Sunday, July 8, 2012

From the FIC Mailbag

One of the illuminating and entertaining things about being in the information business is that you get the chance to see what people are interested in. One day recently, our FIC Office received the following three communications within the same 24-hour period…

[Note that grammar and spelling have been preserved from the original.]

Inquiry #1
It sounds like you have a "social" support group. I feel there is a need and a place for social support groups. I facilitate a Recovery Support group. The members of our group would be terrorized by a face to face social support group, but may be able to participate in an online group.
Here in we have grief groups, educational groups (classroom type), social groups and Recovery support groups. What is your percentage of recovery?

At first it was amusing to think about the need to "recover" from community, as if it were a disease. I reckon I know alarmed parents and ex-partners of happy communitarians who hold that view, and that's the basic premise of deprogramming groups such as the Cult Awareness Network.

Then I thought of the Gandhi quote, when he was asked what he thought about Western civilization: "I think it would be a very good idea." 

In that vein we can think of intentional communities as support groups for recovery from materialism and the desire to reassert the primacy of healthy relationships as the fundamental building block of a vibrant society. 

Maybe we are recovery groups. Viewed that way, I, too, wonder what our percentage of recovery is. Often the flesh is weaker than the spirit and that's not a bad question to ponder.

Inquiry #2
Looking at the kind of ministry you guys are operating, I will like to represent your interest in Africa. I am a pastor of a small group church in Nigeria and want you people to extend your ministry to Africa where by I can represent you over here.

While I understand the inclination to try to extend one's influence if you're successful and feel spiritually called, I'm scratching my head over the phrase "the kind of ministry you guys are operating." Huh?

I suspect that this fisher of souls got no further than the word "Fellowship" in a very broad casting of the (inter)net. Electrons are cheap, and volume had probably been selected as a strategic substitute for discernment. Our office, for example, periodically gets unsolicited direct mail catalogs from companies that are purveyors of church supplies, which I think is a consequence of the same bad guess.

While it saddens me that we receive communications feigning a personal touch when it is so clear there hasn't even been the first attempt to understand who they are approaching, I suppose spam is a unavoidable nuisance in the Information Age.

Inquiry #3
At first, I was excited to join others in development of good clean and holsome living. Then reality set in. I contacted everyone applicable. It so became clear, this is redicules. To be more exact, most were looking for a sugar daddy or so above us that we need to be concerded. I've attended university for more than 12 yrs, grew up in a farming community, and I can build a community from the ground up cheeper than all the costs given by every community in your groups.

Someone has failed…    

No one will take responsibility…
How is that any different than the socity at large…

At least this dude appeared to know that we were a clearinghouse for information about intentional communities—a simple test that the first two correspondents failed. 

My first reaction to this note was to snarkishly wonder how a person could attend university for 12 years and still be so weakly accomplished at spelling and grammar. Then I realized the snobbishness in me that that represents. The Communities Movement is overwhelmingly well-educated and middle class, yet the desire for community in one's life is not limited to people of that class or educational accomplishment. Everyone needs community.

Further, there is real anguish in this person's note. The author touches on challenges that many groups wrestle with: distribution of power; the lack of healthy models of leadership in cooperative settings; accountability; how to resolve differences constructively; how we tend to undervalue practical knowledge relative to theoretical knowledge. These are all real issues, and no less valid because the person communicating them is unlikely to win a spelling bee. 

Think about the courage it took to post that note.
• • •
I was motivated to share these inquiries both because they're illustrative of the breadth of communications that flow to us, and because of their potential to amuse. Yet there is also a poignant side to these and I want end this blog by underlining that aspect. 

While I know nothing further about any of these correspondents than what I've shared above, it's not hard to see in each a genuine desire to connect and explore the possibility that FIC might be able to enhance something that is precious to them. There's nothing wrong with that. Further, none of the three let the possibility of misunderstanding, uncertainty about receptivity on our part, or lack of erudition on their part get in the way of their reaching out. I find that impressive, and hopeful. 

Reflecting on that puts a different kind of smile on my face than the smirk I started with, and I hope it does for you as well.

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