Craving Community

In 2013, I decided to start writing on this blog. The reasons were entirely selfish; I think about a lot of things, but I don’t remember what I’ve been thinking about unless I write it down.

As anyone who has read anything on this page will know, there are times where I seem to write a lot and then there can be months on end where I don’t write anything. That is simply because I don’t feel like I am thinking about anything of real interest.

But then there are those occasional days that hit like a lightning bolt. After days and weeks of not being inspired by anything at all I get pummelled by a wealth of insight that fires the synapses in my brain and sends me thinking in a thousand directions … and so welcome to a post that is trying to capture multiple things I encountered today that made my brain melt.

——

2014-05-30-Confirmation-Bias

This is as good a place to start as anywhere because it captures the three things I want to touch on in a single cartoon strip; community, facts, and identity. So, how exactly are these three things related:

  • Humans crave community
  • Community shapes identity
  • Community and identity shape perceptions, which overrule facts

The first synapse to fire this morning occurred when I read an article entitled Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds. While you can read the entire article for yourself, the basics are this; humans form perceptions very quickly and once they are formed, they are hard to change no matter how much new factual information is provided. Once we have an idea, we have a tendency to adapt new information to fit this idea rather than replace it based on the new information (this is called confirmation bias or “myside bias”). We also rely on other people’s expertise to the point that there is no sharp boundary between our ideas and those of other people in our “us” group. While this has allowed us to excel in a technological world – where we build on the accomplishments of people who have gone before us – it has very negative consequences when applied to opinions about things such as politics because we have a tendency to feel very passionate about policies and ideas we actually know little to nothing about.

I came away from this article thinking a lot about how our environment – our communities – have a very real impact on what we believe to be true. And then the second synapse fired …

The second article I read today was entitled Breaking Faith.  Once again, you can read the article for yourself if you’d like, but I’ll try to summarize it.

The article starts by describing the very real exodus from churches of millennials (and Americans as a whole). The focus of the article was not on why they are leaving (I have written elsewhere about some of those findings), but rather on what happens to them when they leave. The utopian belief was that as our countries get more secular, we will also become more tolerant of other people’s beliefs and things like the “culture wars” will naturally disappear due to simple demographics.

Unfortunately, this is not at all the case. What research is finding is that when people leave the church, they are not becoming more tolerant – they are simply becoming intolerant about different things. They may be less hostile to things like gay marriage, but they are becoming more hostile toward muslims, African American and latinos.

As people “disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation.”

Later in the day, I listened to a message from someone I respect, and while the main topic may not have related directly, one of the undercurrents in the message was how our perceptions of God shape how we speak about God.

“When you did these things, I was silent, so you thought I was exactly like you.” – Psalm 50:21

——

The unifying thread through everything flying through my head today was that humans crave community. We identify ourselves as a part of a community. That community can be as small as family or as large as race or nation, but our communities give us a unique identity.

Communities and identity shape our perceptions and make us very resistant to any facts – truth – that may shake our community identity and cause us to question who we are and what that means for our lives. Our desire for community can make us ignore facts – even facts that could hurt us if not properly recognized.

As some communities shrink, others grow. We redefine the boundaries of “us” and “them” based on our community – our tribe – and this shapes how we look at the world.

What we value.

How we think.

When I put all of these thoughts together I was left with a simply yet major question; how can we create a Christian community that people want to identify with?

If we recognize the importance of community in the life of all people, how can we, as God’s kingdom, create community that invites people to come, creates an environment where the want to stay, and provides a positive identity that people are proud to call their own?

People crave community – let’s give it to them.

——

On a personal note, I find it harder to call myself a Christian than it is to call myself Canadian. There is so much negative baggage attached to the label “Christian” these days — to many like myself it conjures images of judgemental, anti-science, intolerant people who refuse to engage culture or ask hard questions. To identify as “Christian”, I feel I must accept all these descriptions as well … that should not, and does not have to, be the case.

This is something we – as the church – can change.

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