My morning scroll of the Facebook statuses: sweeping my fingers over the phone screen, scanning for keywords, or eyecatching images: panning for social media gold. The name caught my eye. He was a young author who’s books I’d read. He was a scholar and a YouTuber. At some point in his adult life, he’d crossed from one religious faith to another, and had a deep knowledge of two streams of beliefs. I found his reflections challenging and insightful. I would occasionally google him to see if his itinerary would bring him to Scotland. I thought the facebook share would be a review of a new book he’d published. I was wrong. It announced his death. My finger immediately went for the share button. But I stopped: thinking about whether I should share that sense of loss. But my life, and my facebook profile are too diverse for that.
For most of my life I have straddled the fence between different faith communities. I was brought up as a white, middle class, Protestant, but in an environment that was opened minded to other groups. That experience has allowed me to seek friendship and intellectual challenge in other communities with different beliefs and cultures to my own, and my facebook friends list reflects those differences. This young author left one of those communities to join another, and ‘sharing’ his loss could be seen as promoting the community he joined, and negating the community he left. In my case, diversity needs care and gentle nurturing. There is something fundamental about our need to belong to a group, to be in relationship with other people. As we grow older our ‘group’ changes: it starts with our caregiver, moves onto our family, our school, our friends and perhaps our colleagues. Solitary confinement, depriving someone of even basic relationships – although widely practiced in our prison systems – is condemned as a form of torture. When you are part of a group (be that a church, a club or a group of gamers) you belong: but that also means that others don’t. You and your companions are inside: others are outside. The smaller the group the tighter the sense of belonging, but, the bigger the group, the harder it is to maintain that sense of community: with 6.5 billion people (the population of our planet) it’s impossible. We understand and relate to those who are ‘inside’, and push back those that are one the ‘outside’. Some do this silently within there minds, and others forcefully with (sometimes violent) action. I thought about the author and what it was to change faith and community.
The night before this news came through I’d watch 3 friends play Magic: The Gathering. I had no clue about the rules of the game but each player had to look at the cards they had in their hand, what was on the table and choose what to play, what action to take and a strategy for that round. What they played depended on what they were dealt, the cards in their desk (which, if you don’t know the game, are customized and unique) and what they saw on the table. Each player had to make their own minds up about what, and how, to play. No player gets the option not to make a choice: they must make a choice one way or another.
My grandmother came from a community ruined by drink and gambling. She found a faith and spent many years working in some of the country’s poorest communities. Thinking about faith and card games would be an anathema to her, but the analogies are there. God’s given me a deck: I’ve added to it, swapped stuff out, traded stuff up and it’s the best I can get. I need to make a choice and play. Nobody else can. My rules are simple . That choice may see me accepted by my community, or rejected by it. But it’s not their play, its mine. I need to come down on one side of the fence. Be either hot or cold, sell it all and perhaps accept that ‘my group’ just might not get it.
This young author had left everything for a journey that cost him so much. He had so much more to tell about the two communities he’d been part of and about the path he’d taken. That journey had him accepted as ‘inside’ for some of my facebook friends, but he’d rejected the beliefs of some of my other facebook friends. I value them both: that’s my community. The share button stayed un-pressed. After a while, just staring at the post, there was nothing I could do but scroll on by.