Several weeks ago my wife and I spent three days of our two-week honeymoon on Cumberland Island in Georgia. We had spent the previous week on Cumberland’s sister island, Jekyll, which was very nice despite its touristy development. That’s the difference between the two islands. Jekyll has condos, retreat centers, and hotels stretched along its miles of beach; Cumberland has one campground with miles of beach containing nothing but sand, wind, water, and the occasional wild horse. It was quite lovely.
Cumberland Island is accessible only by ferry which makes two, sometimes three, 45 minute trips to and from the island every day. Reservations need to be made in advance. No stores exist on the island. The one campground is a half-mile from the ranger station. Its bathhouse does have running water and cold showers, so it isn’t exactly the setting for a 21st century Robinson Crusoe novel. But after living in a honeymoon suite for a week it sure had that feel.
While on the ferry I began to notice a growing sense of camaraderie among the dozen or so campers. It wasn’t anything obvious. More of a spirit. It had the feel of a teenage boys group camping trip. We were all bound for some semi-unknown adventure on a remote island, and even though none of us had met before, this common experience birthed a temporary community quite organically. Call it evolutionary or Freudian or just plain selfish, but I suspect that deep in our psyche we knew that we might need each other at some point; therefore, we were nice and friendly with each other.
We weren’t even finished setting up our tent before a neighboring camper stopped in. He was terribly sorry, but they had forgotten their bug spray. Could he possibly borrow some for his family since they were getting bit up something awful? We were more than happy to help, although by the end of our stay, our once ample supply of spray was uncomfortably low. Run out of food, wood, and water if you must, but do not run out of bug spray on Cumberland Island.
Later that night a distraught young lady tentatively walked into our campsite and asked if we have some pain meds that she could borrow or buy from us. Her boyfriend was battling a severe headache. We were sorry but we couldn’t help. In our efforts to pack light we whittled down our first aid kit to a box of Band-Aids and peroxide. She said it was fine; she would just ask other campers.*
“Living in community” has become a sort of buzz phrase in postmodern-era Christian evangelicalism. I’ll be the first to admit that as an Anabaptist millennialist (that title says nothing about my eschatological leanings) it’s kind of nice to be well-versed in an increasingly trendy idea that’s being “discovered” by mainline Protestantism, not the least of which is the label-phobic, oft-denounced, yet wildly hip, Emerging Church.**
Seriously. I worry sometimes that we (disciples of Christ) miss the point when we overanalyze the idea of community and force its implementation. Granted, we need to ask some good and necessary questions. How do we cultivate a vibrant community within our 21st century, affluent, American context?
I suggest the answer isn’t as hard or even as profound as we sometimes make it. We simply need to need. Somehow, I don’t think the 1st century disciples spent a lot of time trying to make community happen with small groups or prayer/share times, as wonderful as those ideas are. More likely, they banded together because of the physical and spiritual needs they faced. On Cumberland Island we didn’t have to create a sense of camaraderie; we simply knew that we would very likely need each other. It was organic. We can’t expect real, vibrant communities if we pursue American Dream independence with hedged, overly-manicured lawns, and tons of insurance policies. We can’t expect real, vibrant communities if we pursue Anabaptist-American Dream independence with a huge farm house, a fat savings account, and all our progeny living along the same lane.
The point is that we need to need.
Recently, while listening to NPR’s All Things Considered, an intelligent-sounding political scientist/sociologist guy talked about a study of his that showed that natural disaster victims who have lots of neighbors (and who presumably have good relationships with them) fare better than those who don’t have neighbors. Makes sense.
To borrow the analogy from Michael O’Brien, we are all stranded on this “island of the world” spinning in a vast, cosmic sea. And we need each other whether we realize it or not.
*I did remember too late that I had an outdated bottle of Ibuprofen buried in my cosmetic bag. I just don’t take pain-killers unless I’m being, well, killed, and I don’t keep a very good inventory on the contents of my cosmetic bag. Jean talked to her the following morning just to make sure they were still doing okay. They were. They had found some Advil, and all was well.
**This is side note/rant that may or may not have anything to do with heart of this post, but I want to say it. I’m weary of theological fads and overreactions to the fads. I wish the hardline traditionalists would lighten up a bit. At the same time I wish the hardline emergents would solidify a bit. If you don’t want to be stereotyped then don’t create one. Go comb-over instead of skinhead. Write complete sentences periodically. And maybe swap out the lumberjack outfit for a good old Mennonite straight-cut every once in awhile. But now I’m being cynical and pretending to be above the fray. And that’s proud.