On Community

In the novel "Illusions" by Richard Bach, the main character meets a Messiah in the corn fields of Indiana, where both offer biplane rides to small-town locals. Barnstorming from field to field, the two drop into one community after another, selling rides to farming families seeking once-in-a-lifetime thrill rides. Along the way, the Messiah passes along sage wisdom to his student--a truly classic story. One of the themes thread throughout the book is that of individual seeking respite from society--away from the noise, the people, the hustle, and the conflict--too many people in one place. When the going gets tough in one community, whoosh, the two are off again to the next town for a fresh start, and possibly some peace this time. You might guess the two never quite seem to escape society, despite running from it, and ironically they dive again and again into community after community. The reason? They have to.

Community simply is. It's all around us in everything we do. When we go to birthday parties, it's community celebrating individuals. When we go to weddings, it's community celebrating love and commitment between two individuals. When we go to funerals, it's community celebrating the lives of fellow community members, and grieving the loss of one of their own. We are literally never not in community: school, a community of learning; church, a community of worship; ballgames, a community of athleticism, leisure, and drama; concerts, a community of music-lovers; movies, where we sit alone together in the dark watching community unfold; work, a community of survivors--some impassioned, others uninspired.

We cannot escape community. Since the dawn of humans, community has been an essential factor of survival and the human experience. Throughout our day, we do more in community than not. We wake up with loved ones and make breakfast, we go to the beach and eat at restaurants, surrounded by community, and we even park in the same community parking lots! Then, we go back home to our community of family, to rest.

Perhaps, one of the only times we might not be in community is when we sleep--but even then we'll reach out to our loved ones, through the sheets, for the physical touch of community, even in the calm of night.

For those who sleep alone--they often long for someone to sleep next to, and to build a community of their own. 

On the farm we see community in our domesticated animals. Horses, for example, crave community as one of the most social animals on the farm. They'll work together, standing head to tail swatting flies from each other's faces. Our hens have an incredible social order--a pecking order--which can rearrange with the addition of new community members. Our roosters must know, who is the leader of this community? I am the leader! And our pigs, who may be the most complex of all the animals (and perhaps the most similar to humans), want community but also want individual space--individuals within community. 

We don't have too many rules around the farm. But one policy is we never adopt down to less than two of a kind. A Noah's rule. Our animals clearly and distinctly want each other, and we must accommodate their sense of community.  

Behavior and health change as community changes. Most interestingly, the animals' communities seem to be for the sake of community itself. They do not need community to survive--we always provide for them. We feed them regardless of their ability to build successful communities. So, why then would a 27-year-old horse cry out for her 29-year-old companion when he's away from the pasture? It's not for fear of predators, or lack of resources. These are domesticated horses who have never been attacked and have never been for want--heck, we even give them fly masks for their faces. Instead, it seems the horses want companionship. 

I've happily watched my son be passed involuntarily from person to person, from community member to community member--passed around family, passed around friends, and passed around some we hardly know but who want to be part of his community. They join in the celebration of their newest community member! Another human companion. They want to hug him, and kiss him--and they want to connect with him, hoping to catch a smile. They want to be part of his community, as we do for them. If anything, I happily watch John learn a wonderful lesson: community is an involuntary and essential part of the human experience. 


Our communities are diverse and interwoven--a true tapestry of languages, religions, cultures, races, nationalities, genders and identities. In November 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 350 languages are spoken in American homes. For example, in Houston, Texas, 145 languages are spoken at home; in Boston, Massachusetts, 138 languages; in Riverside, California, 145; in Phoenix, Arizona, 163; and in Detroit, Michigan, 126. The list goes on and on. 

The diversity of race and nationality in America matches that of the world. Americans includes gay Christian republicans, libertarian dog-lovers, and Muslim engineers who love Monday Night Football. 

Our community is what it is--filled with individuals as diverse and unique as the stars in the sky, both of which (the stars and the individuals) were created by the same Creator. Expressions of intolerance, hatred, or bigotry towards individuals in community is resistance to what is.

Haters gonna hate. But hate won't change the fast-paced integration of community.

Powerful, worldly forces are in motion.

Technology and travel have accelerated the integration of the modern communities. Great minds are now thinking of new ways to connect diverse cultures. The overall trend is a fast-paced train speeding towards integration through all corners of the globe.

Be sure: there is no stopping the Travel-Technology Integration Train, barreling through its station stops. Unfortunately, this train is too fast for some members of the community, who are watching the make-up of their community change faster than ever before in the history of the world. For them, it's too fast, and it creates an unknown--a perceived resources battle. An "us versus them" mentality.

On the farm, we watch our domesticated animals closely. Their behavior is reflective. For example, when we introduce a new horse into the pasture, the herd ostracizes and excludes it--even bites or kicks it when near food, water, or shelter. When a new bird arrives, the flock will chase, corner, and peck--blocking the new birds from bird food. The pigs will frantically pace from food pile to food pile, stealing each the other's food to ensure they have the most, best food, even though the servings are exactly the same.

Then, slowly, within hours or days or weeks, the herd achieves balance, and the flock calms down. The members realize they've been receiving the same resources they had always received. The farm adjusts to accommodate all the members of the community--providing a healthy and dignified life for all. The farm works through the logistics of an ever-changing, dynamic, and fluid community. Through minor, fair adjustments of resources, the farm creates abundance for all. Slowly over time, the once-ostracized animals become family.

There is no finite amount of resources. We do not artificially control the supply of food in order to force competition for dignified survival. The farm accommodates the needs of the community. 

I hope to raise our son to understand that his membership in our diverse community is involuntary, and that perceived resource battles are merely logistical problems waiting to be solved by great minds. I hope our son, in whatever capacity, involves himself in the diverse and abundant nature of his community. And, I hope our son understands that his diverse community is not just involuntary, but rather the specific and elegant design intended by his Creator.


John Paul Fiske, Sr.