**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 2, No. 7 July 2000
Greetings from Companion Resources! This newsletter is dedicated to building community, especially among those persons who are often marginalized by the larger community. However, recently, I’ve had to think through the question again: Are there situations in which a person simply cannot live in a community? Read on for some thoughts.
Human communities always enforce certain rules or norms in order for persons to remain included in those communities. If an individual doesn’t conform to the norms of the community, there are punishments or sanctions meant to force the person to conform and fit back into the community. Across the ages, two forms of sanctions are reserved for the most serious deviations from the norm of community–exile and death.
In the most primitive communities, exile is nearly equivalent to death. Many societies in Biblical times, for example, had no place for a widow, a woman whose protector-husband had died. So she was left to fend for herself and often starved. The same was the case for any minor children. Orphans, as well as any child who was not “normal” or simply not wanted, were simply abandoned, facing death within days. Persons with skin diseases were treated as outcasts, consigned to the outskirts of a village to waste away.
In more modern times, exile was more humane. Exile remained, but at least offered the hope for physical life to continue. Orphanages were built to care for abandoned children. Nursing homes were set up so that the elderly could be kept until they died. Asylums housed persons with mental illness away from the rest of society. Prisons were constructed to house those who committed crimes. In each case, the community’s “problem people” were relegated to an institution on the fringes of the community where some people were given the job to “take care” of these folks while the majority could conveniently forget they existed.
How much have things changed?
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we discover a God who is always working to free people from the prevailing patterns of exile. The Hebrew Bible is filled with admonitions to care for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. Even murderers had a city of refuge to which to flee those seeking immediate revenge. In the New Testament, Jesus reached out and touched the “lepers” and ate meals with the outcasts of society. Christians, from their earliest days organized efforts to make sure that widows were cared for.
Many of today’s institutions of caring, from hospitals to community mental health facilities to children’s homes and adoption agencies, have their roots in this same desire to truly care for those who are outside the community norm. However, an institution can very easily turn into a form of exile, especially if it is located on the fringes of where people live and if it depends on professionalized services instead of community caring. It takes community involvement and community caring at all levels to mitigate against the institutional mentality that wants to hide people away that society doesn’t want to deal with.
Companion Resources continues in a tradition that says that communities as a whole have a responsibility to do everything possible to include persons in community. We believe that a life-giving God constantly works to redeem people from the forces of exile and death. That is why we adamantly oppose the ultimate form of exile, currently popular in the U.S., the death penalty. That is why we work to help make neighborhoods safer through education and job opportunities, not by simply chasing drug dealers to another part of the city. That is why we work for full community inclusion for those with disabilities and mental illness. That is why we work to make the environments in which we live safe and clean for all.
But is exile ever appropriate? What about those who can’t seem to live in community? Who has the ultimate responsibility for inclusion on terms that the community can live with? Is it the individual or the community? These are topics for another month! So stay in touch…and send me your thoughts!
There are many tough issues in building community. We need to work together and rely upon God’s Spirit for discernment. I wish you many blessings as you continue your own efforts at community-building!
Paul D. Leichty
The Goldenrod Community
“People Using Technology Building Community”