I grew up watching the sitcom, “Cheers!” – you may remember: the place “where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.” A regular group of people who came in from different work places and went off to different homes, but while they were together they shared the ups, downs and nothingness of life. Some might say that they were a community whose primary identity, as far as the audience was concerned, was the connection they shared at the drinking establishment. However though they existed together in a physical space, theirs was not a true community.
Many of us spend the majority of our days working alongside the same people, day after day, month after month, year after year. Some would say that our workplaces might also be considered a community. However, though sharing a common purpose in a shared physical space, community is often lacking in our workplaces as evidenced by the constant need for unions and human resources.
In my own neighbourhood, we are a great mix of people. Yes, we live within proximity, with sidewalks joining our homes and the eclectic assembling of our gardens and porches. However our social status is diverse, our ages are diverse, some of us work shift, others work out of province, some are retired, others are just starting out, etc. We take residence within the same postal code (zip code for my American friends) and yet there are many of us who can go weeks or months without knowing what is transpiring in each other’s lives. In fact, fewer of us still would have any great concern for the long term status of the neighbourhood. Many homes change owners quickly.
These unscientific personal observations give validity to Gill Valentine’s observation in his textbook Social Geographies: Space and Society: “It is argued that communities can exist without a territorial base or that neighbourhoods can have no sense of communal ties or cohesions, that community has no analytical value because it means so many different things to different people and that is probably only a romanticized concept anyway.” (p.117) Gill goes on to introduce us to new (for me) terminology that does describe the reality in which we live: Communities without propinquity – Propinquity is defined as a nearness or physical proximity. (p.118) Just as importantly, the opposing phenomena has also become a consequence of the diminishing value of community: propinquity without community: where the public space is abandoned in favour of the increasing virtual spaces in which we now connect. (p.121) Yet, whether propinquity (yes, I like this word) exists or not, there is a great need for people to experience true community. Perhaps this where the church should be of help.
The dangers of our narrow views of community whether they be near or far are important for us to consider as those who serve in leadership roles, particularly as part of the organizational church. If the church, the assembling of followers of Jesus Christ, is to fulfill the mandate that God has given to it, then it must seek to be more than a shared physical space. The church must also seek to embrace the uniqueness of its individual members and it must continually look to communicate and motivate according to the vision that God has given to it. Those three criticisms of community: Privileges the ideal unity over differences, Generates exclusions and Unrealistic vision can legitimately be levied against many of our churches. (p.135)
In order to address the growing need for community among those in our neighborhoods, workplaces and cities, the church must learn to first address itself. Our God has not designed us to be uniform in our beings, or in our assembly, therefore we cannot impose uniformity on our congregants or our society. As God has made us free to choose Him, we must be the embodiment of the fulfillment of life that He offers. And we must do it in the midst of a society that still allows us the freedom of religion. Unity is that which embraces difference around a common bond, which in the case of the church is Jesus Christ, and is continually looking to expand it’s expression through recasting of vision and retelling of stories.
There’s more to life than settling into a place, through local, virtual or globally connections. God’s design is much grander than our fears and preferences place upon Him. Ultimately He wants everyone to know that He knows their name, and He’s asking us to be part of letting them know, as He addresses our collective need for “community”.
- Who was your favourite character on “Cheers”? Why?
- How does the preservation of our buildings and our denominational distinctives keep us from uniting together (as believers of Jesus Christ on mission to the world) in a town, city or region?
- What one recommendation would you give to your church leadership to help people understand the difference between the danger of uniformity and the strength of unity?
Here’s a link to one of the reasons I liked this show.
10 responses to “Cheers!”
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Brilliantly done. Thanks for sharing here.
Many years ago, I became burned out on ministry and left a church where I had given six good years of my life. For quite a long season, I refused to go to church. However, my wife was going to a new church with her mother and one day she brought me a tape by the pastor, Chuck Swindoll. “You have to listen to this!” she said. And listen I did.
