Based on Chapter One: The Great Idea by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Called to Community
It comes as a surprise that a book on community begins with Dostoyevsky. Known for his neurotic, pathological characters set in some of the bleakest conditions, Dostoyevsky would seem one of the last authors to step off this book. Perhaps, however, he may be one of the best to start the book. His knowledge of the brokenness of humanity, his experience of the extent of cruelty in 19th-century Russian incarceration, and his solitude with Christ as his only companion throughout his suffering positions Dostoyevsky as someone who can approach the concept of community from our systemic suffering and frailty. This passage comes from The Brothers Karamazov, his last publication before his death. What an appropriate book to source from than one that pits Orthodox faith, community, and practices against encroaching secularism, individualism, and the inevitable erosion of community.
The philanthropic guest is full of particular truths that are fundamental for community. The guest offers two key truths. In the first, he says, “Until you have become really, in actual fact, a brother to everyone, brotherhood will not come to pass.” (pg. 4-5 of Called to Community). This reminds me of Jesus’ famous interaction with a particular lawyer in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:25-37). After successfully navigating the first part of the conversation, the lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Then follows the story of the Good Samaritan in which Jesus expands the concept of neighbor not only to the stranger and the potential enemy (the Good Samaritan) but also to the victim and the broken one (the man left for dead). Throughout history, however, Christians have ignored this fairly clear instruction by limiting the concept of neighbor to friends, family, and social class neighbors. It was a selective neighboring. In 2023, this trend has continued in our digital age, exacerbated by selective friendship connections, media consumption, and minimal social contact. Our neighbors are no longer those living by us on the cul de sac but rather the friends we choose to connect with online. This artificial social construct is made worse by the parceling out of our relationships in digital posts, tweets, and pictures. Can we truly say that we are brothers, companions to everyone if we are building our community structures with increasingly infinitesimal packages of interaction carried briefly by our ever-shrinking attention span? (see Max Fisher’s The Chaos Machine).
In the guest’s second truth, he states, “Everywhere in these days people have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort.” (pg. 5 of Called to Community). Clearly, we have yet to progress past the guest’s philosophical razor. We must graduate from college, buy the house and car, get married, build the retirement fund, and finally eek a retirement marked less by enjoyment and more by distraction and busyness. Yet, time and again, this model of “American success” has proven terribly fragile. A major health crisis, a natural disaster, a divorce, crushing debt…whatever may happen… security built on individual success is repeatedly destroyed and immediately brushed over by constant platitudes and media distraction, be it the TV or the phone. If it’s not me…it’s not a problem…Our artificial social constructs founded on individualism rather than communalism have not been ruptured. And thus, we evidence its success. Once it is broken, however, our evidence of its failure is ignored, selectively excised by both the algorithm and our natural inclination for only good news.
And so, we journey forth into this book on community as broken people in a fragile, broken world. As a community, we, the companions in the Ecumenical Order of Charity, have heard the call to community, have withstood trials and tribulations of the past, and have brought ourselves, vulnerable and fractured as we may be, to this community. We are answering the Spirit’s direction to hone our understanding of community and perhaps, as best we can, make a turn from the condition in which we find ourselves in the 21st Century, no longer mindlessly engaging in a selective experience of reality, but rather radically expanding our understanding of neighbor and building lasting community constructs.