Community is simply home more broadly understood. And, although home is not always a location, its psychological contours can be, and indeed must be, understood as love. Not a whimsical flutter of a quickly fading eros, but what Simon May would describe as an “ontological rootedness,” is what we mean here. In fact, over dinner at the Reform Club—after a few glasses of Rioja—Mr. May replied to my enquiry that, it is true, the enduring psychology of love is inextricably bound up with the concept of home. It is a pity he had not the time to continue that thought.
Community-building then is none other than home-building, and home-building is none other than—when understood broadly—love-making, though the narrow sense works as well.
But we must not think that community-building is creating the world we wish for, exactly as we think it should be—the error of the French Revolution. We inherit a community, and we will bequeath it to our offspring. Community-building means, without exception, that each person must accept that others have had an input and will have an input, and thus the community will never be quite the way we think it should be. It is a shared labor of love that spans centuries. Building community is never done, for it is the work of generations. But now that we have this warning out of the way, how do we build community?
At the risk of being redundant, I say that it takes time.
Edgar A. Guest helpfully reminds us that home-building—and therefore community-building—takes a lot of time but also a lot of fun. If we continue to use the home as a model of how we build community, Guest’s poem is an excellent guide:
Ye’ve got to sing an’ dance fer years, ye’ve got t’ romp an’ play,/
An’ learn t’ love the things ye have by usin’ ‘em each day;/
Even the roses round the porch must blossom year by year/
Afore they ‘come a part o’ ye, suggestin’ someone dear/
Who used t’ love em long ago, and trained ‘em just t’ run/
The way they do, so’s they would get the early mornin’ sun;/
Ye’ve got to love each brick an’ stone from cellar up t’ dome:/
It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it a home.
And so it seems to follow that to build a community we must have a “heap o’ livin’ ” and some “romp an’ play” with others. Only when we increase the shared bond of love does that ontological rest begin to increase, the soul grows more anchored, and our very being feels as if it is grounded. But that which does the grounding cannot be just any love or any loyalty—for true love always entails the dedication of loyalty, or it is no love at all.
In Guest’s poem is the need for continuity, dedication to a specific place—in a word, “loyalty.” The “roses round the porch” take time before they become dear to someone “who used to love em long ago” and “years and years” before they become a part of you. Time has an endearing effect on things and people. But it is loyalty to people especially that makes a home. In fact, we might even say marriage is a portable home, for each may rest in the other. The fact that home requires the ability to rest in another is wonderfully drawn out in Charles Swain’s poem, “Home Is Where There is Someone to Love Us”:
Home’s not merely roof and room,/
it needs something to endear it;/
home is where the heart can bloom,/
where there’s some kind lip to cheer it!/
What is home with none to meet,/
None to welcome, none to greet us?/
Home is sweet, and only sweet,/
Where there’s one we love to meet us!
If we wish to find inspiration from such readings, we would have recourse to many other options among the poets. Building community can be done by looking to other subjects as well, such as contentment and duty, like the poems we find with Priscilla Leanard’s “Happiness” or Ellen S. Hooper’s “Duty.”
But reading about community and home is not enough to build community and home. It is all well and good but, as much as one is technically a part of a sort of reading community, more is needed. If one is only a monkish shut-in, then one lacks community, despite still being a part of one; the minimum-level threshold is not yet attained. Yet, this does not downplay the benefit of reading about home and loyalty, love and community. We must have the “romp an’ play” with those around us, which in turn builds up civilization.
As Sir Roger Scruton gently explains, there are certain loyalties that are pillars upon which the broader community is built:
Loyalties are a source of anxiety. They create fixed obligations that we can neither soften nor exchange. But they also define where *we* are in the field of obligations – the commitments that we cannot trade or relax, since they define the position from which we view the world. Obligations of family and marriage are the fixed points around which we weave the wider relations of trust on which we depend. And loyalties generally answer the question of belonging: to whom and to what do we belong, so that we are prepared on its behalf to make important sacrifices. In the world as it is today we have many ways of belonging – the familial, the religious, the national among them. But belonging is never a choice, and that is its point. It is a calling.