Swindoll talked about how a local bar is oftentimes far better than a church at listening to people without judgment. The tape was spot on and was instrumental in my eventual return to church. You are right, the church needs to “examine itself.” It needs to become a community where people can come for love and for comfort, not for judgment.
Some day I will visit your church, Deve. I look forward to that day. Expect it. It will happen, God willing.
Professor, thanks for your input. As always, you add important flavour. I also appreciate learning more about your journey. There is definitely a strong point of agreement with the importance of the church continually examining itself to ensure that it’s posture is engaging yet welcoming to those who have yet to find salvation in Jesus Christ and/or those who have been wounded by previous difficult experiences.
First things first, I LOVE Cheers! My parents used to let me stay up and watch it! So…favorite character… NORM! I loved his “Norm-isms,” as I can rarely get a colloquialism correct. Plus, he had the corner seat. My office sits at the corner of two long hallways. At any given moment, I can look in either direction to see what’s or who’s coming my way. It gives me a great vantage point for observation. A corner is also…a cornerstone! I think Norm was one of the cornerstones of Cheers… You always knew he’d be there, and he held up the others through laughter and encouragement. We could all use a Norm in our lives!
Can’t argue with that logic! Norm, is so good! I miss that show.
Deve, yes, Cheers is a wonderful illustration of community, one that so often seems to be lacking in so many of our churches. But I do especially like your questions concerning the buildings we use as churches and what they have to say about our connecting (or not connecting) with our local community. Here is the age old question of sacred space (often found throughout church history) verses to gathering places for anyone (the use of the church for AA meetings and Rotary Clubs). I was disappointed with the Valentine for not dealing with church space in her book, but I am curious whether we have (even in our modern “gym style” churches) created a true balance between the church as both a gathered community and a sent community. And how do properly strike the balance? Are there examples where this has been truly successful?
As always, Deve, your insights cause me to ponder. Great post!
John, you raise excellent questions which are not easily answered. A number of years ago Hugh Halter wrote his first book, Tangible Kingdom. In it he was advocating for an emptying of the church gathered to be a church sent. However, a couple years ago, he wrote a follow up to that book, noting that eventually, as the church is sent, it needs does need to gather. That book was called “AND” – gathered and sent. Interesting questions that I’m not equipped to answer but I am determined to work within the tensions. Thanks for feeding that desire!
A great post!
Firstly, I’m afraid I don’t have a favourite character in Cheers! I only ever watched it a few times. Hope that doesn’t disqualify me from responding, lol!
But seriously…you make a great point. Christ’s Church is called to be community in people’s lives. You write, “The church must also seek to embrace the uniqueness of its individual members and it must continually look to communicate and motivate according to the vision that God has given to it.” Indeed, as that happens, community is created. Isn’t it wonderful how God equips and enables us to enjoy community. All the ingredients are there in His church. We just got to blend His cake mix together! Have a blessed weekend.
Liz, I love cake! I think the challenge will be for church leaders to be prepared to mix different cakes on a regular basis, because the ingredients from the people will change very often. We can’t get stuck with just one recipe!
Deve, wonderful incorporation of cheers. I remember watching that back in the day as well. There seems to be an intrinsic desire of belonging not to an organization or even a physical locale but a group of people that know your name. I struggled with my church any attempt to sell the building that they had been in for over 39 years. And they struggle to separate their identity from the buildings edifice. Though they had memories that took place within the building it was deteriorating around them in the neighborhood that they no longer desire to reach out to. Though all these facts were put before them they could not get over there dysfunctional hold of the building. In the 11 1/2 years that I ministered at that church I could not get them to realize the necessity for us to grow would be in selling the building and moving. To this day some eight years later The congregation has continue to shrink but they will not give up the building. To them that physical structure represents more than just a place to meet it is their identity and unfortunately the building and the congregation are beginning to look the same. Worn out deteriorated and lacking attention. Deferred maintenance. I wish they would have taken my advice and dropped the deadweight of the building and moved into a greater understanding of what true unity in the body of Christ would look like.
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