Broaden Out by Staying Local

My first article in this three-part series discussed how the internet’s Global Vision may promise to make us more broad-minded, but often actually makes us more narrow-minded than ever. My next article showed how tourism might promise to solve that narrow-mindedness, but often doesn’t. I based all this on an essay by GK Chesterton, written in 1905.[1] In this article, I want to present Chesterton’s surprising solution to our problem:

It is not fashionable to say much nowadays of the advantages of the small community. We are told that we must go in for large empires and large ideas. There is one advantage, however, in the small state, the city, or the village, which only the wilfully blind can overlook. The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.

Chesterton is advocating us limiting our social choices. In fact, he wants us to eradicate choice as the prime definition of who we socialise with altogether. Instead, he wants us to embed ourselves in the lives of the people in our local community, whether we like them or not. Whether they agree with us or not. In fact, the more people challenge our assumptions, even irritate the hell out of us, the better.

Of course, I still think it’d be great for us to use the internet to discover things outside of our cultural horizons. I think it’d be great to stay friends with those we disagree with on Facebook. I also think that overseas travel can have immeasurable benefits. But I also think Chesterton may have a point here.

piazza-San-Silvestro

What we need to do is find a community of people that do not always think the way we do. If we try to live our lives embedded in the lives of people we don’t always agree with, they will challenge the way we think, all the time. Sometimes, in the process of working through a disagreement with them, we’ll discover new reasons that we’re right. Sometimes, we run the risk  (but also reap the rewards) of them proving us wrong. Either way, we learn. More than that, if we know we’re going to have to see them tomorrow, we won’t be so quick to “burn bridges”, to dismiss them and their arguments. Instead, we’ll work through the problems with them. We’ll mature.

Chesterton suggests two contexts for this to happen: the family, and the neighbourhood. Many have pointed out we can’t choose our family, and Chesterton expands that to neighbours: “We make our friends,” he says, “We make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour.” I only started to overcome my narrow-mindedness about Canadian bureaucracy, when I’d lived there long enough to stop being a tourist, and became a neighbour.

I think both Chesterton’s suggested contexts have great potential to broaden our minds. However, there’s another context that Chesterton would thoroughly endorse: the local church congregation.

Now, you might think that the local church would be counter-productive, that everybody in a church thinks the same thing. And, I will admit, many congregations have become so large, or so focussed on their “market”, that they sometimes only perpetuate the Global Village problem: large congregations can foster superficial relationships; overly focussed congregations can mean everybody there shares the same demographics.

But often, local congregations are full of people who, while they generally share the same Christian convictions, approach Christianity distinctly: they pray differently, read the Bible differently, love differently. Moreover, they are people of different ages, cultures, politics, agendas, goals, bugbears, and concerns. Often, these differences are why people leave their congregation. I’m suggesting these differences are why we need to stay. Because of a common commitment to Jesus and His cause, small congregations learn to work together for His cause, since nobody else is going to do it for them.

In the New Testament, Paul frequently points out that the Church, and especially the small local church, is like a Body made up of many parts. Paul even recognises that causes conflict. He also recognises that’s precisely why it is necessary.[2] The other dominant New Testament metaphor for the Church is a Family, and the healthiest families are often the ones with people who we find ways to love, even when they drive us nuts. Do we dare to live and love like that? Because if we do, we may find our minds become broadened in ways we couldn’t otherwise imagine.

Matt Gray

[1]     GK Chesterton, “On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family” in Heretics. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/chesterton/heretics.xiv.html

[2]     See for example, 1 Corinthians 12, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+cor+12&version=NIV

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One response to “Broaden Out by Staying Local

  1. Great points here. I sat down to read this just after having an unexpected hour conversation with two of my newer neighbors. We planned on catching a ballgame together!

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