“Obligations of family and marriage,” and let us add religion, require our constant interaction, interaction that must entail a “heap o’ livin’.” The quotidian yet joyful little interactions with these “fixed points” in turn strengthen them—and us. But petty injustices, haughty eyes, careless words, and lukewarm hearts have weakened many communal bonds. Thus, due to the primus peccatum which taints every man and every community, the bonds of love and loyalty are continually under attack. And so the human instinct creates a “cancel culture.” In our disdain and distrust we seek the nearest exit from those around us. Even those close to us such as family and coworkers, we shut out. We limit our interactions, we de-friend, and create the, by now common, term, “echo chamber.”
And so, questions now arise for the reader such as, “What is the most expedient means of encouraging the ‘romp an’ play’ that we may have a ‘heap o’ livin’ ‘ with those who have been the cause of injustices (admittedly small ones) against our being?” and “On what grounds can we have community if there is no way to trust those within our community?”
Wine and drink seem to be good candidates—all in good measure, of course. Love covers a multitude of sins, and a few drinks makes the covering up a little easier. A man who trusts no one is a man whom no one trusts. And a man who has no loyalties is a man whose identity is up for sale—the very opposite of a man who is grounded and rooted in a home, a community. Although it can be hard to trust, or even identify with, those around us, a glass or two can augment the difficulty of fallen friendships.
A caveat is here in order. Good drink with a good meal can truly build up, but all such measures are to Christ subordinate. Yet, such instruments can still be used for His great glory. In fact, we see a similar instrumental use in Proverbs 31, where wine and drink are used for palliative care.
To borrow a phrase from Sir Roger Scruton, wine is the liquid libation which “causes you to smile at the world and the world to smile at you.” It helps us to see our friends friendlier and to see our homes homier. Love of home (oikophilia), we must insist, is greatly encouraged by a healthy and balanced drinking life. In community-building, our motto (half in jest) should be in vino caritas.
*This is an extract of an article originally published at The Imaginative Conservative.
[C]laims of religious experience through music are notoriously hard to evaluate and build upon unless one is prepared to identify at least something of the content of the “religion” in question. The category of “religion” or “religious,”….is a massively contested one, as is the belief that there is some kind of locatable core or essence of “religious experience.” Unless we are willing to clarify what we might mean by asserting that, for example, music puts us in touch with God (for the Christian, as for any theistic faith, this would mean with a quite specific God, we will be powerless in the face of the skeptic, who will see such claims as no more than hyperbole for a fervent emotional experience or as a way of masking our desire to have some kind of ultimate authority to back up our musical tastes! In short, a laudable attempt to connect with musical experience in the culture at large can easily trade away the distinctives of Christian faith, leaving the church more irrelevant than ever.
Citations & References1. Essays on Religion, Science, and Society, by Herman Bavinck, Baker Book House, 2013, p. 270.
2. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, edited by Vittorio Messori (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985)
3. Essays on Religion, Science, and Society, by Herman Bavinck, p. 255. 4. Ibid., p. 256.
5. I admit that this is unsatisfactory, in that Bavinck would say that beauty is revealed in the true statement and the good action, but it does not directly address the question of the truth and goodness in, say, music or paintings. But at the risk of redundancy, a painting is not really an argument, except by way of metaphor.
6. Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music, by Jeremy Begbie, SPCK, 2008, Kindle loc. 217.
Robert J. McPherson IISee More Essays
Robert J. McPherson II is a graduate of RC Sproul’s Reformation Bible College with an honors degree in theology. He has an MA in Philosophy from the University of Buckingham; conducting research under the guidance of Sir Roger Scruton. His thesis is on personal responsibility and social justice.