We Have Never Seen A Real Community

Previous post : Québécois aren't looking for community

Last week I wrote about the fact that our society seem interested in community, even if it’s a fundamental need of our created nature. But why? I propose that the answer is that In Quebec, we have rarely, if ever, seen a real community.

Matthieu Bélisle, in his book « Bienvenue au pays de la vie ordinaire » made this observation about the Québécois :

« He remains persuaded that his connections with others come from a free association to which it would be possible to put an end : I am from this country because I wanted to be, but I could easily move elsewhere ; I live with this man or this woman, but I could easily separate from him or her and share my life with someone else ; I have this job, but nothing would stop me from pursuing another career ; I have these friends, but I could easily break with them and make other connections, etc. This is the paradox of his condition as a socially integrated individual who is always ready to defect. The community in which cynics live is a community by default, marked by a growing ignorance of human relationships. » – Matthieu Bélisle (my translation)

Besides speaking of a “ growing ignorance of human relationships “, which is almost equivalent to my thesis, Bélisle also underlines the source of the phenomenon : the community by default. In other words, we are here by chance, but could move on at any moment.

Do you see the difference between that and the love and community that Jesus showed his disciples? He didn’t say to them, “you can stay with me until I don’t feel like it any more.” He committed to them, even to say “I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

But these days, this sort of commitment goes against our entire sense of liberty and autonomy, even to the point that this generation doesn’t even understand the idea of commitment. They grow up with parents who think, “I live with this man or this woman, but I could easily separate from him or her and share my life with someone else,” and many do. According to the 2011 Canadian census, 43% of youth aged 15-17 in Québec lived in single parent or reconstituted families.. (I couldn’t find any more recent data, but I’d be very surprised if the number weren’t rather higher eight years later).

In the past the family was one of the two greatest sources of community in Quebec society. The other was the local parish.

You just need to visit the Quebec countryside to see how central (literally and figuratively) the church was. You always know you’re approaching a village because you see the shiny silver roof of the church in the middle of the town. It was the meeting point around which all of life turned. Religious life was so important that Quebec was one of the greatest exporters of religious workers (priests, nuns, missionaries) in the world – but now the churches stand empty.

Of these two community hubs, the parish has been totally removed, and the family has been deeply discredited. If all that this generation knows of the family (and therefore, community) is temporary, disposable, unstable and in constant change, it is not at all hard to understand why people aren’t interested in community and relationships. We just don’t realise that anything else is possible.

So that’s the challenge for the church : to live out, and show, a community that the people around us have never seen – and that many of us in the church have never seen either. But we have the Spirit of God to unite us, and the assurance that this unity will change things. In John 17 Jesus prays :

The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (John 17:22-23)

If you would like to hear more on this topic, I elaborated on these thoughts in a sermon at my church, which you can download here : Une communauté d’amour. My apologies, it’s only in French.

Next post : As I have loved you...

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