In the last year, churches, schools and homeschool co-ops have adapted and perfected new technology and platforms to cope with the challenge of COVID. But let us not forget that these were in fact coping strategies. Compensations. Second best.
It is tempting to scroll the myriad of options newly developed and offered to us in the comfort of our own homes and begin to believe that this is superior to what we had before. A cultivated community of likeminded people. Teachers and classes that were once only a wish are now available on our screens- no need to even properly dress if you don’t want to! The convergence of COVID and technology have given us the excuse we’ve always secretly wanted, the desire to cultivate around ourselves only the kinds of people and ideas we want to hear and be apart of.
Online community is not community. It may serve a purpose and is likely here to stay now that is has been created, but we mustn’t substitute it for face to face contact with people who live and breathe right in our own neighborhoods and towns. The people who might not be ideal, who might challenge and annoy us- but who are in fact living life alongside us in a way that people online are not.
Real community is never ideal, not for long anyway. It is nearly always messy at some point if carried on for long enough. It takes commitment and perseverance and grace. It is good for us. It can’t be micromanaged and edited and filtered. It is real. It offers something that online communities can’t- the unique blend of unchosen personalities and thoughts and ideas that rub against and file and polish and sharpen each other. It is not ideal, but it is healthy.
I have been challenged this year on this topic of community. I have been made to think deeply about what my ideal is and I have been forced to own that in many ways it is comfort. I am not wrong in wanting comfort and neither are you. Life could be so much easier with those people- or that atmosphere… but alas, God knows what is best for us and it is not ease at all cost. What is best often comes to us in a life lived with a mix of people we might not have necessarily chosen, but whom we begin: first to respect, then value, and in the end love for who they are, not what they can offer. We see a microcosm of God’s ideal in the family unit. Such a mix of different personalities that sometimes grate and grind but who, with perseverance and a sprinkling of grace, ultimately eek out a beautiful melody that hints at the lilting diversity of heaven. This is real community.
I want to encourage you as I have encouraged myself- pursue real community. Or if you have it, don’t abandon it for the false shine of something better, or easier. This may apply to you and your children as you plan for the next school year. It may apply to your whole family as you weary of searching for a church fellowship. Of course there needs to be agreement on some level- but make sure that you are not looking SO far and SO wide that you miss what is right next door. Be willing to lay aside some of your ideals for the greater good of being a part of real community. Community is humbling- but humble is good. Keep in mind that Jesus humbles himself to be in relationship with you- not because it is good for him, but because it is good for you - because he believes relationship is that important.
We have entered a new era of online community offered on a level we have not seen before. The super qualified teacher teaching it the right way and the minister who interprets everything just the way we like will make it tempting to abandon the homeschool group with that family or the church with that quirky detail. Don’t do it. The greater good is that they are people- real flesh and blood people who are striving ultimately towards the same goals as you- just as imperfectly as you. Choose the greater good. Be like Jesus, be humble.
Online community is not real community. It might be easier- but it isn’t real.
Real community binds a society together in a way online cannot. On the prairie the grasses weave their roots together into a tough mat that strengthens and protects each individual. The woven mat benefits the plants but also stops the erosion that would undermine the entire prairie ecosystem. Community matters.