Only community can fix our politics

There’s an old theory that the downfall of the American community began with the invention of the washing machine. Before washing machines, women used to gather at the river to wash clothes. There, they found a community and friendship. My grandmother was born and raised in the heart of New York City, and she lived there—surrounded by family and friends—until 1952. That is the year she followed my grandfather into the New Jersey suburbs, chasing the American Dream for her two small children (my uncle and my mother, who were six and two at the time) She left behind her family and friends, who were just down the hall, for a new town that required a car. That being said, she did not drive and knew no one in her new community. 

We cannot be humans on an island. We were built for community and connection. From the very beginning, Adam was not complete until he was given Eve. God then rested, and creation was complete.   We need other people. Everything we do affects “the other,” and our choices ripple into the world.

[RELATED: “There’s no place like home”]

“There is beauty in the playgroup of new moms who send meals when a new baby is born, the group of girl friends who bring ice cream after a bad break up, the group of neighbors that share beers in the cul-de-sac on a Friday evening, the community soup kitchen in the church parking lot on a Monday morning, the prayer vigil supporting a grieving family. We can lose sight of this common and basic need when we hide behind a computer screen or abstract political ideals.”

Daniel Lipinski, former US Representative for Illinois, recently stated that 90% of Americans say the divisiveness in our country is a “serious problem.” With the rise of social media, our country is ironically more disconnected than ever, ever separated by an “us and them” mentality.

How do we fix it? 

What my grandmother left behind in New York City was her sense of belonging. She left behind laughter, friendship, and support. When I look back to when I was a newlywed and a young mother, community was vital to my survival. I was on a lonely island in new territory, and it was friends and family that offered much needed love.

There is beauty even in an imperfect community—in the playgroup of new moms who send meals when a new baby is born, or the group of girl friends who bring ice cream after a bad break up. There is joy in the group of neighbors that share beers in the cul-de-sac on a Friday evening. There is hope in the community soup kitchen in the church parking lot on a Monday morning.  There is peace and comfort during a prayer vigil supporting a grieving family.  We can lose sight of this common and basic need when we hide behind a computer screen or abstract political ideals.  We forget that connection for which we were made.

Catholic priest Fr. Mike Schmitz recently told the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology that “the advancement of the gospel and culture would not come from a stage, but change will advance from family and friendship. That’s how we change the world.”

Political posts on Facebook cannot make much of a difference. Even this article you are reading (which, thank you for reading) can only inspire the change that happens in the real world, in the lives of individuals and in the context of their local communities.

Emily Clary has worked in Catholic education since 2005.  She has worked in parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Providence and the Diocese of Charlotte.  She has taught middle school Religion and worked in Catholic School Campus Ministry in Woonsocket, RI and in Raleigh NC. This article was originally published in The American Commons but was edited for clarity and brevity.

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