I always appreciate hearing from my readers! There's one email I got recently that I'd like to share with you, along with my response. The reader is fine with me publishing this, but wishes to remain anonymous. Perhaps you'd like to add to these thoughts...
I often think about the topic of social atomization, a very real thing in large cities. I like to put it this way: You can be completely surrounded by thousands of people, yet be an island unto yourself - mattering to nobody, brushing by hundreds, but forgotten in an instant after they walk by.
That's the opposite of what I imagine a Hutterian community to be: built around one faith, one ancestral language (Hutterisch), and one common purpose. I would imagine social atomization to be something of an anomaly within the Anabaptist communities.
Assuming good relations between members, family and community can form a support network - and this is something that God gives, to remind you of your connection to others, and that you're meant to serve one another. By contrast, the disassociation that's part of big city living can seem like a permanent state of shunning - although I think that there are people who like this anonymity and openly choose that disconnectedness, not feeling that there is anything unusual or painful about it. It's strange that I've lived in a big city all my life, and yet I see everything wrong with it!!
In big cities, people in general tend to keep to themselves. Strangers don't acknowledge one another by default. Some of us may even have grown up thinking that keeping to ourselves is the "polite" thing to do (not to intrude on another's privacy). But ultimately, I don't think it's all that healthy on an emotional level.
People seem to be at their best when they care about one another. Living an atomized life just makes that harder. I'm getting longwinded...but still, I wanted to share that.
(I responded (in blue) and he added more thoughts:)
Your emails are never long-winded and I thoroughly enjoy them, as they are thought-provoking and sincere. You bring up some good points on community and I have to be honest, that sometimes we (Hutterites) take this blessing for granted. It sometimes takes thoughts from people like you to point that out to us, regardless of the fact that that wasn't what you're trying to do. So I thank you for that!
That makes me happy to know - thanks :) I have a sincere interest in the Anabaptist Christians because so much about your lives (i.e. Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish) reflects the centrality of your faith to how you live. Your witness is much less a spoken or advertised one, and much more of a lived one - and to me that carries huge credibility. In fact, I long to connect with people from our local Mennonite communities here in Southern Ontario, so that I can express the same feeling to them, and to thank them for their beautiful silent witness.
This brought to mind a visit from a non-Hutterite some time ago. While we were sharing our way of life with her, she responded with, "Amazing, while most of us strife to build community with family, friends, people at work...on a daily basis, you're living it out everyday." I never thought about it in that way, and it helps me treasure what we have.
I can corroborate this, as someone living the urban life. I have family, but it is scattered all over the place. I have always wished that we could all live within a half hour of each other :) That would make me so happy.When you have loved ones nearby, you feel that you truly have a support network - and this is something that God gives, to remind you of your connection to others. Social atomization is not a healthy thing at all. I truly believe that city life is unhealthy on many levels.
What you say about life in a city is so true. We had some friends in Portage, a city in our area, who no longer live there. We visited those friends quite often and one day years ago the topic of neighbours came up. The mom of this family told us that they don't know their neighbours. I was rather surprised at that. "OK, help me understand, you have neighbours all around you, you see them all come and go from your windows, some are so close you can touch their house from your lawn and you don't know them?
It is completely true; that is how it is. I have a neighbour across the road who bought her house the same day I bought mine. We never once spoke for 14 years - until she got a dog recently! She had always kept to herself, and I had always done so too - thinking it is the "polite thing" to do (not to intrude on another's privacy). It's actually quite laughable now that I think of it :)
"But it's true." she said. "We don't have anything to do with them." At that time and as someone who's always lived in a community, I just found it strange that you can be surrounded by people and not know them. And so I learned, for us community is automatic, not so for most other people. Like our visitor pointed out, community is something people in cities strife to build. That I assume is easier said then done, because both sides must want a relationship in order for neighbours to be friends, spend time together, build community...and many times that just doesn't happen as people are so caught up in their own lives, business, seeking for fame and fortune.... short-lived happiness, that the most beautiful and lasting things in life: God, fellowship with others, beauty of nature... often fall by the wayside.
Another thing that makes me fond of Anabaptist Christians is how they almost universally live close to the land and are involved in farming. I have a tremendous respect and affection for farmers. It pains me when city people smugly cast them down as less sophisticated - this is something I call "urban bigotry". If not for farmers, how would we eat to live? I believe that most city dwellers are completely ignorant even of skills such as gardening. Farming brings a person close to the earth's laws and rhythms - and it is really only then that we can tune out of man-made chaos, and tune into the voice of God.
One of your comments reminded me of a funny story. Years ago we had a school group come for a tour. As was usual we took them to the kitchen, church, school, shops and some of the barns. At the chicken barn one of them had a rather disturbing life lesson - he learned where eggs came from. His reaction, "I'm never eating another egg." When asked where he thought they came from he answered, "From the Safeway." Talk about out of touch.... Would have liked to learn if he knows where milk, beef, bacon and porkchops come from. Now that would really do a number on his diet. (: Thanks to the fact that we're country kids, we know from an early age that food doesn't grow on shelves!