In a conversation with a pastor from a large church, he made a comment about traffic and church attendance which I found interesting. This church had another campus, but people who lived near it would travel to the original site for Sunday services, partly because traffic is so light on Sundays that it would only take twenty minutes down the freeway. Yet this meant that involvement with one another during the week – such a crucial thing in discipleship and community, obviously – was made difficult, as the commute would take much longer when the traffic was at normal levels. (But then traffic isn’t so bad at night when people might be going to small group, so maybe the argument doesn’t hold.) The thesis is that light traffic on Sundays distorts people’s choice of church.
Since I moved, I’ve been crossing the city on Sundays, albeit from inner suburb to inner suburb; it is remarkable how little time it takes me. I’m sure if it took the forty minutes it would take at peak hour instead of fifteen minutes, it would be a factor in me trying to find a new and local church. Alas, I’m also one of those misfits who would only feel at home in a small number of churches. I hold that in tension with a strong ideal for ‘relocalising’, especially in church.
The Weekend Australian Magazine (Oct 1-2) featured a cover-story by Kate Legge on the conservative Adass Jews in Melbourne, a distinctive, largely self-contained Jewish community. Inevitably, the Amish were mentioned as a point of comparison, another distinctive religious community not wanting to embrace all of the technologies and assumptions of the 21st century – or even the 20th. For the Adass, adhering to strict dietary laws is paramount. The Sabbath is closely observed. Men do not touch women, even to shake their hand. They do not forbid contact with the outside world, but they live largely within their community.
Reading about the Adass brought out conflicting feelings in me, two ideologies which sometimes overlap and sometimes clash. One is a belief in the need for deep community; the other is a belief in the need for an authentic life.
It was in my teen years that I articulated a personal vision that pitted myself against the suburban world around me; I called it ‘calibanism’ then, after Miranda’s term in John Fowles’ The Collector (who in turn had got it from the character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest); it is similar to ‘boganism’. I was arrogant, ignorant and lonely then. I thought that the only authentic response to lowbrow culture and consumerism was an individualistic elitism. As my politics and faith became more left wing, I came to see the bogans or calibans of this world as at least partly victims of a system. I embraced the (not exclusively) Anabaptist conception of the church as a counter-cultural community. But even in my twenties, I was ambivalent about conforming to the norms and rules of a community.
I think our society has become so sadly fragmented and individualistic, losing much of the community involvement which gave our ancestors a sense of belonging and meaning. And yet I always place myself on the fringe of any system or community – too ready, perhaps, to see its compromises and faults, too unwilling to compromise on my own complicated code.