Suddenly the door opened and Pa burst in, saying, “Put on your bonnets, Caroline and girls! There’s a meeting at the schoolhouse!”
“Whatever in the world–” Ma said.
“Everybody’s going! said Pa. “We are starting a literary society.”
For the next Literary, there was music. Pa with his fiddle and Gerald Fuller with his accordion made such music that the schoolhouse and the crowd seemed to dissolve in an enchantment. Whenever they stopped, applause roared for more.
It seemed impossible ever to have a more marvelous evening. But now the whole town was aroused, and families were driving in from the homestead claims to attend the Literaries. The men in town were on their mettle; they planned a superb musical evening. They practiced for it, and they borrowed Mrs. Bradley’s organ.
“Literaries” and “Whirl of Gaiety” from Little Town on the Prairie
Moderately Gifted People in the Community
Rick Saenz recently wrote about something I’ve been mulling over in my mind as well. In Best fiddler in the county, Saenz starts with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut:
Moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world’s champions.
When I was growing up, I often sang in church. Like most smaller churches, we had several soloists of varying degrees of skill. I was a good soloist and enjoyed singing. I would never have won American Idol, but it didn’t matter because American Idol didn’t exist. It also didn’t matter that I wasn’t Sandi Patti or Amy Grant. I could sing their songs, but no one expected the soloist in their local Baptist church to actually sound like them. They were professionals and on a completely different level.
I always felt appreciated when I used my gift and I always felt joy when I did so. I had a gift to share with my local church and I used it. I sang in the choir and small ensembles as well.
Times have changed so much that the local mega- and semi-mega-churches now use worship teams and the soloists can’t simply be good. They have to sound like they could be touring nationally. And if the local church doesn’t have someone like that they can either pipe in professionals or mix the sound so much that someone sounds better than they actually are. All I had was a background tape and a basic sound system. What you heard was what was me.
Young women used to be the belle of the county. Everyone in the county knew who the local beauty was. In fact, living in a county actually meant something. Our high school sports league was based on our county. Now teams travel all over the state each weekend to play football. There is no local rivalry any longer.
The Loss of Real Communities
As mentioned in the Gatto video I included the other day (in Home Schooling versus Home Education), we don’t live in communities any longer. We have networks. We don’t have a community in real life. We have professional networks. We have a network of blog buddies and women from social media we’ve never met in real life, but who know us better than the fellow members of the church we attend each week.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t think living in a global community is doing us much good. Whatever we have gained from the global community has diminished our local communities. I think the excessive mobility of our country is doing us more harm than good. We’ve lost our distinctiveness in different parts of the country. It still exists in pockets, to be sure, but the never-ending moving done by people throughout our country is ripping to shreds any local social fabric that was still hanging together by a thread.
You can see it in the churches. Megachurches where one pastor speaks to multiple campuses via a screen. Instead of thirty pastors shepherding smaller congregations and using their gifts every week, we have one pastor who wouldn’t know 97% of his congregation members if he passed them on the street. When I was young, an elderly retired missionary taught junior church in the basement of my church. Serving Jesus was real and she was in my church year after year. Now children go to huge children’s worship centers and have a teacher for a few weeks and then a different teacher another quarter and so on each year. They may never even see that teacher again. She might move away or attend one of the other services. Is this community?
A friend sent me an email recently in which she mentioned the constant changing attendance at their classical Christian school. Families coming and going each year. There for a year or two, gone for a year, and then back. I know this happens many places. Trying out homeschooling, trying out a private school, trying out a charter school. Parents take schooling one year at at time and make changes based on the needs of the children, the family, academics, etc. But it is very hard on my friend’s children as they make friends who then leave. So even in a classical Christian school you aren’t immune from the coming and going that lessens the community.
We’ve lost something critically important. And, sadly, I don’t see any way we get it back as a country. I think if we want community it is something we have to work very hard for as individuals and families. I think about this a lot in my desire to build a strong community for Caroline. But how do we go about doing that? How do you swim against the tide of the culture surrounding you? Is it important for you to be in a community? How do you build community for you and/or your own family? What have you been willing to sacrifice to achieve any level of meaningful community in your own life?
Brandy @ Afterthoughts
You are on a roll, Sallie! Lots of good thoughts around here lately. 🙂
I especially found your point about the private school’s changing attendance to be a good one. I think that culturally, we value education being catered to the individual. And I agree there is a lot of value in that. But I don’t know *anyone* who has ever really thought through how their decisions impact the children around their children.
