The Sacrament of Community: Not an Ideal, but a Divine Reality

This past Sunday I talked about the post-holiday funk many people go through and linked it to lack of community. Now I know that’s a gross overstatement because depression is a complex thing and I venture to say anyone who is having the post-holiday blues is not suffering a depression but more of a funk. The difference is, depression is not something someone can just snap out of.

But I think the application is still the same. Whether it is a mild case of the winter blues, or something more serious than that, the way to healing is community. Being with people. A little bit of healthy extroversion. Of course, this too is a little more complicated than that; there are a myriad of other factors involved that are physiological, familial, lifestyle, emotional, spiritual and so on. But I just can’t see how someone can climb out of the hole of depression alone. Sometimes we treat our problems privately, visit privately with a shrink. I think there’s something fundamentally flawed with this as well. I am wholly for seeing a therapist. But when it is an individualistic, private act, the ball is always in your court. You are only drawn out of your depression as much as you want to be. The thing with community is that you are pulled beyond yourself when forced to relate with people even when you don’t want, and that is where the healing begins.

So I think the alternative to therapy is not the individualistic, privatized model of personal therapy which I think is fundamentally flawed, but rather a systems approach, that is to say, counseling within the context of community. Even visits with a therapist are not secretive acts, but done in consultation with the church, or the community you are a part of, that is to say, there is a referral process, a constant staying with, and following up. Nowhere does the church drop the suffering individual and say “it’s no longer my problem.” Rather, by moving from a patient-centered approach to a system-centered approach both church and therapist work in conjunction to address much broader issues beyond just individual navel-gazing. Private visits with a therapist require a context, I think, and that’s why counseling a depressed individual should incorporate the church’s involvement. And if I may be so bold to say, secretive, private visits help no one because no one holds you accountable¬† – except one lone shrink – and you pay him anyway.

So the point is, I think the healing begins outside of ourselves. That was, in many ways, the fundamental premise of my talk this past Sunday. So as we work our way through Bonhoeffer‘s classic, “Life Together,” I think we will all be challenged as to our notions of community; if I may summarize I would say it thus: “Community is not a club. It is a divine gift, a sacramental state of being. It is not ours to choose or reject based on consumeristic urges, rather it is ours to accept.”

Here’s some past thoughts on the issue:

How to gather a “cool” church:

How to deal with post-Christmas syndrome:

Rachel Held Evans says some great things about “un-cool” church here:

and a link to my talk on community:

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

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