I’m grateful to my fellow LoveGooder Carrie Miller for her most recent post, “The Indifference Code”, which I found to be insightful and a very good articulation of something real and problematic in our society. This post is a follow up to hers.
Thanks to the influence of seminarians more trendy than me, I’ve become a sucker for coffeehouses. There’s a great spot near my seminary in one of the suburbs of Chicago; it’s the kind of place where the staff know my name and my “usual” (mocha for here, cookie, and maybe a banana) is ready in seconds. It’s located in an old mechanic’s garage, complete with concrete floors and big garage doors that they open when it’s nice out. For the seminarians, it’s become a safe little getaway to study, meet up and relax, or just escape the craziness of seminary life. As with any place like this, there’s no shortage of people to connect with and an endless supply of conversations to listen in on. If eavesdropping is rude, then I’ll be the first to admit that, at Hansa Coffee, I’m rude.
Here’s what I notice: people want community. To anyone with a Christian mindset, the response to this observation is a big, “duh.” But for those living in the world of the Indifference Code, places like Hansa can be seen as the enemy campground par excellence. Carrie’s description of the Indifferent world is apt:
“The code is simple. I will live my life quietly and peacefully, and I will leave you alone to live your life. I will ignore you, and you will ignore me, and this is how we will maintain peace. We will avoid arguments and disagreements and general unpleasantness by being completely, totally indifferent to one another.”
It is true that a lot of people live this way, but why? Nobody looks in the mirror in the morning and says, “Geez I really hope to have my very existence ignored today.” There are a ton of answers to this very complex question, which admittedly touches the very depths of the human experience. I think the most basic and probably the most obvious answer is that most of us are afraid. We’re afraid of being rejected or as seen as imperfect; maybe once I let people in, the facade I’ve spent so much time building will crumble in the face of public scrutiny. People really want to be noticed, to at least be acknowledged, but we’ve bred a world where opening up can mean criticism and the possibility of being shut out.
I think this is one of the many reasons that coffee shops like Hansa in Libertyville, IL are popping up everywhere in the United States. For the most part, these places are millennial ventures into the world of building community. We are tired of the often unfairly critical world of jaded cynicism and are looking for ways to bring about a more just world of greater tolerance for diverse opinions and ways of life. From a sociological, perhaps even an anthropological, point of view this is an incredible thing.
The Christian, likewise, should rejoice over these centers of community and the opportunities they present. In his book, Jesus’ School of Life, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn states that the entire network of relationships around an intentional disciple must necessarily change, for better or worse. God is Trinty; God is a community of persons. We are made in his image and, thus, in the image of a community. The one thing deeper than our sinfulness, than our fear, is precisely this communal image. At the most fundamental level, we are hardwired for communion and thus crave it. This is why the indifferent world produces so many people without joy.
What is it about Christian discipleship that changes the network around the lover of Christ? Precisely the notion that Jesus Christ has come to introduce a new code, what Carrie calls “The Unity Code.” Jesus came to eradicate in the most radical ways the sin-fed and death-fearing indifference and mediocrity that ruled the human experience. If he is our master, our King and Lord and lover and friend, then his mission of bringing about a new, different world must be our mission as well.
The other day I was wearing my collar while I walked out of a Starbucks. I met the eyes of a woman crossing the street and, carrying my Venti Decaf Americano (with a splash of heavy cream because #basic), I smiled at her and said, “Good morning!” Somewhat taken aback perhaps at the priest-looking person carrying a Venti and walking toward a beautiful red Buick she struggled to say, “uh…oh…hi!” But her eyes lit up because she was noticed, she was acknowledged. When I went on to ask, “how’s it going?”, she really had no idea what to do.
This is The Unity Code. I see you, I love you, I want to know you; you matter, you are important, you are enough. Safety, as Carrie so wisely pointed out, is not all it’s cracked up to be. The one thing safety can offer us is just that – safety. But why do we need safety if we’re not actually in danger?
The Christian changes the network around him or her by proclaiming with their vulnerability, with the confidence in the presence and mercy of God, “do not be afraid.” There might be fear in your heart, but take courage: God is bigger than your heart. We must be the agents of the communion we seek, of the communion that, as human persons, we crave and need.
If God is a community and we are made in his image, then the one thing we cannot tolerate is indifference toward each other. If we are built to crave community, then the one way we cannot live is alone. No matter how safe it might seem, this is the most dangerous option of all.