The Key to Community
In 1930’s Germany, during a season of immense discord and hatred, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was teaching in an underground seminary. This small community of pastors-in-training was a pocket of unity and peace in a world of strife and upheaval. In 1939, Bonhoeffer published, Life Together, an account of and appeal for unity through Christian community. One statement in Life Together that has stuck with me since I first read it, almost 8 years ago, is his connection between solitude and community. Bonhoeffer says,
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls.” 
Time alone and time together are two sides of a life well-lived. Like any good partnership, neither is complete without the other. When one is neglected the other suffers because their bond is strengthened as they are both nurtured.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided ample opportunity to nurture one’s alone time. This week, as I sat on my back deck enjoying the sunshine, I began reflecting on the gift of spending time alone. It may sound odd, calling it a gift, but one thing the last few months have taught me is that I’m okay when I’m alone. As an introvert, I cherish the time I get to spend by myself, but prior to COVID-19, I would often feel stress for not spending more time with family, friends, or at church. Quarantine has reminded me that being with others is important, but being alone has its benefits too. If we allow it, being alone provides the opportunity for self-reflection which can lead to important self-work. By self-work, I mean being honest with yourself about the hurt, trauma, and grief you carry in life and being willing to find pathways to healing. Rather than distracting yourself from your story with social interactions, alone time well spent should cultivate space for you to be you in the truest sense. Yes, that means acknowledging the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What the last few months has not cultivated is time together. Sure, we’ve spent more time on the phone or a video call, but for most of us, we’ve had the least amount of human interaction in our entire life. So, our community muscle is atrophied and we can expect it to be more challenging to navigate social interactions. We might pick up right where we left off with some friends, but others might be suffering with increased depression or anxiety as a result of the time in isolation. You might find yourself dealing with increased depression and anxiety too.
Therefore, we’d do well to hear another quote from Bonhoeffer. He says, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” Healthy community does not happen by requiring people to live up to some ideal version of community. Community is made possible by love. A love that meets people wherever they are at. Whether people are happy, sad, angry, or anxious, showing love is the key to working out that muscle of community.
Letting love be your first impulse as you reengage community will also help you to combat racism in our world today. This week, we celebrate Juneteenth. A holiday that marks the end of slavery, but also one that reminds us of the painful realities of racism and bigotry. It reminds us of the long history of oppression that Black Americans have experienced. It reminds us that racism thrives in environments where people put their ideals before real people. It also reminds us that racism is less in communities that are willing to love each person around them and all the differences they bring to the community. Juneteenth reminds us that community begins with seeing each other as fellow humans and being thankful for the way God has created and uniquely shaped each of us.
When we use alone time for meaningful self-work, we can reenter time with others in a more healthy and loving way; especially in times of division. So, this Juneteenth let’s do self-work, pray, and reenter community by taking action to make a world where every person has the opportunity to feel safe and enjoy life, whether they are alone or together.
Peace be upon you,
Chaplain Travis Jamieson
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 77.