I often tell the story of when I was a child and summer evenings were spent visiting with generations of family members on a screened in front porch at my grandparents’ home. If a neighbor walked by, the porch was close enough to the sidewalk for the neighbor to stop and visit for a few moments. There were no distractions like television, computers, smart phones, or video games. There also was no air conditioning so a ceiling fan and an occasional breeze had to suffice. I noticed that after World War II, homes were not built with screened in front porches open to the world. Entertainment moved to the back yard patio with just a few invited guests. As central air conditioning and television became more prevalent people moved inside and became couch potatoes, no longer interacting with one another without interference. More recently I dined with my family on an outdoor patio at a restaurant in Taos, New Mexico, and my grandson was into another world with his hand held game. Folks may sit on a couch together without talking, communicating by texting each other.
You wouldn’t sit on a front porch anymore with drive by shootings. Patio entertaining is too hot, too cold, or too windy. Technology is great, but the outcome is that we have lost community. Church membership is down. The largest denomination is the unchurched. They are religious, but they do not want to be a part of organized religion. Civic and service clubs are diminishing in membership. The elderly sit alone in wheelchairs in nursing homes staring at a wall with eyes that once watched a baby, a softball game, and a life of meaning that once had purpose. We are known as a disposable society. We discard relationships as adroitly as we do plastic bottles. We have exiled ourselves to loneliness, which to me is the worst human emotion, and we have done it by forsaking one another.
Community is about caring for one another, it is about being our brother’s keeper. It begins and ends with being a servant, to care more about others than for self. I learned about this on a screened in front porch. I learned about it from a family doctor who made house calls when I was sick. He did not do it under the dictates of a health care law. He did it because he cared. A maxim for all pastors is that they do not care what you know until they know that you care. We cannot legislate community. We can preserve it only by caring enough for it through caring for each other. I have said nothing new. As Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English writer said, “We need to be reminded of old truths more than we need to learn new ones.” He had other lessons that we may learn from in living
as a community. He wrote, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good” and, “Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.”