Having grown up in a small, Norman-Rockwell worthy town, my idea of community has always had the vague sort of architectural lines that a small town owns. A group of people, living in the same few miles of earth, sharing a firehouse, a library, perhaps a town hall. They know each other’s children, they’ve seen the laundry hanging in their neighbor’s backyards. They know that this family always grows giant sunflowers in the South-East corner of their lawn and that another family tends to let their children wander a little too far from the confines of their yard, and sometimes clad in only a soggy diaper. They know the widow down the street and they sometimes mow her lawn, without letting her know they’ve done it. The widow knows that it must have been one of four or five people, the same four or five that receive a loaf of her homemade banana bread every year around Christmas. And in the kitchens throughout this community, at brunches or gatherings celebrating births or at quiet pot-luck funeral luncheons, any number of people can pick up a slice of cake and say “This must be June Day’s lemon pound cake.”
The community as I pictured it does still exist, but times have changed. I’ve found that community also exists…and thrives! In unexpected places. Places like here, on the Internet. Last week, Sam Van Eman of The High Calling Blogs wrote about real community. What does that mean? Can you have a “real” community through connections made online? Can you truly be part of a community of people you’ve never met? And the more I think about it the more I think the answer is a resounding yes!
The folks at High Calling Blogs have set out to create something unusual but entirely possible: A community of people bound by the common threads of faith and writing, a real community of people who have gotten to know each other, have prayed for one another, have learned an amazing amount about one another’s history, family, beliefs, struggles, joys, and imaginations. A community that encourages, consoles, and celebrates together much like the imagined small-town community I wrote about above. We recognize L.L.’s poetic picture of nature’s beauty, we know Ann’s soft and lilting voice as she takes us through the holiness of every-day living, we laugh together, commiserating over child-made haircuts. We see snapshots of lives and places far from us, brought near by Rebekah’s beautiful photos. We experience the grief and heartache of a fellow blogger’s experience in NICU. And more, much more than I can put in one post! We form a global neighborhood of friends and family, eager to sit and connect over a cup of coffee, able to bridge a thousand-mile gap with a click of the mouse.
How can you have a community in a virtual world? Those of you who have spent a little time in small towns like High Calling Blogs, or have joined social applications like Facebook, or have made good friends through online bulletin boards related to some aspect of your life….you know what I’m talking about. You form intense attachments, you get to know the very core of a person before ever seeing the outside.
But is it enough? Can a virtual community really change anything, really touch the real world in a meaningful way?
Again, I think the answer is a resounding yes.
Years ago Hubby and I worked at a Christian summer camp, and the theme that year was “One community, becoming the hands and feet of God”. I picture the physical embodiment of an online community in much the same way…one community, based on spirit, going out and making a difference as individual parts of one body. People picking up the spirit of the community and taking it out into their own real-life communities, becoming hands and feet of flesh and bone that can use that spirit to make a difference!
This week, I’m going to post some more ideas about virtual community becoming real community. Some thoughts on the meaningful and true friendships developed thought keyboards and pictures, and how they can be taken to new levels. Some ideas on how to support each other in our writing, our spiritual walk, our parenting, and so much more.
Some exciting ideas and projects are coming up that have shifted my thinking in terms of taking an online village and using it to improve things in the real-world global village! I believe we can become the hands and feet of God, and that we can take the spirit of a community and make it a living thing. The possibilities are limitless, and it’s going to be exciting to see what’s in store.