. All five of us. No one gets hurt or contracts food poisoning; it is simply that my events fall apart. I do not have a gift in that area. I have learned to let others organize and I show up. It is simpler for everyone and it seems to work much better. Their parties are always well attended and fun, he said not at all bitterly.
Over the years I have learned to take The Wizard of Oz approach. No one told Dorothy to gather up Toto, The Tin Man, and The Scarecrow and not finish their epic quest until they found The Lion. No, they simply set out on the journey. If someone wanted to tag along, they did and all was well.
(This is in contrast to the Ocean’s Eleven method which apparently works for other people. Y’know, where you have a set goal, you carefully select the members of your crew, and you offer them an opportunity that they cannot refuse. I agree that it sounds more cinematic and more exciting; but so does driving your car off a cliff with a trunk full of C4. I like my car and my non-charred limbs, thanks.) Plus, some people can get really dramatic about the whole “live together” concept.
This is especially clear when it comes to jogging partners. People claim they like jogging. They profess a desire to be in shape. But have you ever gotten them to commit to running with you once or twice a week? I think dental appointments get cancelled less often. I had one jogging partner for years who I still love. A few years ago she went and found herself a boyfriend. Not only that, a boyfriend, now husband, who runs. So I keep running. If someone wants to tag along, I am happy for the company. In the meantime, I will simply run wherever, whenever, and however long I feel like without having to adjust my pace. That works too.
Such is my approach, especially in the comic shop. I like comics. I like to read comics. If somebody wants to come in a talk about comics, I am happy to have that chat. If they come in during my shift on a weekly basis, we might just become pals. “If you want friends, go out and do the things you enjoy where there are other people. The shared interest will bring you together.” Not my words, though I do subscribe to it. You will eventually come across other people with your tastes and hobbies and then it works out just fine.
And here is the thing. When two people are engaged in an interest that they are both passionate about? Their personalities find a way into the conversation. With comics, you find out who likes funny stuff and who likes horror. You learn who wants their heroes to be noble and stalwart and who wants to root for the scrappers or the gangsters. If you let the conversation stray from your treasured hobby every now and then, you learn about the person and what they want from life. That sounds like a fine community to me.
Even I get surprised. Several former coworkers had invited me to share lunch with them. I offered that we should all combine our lunches into a dinner. A few dozen text messages later; we all met up in an Irish Pub last night and had quite the fun time. (It was one of those rare moments when a plan actually works out. You know, to keep me on my toes.) We all started out working in a movie theater together. Through the movies we watched, the bosses we rolled our eyes at, and the late nights, we all became friends. Call it a fellowship of friends, trench mentality, or coworkers turned comrades; it works for us. Two of them are having dinner with a mutual friend and apparently I am now cat-sitting this weekend.
That is why I still care about my church. No, we do not hang out with each other much outside of Sunday morning. I would be afraid to take most of them on a running or hiking excursion. (There are lots of hip surgeries and canes in my church.) They probably will not read the books that I do. Yet, there is the woman who knows what it is like to work stressful Saturdays. There is the couple that devours books like I try to. And there is the man who loves his science fiction movies. When we gather to share our worship service together, we still manage to find reasons to care about each other besides our affinity for Quakerism.
Much like the television show of the same name, I find that community works best for me when all sorts of wacky characters are allowed to pop in and nobody tries too hard. Go with your gut, shoot from the hip, and eventually it will all fall into place. And if not? Then you will have just one more story to tell with that other group of friends.