Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Going to Church in Greendale: Community on Community

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Ben Howard

If you know me even a little, you know I’m a bit of a TV nerd and that, as a TV nerd, it is my God-given duty to be obsessed with a little show called Community.  If for some reason you haven’t seen it, and know that I’m shaking my head sadly if that’s the case, the show is based around a study group of seven people that attends community college in the fictional town of Greendale.  As with all sitcoms wacky hijinks ensue, and the wackiest of these hijinks can be found in Community.  From post-apocalyptic paintball wars to Civil War-style throwdowns involving competing blanket and pillow forts to alternate realities culminating in gotee-wearing “evil twins” this show is certifiably insane, but this isn’t the reason I’m so drawn to the show.

Beyond all the pop culture references, the meta humor, and the bizarre plotlines, this show is ultimately about exactly what it says it’s about, community.  And the community on display is not a bond shared by like-minded people, but instead a rich and diverse tapestry highlighting both the similarities and differences that are evident to all of us in our everyday lives.  Often in the entertainment industry “diversity” is a codeword for “don’t be a racist,” but Community stands this on its head by showing that diversity is not only useful to show differences, but can show the vibrance of people really working together.  The communal bond in Community does not come easily and is not held together lightly.  At the end of the first season there is considerable tension on whether the study group is bound together by true friendship or merely because they shared a class.  The second season highlights the struggles of a group that loves each other, but sometimes can’t stand each other at the same time and ends with one of the members walking away from the group (at least for a time).  This is what real community is!  It is the continual struggle to discover the other person in the relationship, to understand them, to love them.  At times this will lead to pain and oftentimes we will be hurt in the process, but the beauty that flows from a truly loving, diverse, vibrant community is more than we can possibly have created through our own designs.

For a class last year, I had to attend a handful of AA meetings to get a feel for the group and how it operates.  Like many others in my class, and many others I know who have done similar things, I came back from these meetings saying to myself, “That’s what church should be.”  But I’m not so sure that’s right.  AA focuses so much on people’s brokenness and overcoming people’s brokenness, and that is definitely a part of church, but it lacks something.  The more I think about it the more I think church should be more like Community.  There is pain and there is suffering, but beyond that there is the incarnation of love and beauty and acceptance and support that aspires to the eschatological hope that the church holds dear.  Even more, the members of Community are bound together and no small squabble or hurt feelings or manipulative behavior or personal failure or anything at all can break that bound.  This is what the church misses and what I hope we can begin to work towards.  We are bound together by love and pain and because we know each other and because we are still learning about each other.  Church is not about what we can get from a service, or how it makes us feel, or how it entertains our children, it’s about a bond as deep as family, and being a part of something bigger and pointing towards a hope that none of us can aspire to on our own.  Church is about loving people and staying with them even if they’re weird or stupid or arrogant or dismissive or ignorant or naïve or self-righteous.  Church is about Community.


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