While revisiting themes of community this week, I have been struck with how misleading it can be to make community thegoal of what we do. I have spent some time reading and thinking about the times in my life that I have felt deeply grounded in a faith community. Curiously, those circumstances rarely have had anything to do with associating with people who look, think, or act like me. Community seems to rise up when I am most focused on meeting the needs of others. It seems that the unconditional caring for our neighbors, both the ones we love and the ones that are difficult to love, must be the starting place. It was a little chilling for me to come to the realization that the absence of real community is usually a result of my ownindifference. I wonder if we are just too busy to live the compassionate life that is the foundation for community and the most powerful expression of our faith. The word “indifference” seemed to protrude from my notes and pages of writing about community this week as if it were typed in bold — as if it were screaming at me. As I followed the word deeper, I found it quite unsettling and true of the human condition.
I was reminded of one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Holocaust survivor, Elie Weisel. He gave a famous speech titled, The Perils of Indifference, delivered 12 April 1999, Washington, D.C. before President Clinton and members of Congress. His words reflected on the evils of the 20th century and, in a sobering way, blamed them on indifference “Of course, indifference can be tempting — more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person’s pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.”
The effort of true community is tough and begins with living a lifestyle that is focused on the other. In my book, The Mockingbird Parables, I consider, “… in my musings about the relational connectedness of my life as a child in West Virginia, real community begins with the concerted sweat and muscle of working for our neighbors, of rooting through the dirt, the differences, and the malignant illnesses of confinement that separate us from one another. This growth of responsibility to our neighborhood and of participation in the story of redemption begins with authentic compassion.” Nothing any of us could ever write can compare to the weight of the words and experiences of Weisel.
Weisel continued his thoughts, “In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it.”
Weisel indicts indifference as the true enemy of compassion and subsequently the deepest and darkest adversary of community. The truth of his words about indifference is confirmed in in a disturbingmanner through the Biblical narrative. In Revelation’s letter to the church of Laodicea, John writes, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth! Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”
It seems indifferenceis intolerable to God. My meditations about community have led me to wonder about the indifference in my own life and faith practices… what about you?