Well, I say that, but actually I can think of one person. I have a friend who is very good at thinking communally (for lack of a better term). She is good about considering how her decisions with her children will impact other children in our co-op or at their church or whatever. But most people I know do not balance the tension between the individual and the community. I am grateful to this friend because I do not naturally think this way.
I will have to think about this some more…Thank you for bringing it up!
Jen @ BigBinder
I think about this all the time. I really enjoyed this post, especially this point:
“Whatever we have gained from the global community has diminished our local communities. ”
Yes!! Especially those of us who blog – we ‘build’ community rather than find ourselves within it. We choose who we like and who we don’t. Even the way news is delivered insulates us against discomfort from ideas we don’t agree with. Don’t like that channel? Go to this one; they reinforce your ideas and tell you you’re right.
It’s impossible to be special, but the illusion of importance is equally as strong. I don’t know the answer, but the fact that you opened this with a scene from Little House On The Prairie tells me our hearts – and minds – are in the same place on this issue 🙂
Very good questions. No real answers. I am tempted to say what I always say at these kinds of things – “It is what it is.” I wholeheartedly agree with you that the global community model isn’t going to serve us well in the long run. As much as I love the internet, I think technology and the internet might just be what undoes the fabric of our society in the end.
Now – on to the point raised by education/kids: I will say, and this may sound selfish, I don’t choose my children’s education by what might be good for their friends. You raise a good point, but I don’t buy that I should keep my kids in public/private or whatever so they can keep their friends happy. In all the decisions we make, we put God & family first. Our kids friends are about number #10-20 on the list of importance. Heartless, maybe…but there again “it is what it is” 🙂 If I buy into this argument, then I might as well buy into the one that says we should put our kids in the local public school because “if all the good families leave….”
Just doesn’t hold water with me. Kids are so good at making friends wherever they go – even my autistic child who has been bullied does better than I’d imagine at this. Case in point, today my girls went to a birthday party for a little girl we know (her mom was my best friend growing up). Every kid at the party went to this little girls public school. My kids were the only “outsiders” there (homeschooled). My girls had a blast playing with “new” friends even if it was only for 2 hours.
I must agree that you really are offering up some good content lately! 🙂 Always enjoy your posts, Sallie.
Must be why 9 out of 10 vacations we take are in Michigan…..even though we have seen it all before…..we just want to see it all again! ( I realize Michigan is a bit large for “community”) LOL Karen
Thanks for the thought-provoking comments! It took me a few days to get to them as I’m trying to juggle work projects with coming out of the fog of this cold. 🙂
When I say that I think every day about writing even when I can’t, I really do mean it! That’s where these posts come from. 🙂
A couple of random thoughts…
Part of the problem with longing for community is that so often community in Christian circles ends up being unhealthy in the extreme. Community becomes likemindedness which becomes conformity which becomes shunning if you leave. If you think I’m exaggerating, I could list dozens of links here to all that is going on in this country with unhealthy churches and “Christian” leaders. I no longer wonder why people aren’t interested in church or knowing Christ. When I look at all the ridiculous things going on in the name of Christ, it truly is a wonder and work of God that anyone darkens the door of a church.
Re: the internet and technology… I think it is doing terrible harm in some ways and in other ways it is critically important. Good grief. Just look at the information that would not be available to us if we had only ABC, CBS and NBC to rely on. Without the internet, social media, blogs and other new media we would be completely in the dark about so much of what is going on in the world, politics, the church, etc. Just the information coming out about the serious problems with many prominent Christian pastors, churches and networks is mind-boggling. The only reason those people have the courage to come forward is that they learn through the internet that they aren’t the only one.
I don’t think my friend was arguing that we should leave our kids in school for the sake of the other kids. I’m pretty sure she would argue strongly for every family’s right to choose what is best for their kids. But the coming and going of children in each other’s lives does impact them. I had 150 kids in my graduating class in public school. Most of them I went to school with through middle school and high school. If someone new moved in, it was a big deal. It simply isn’t like that any longer. I confess I make all my decisions about what is best for Caroline’s education based on her needs. I do know a few Christian school teachers who believe that homeschoolers are damaging Christian schools because they no longer participate and it is becoming more challenging for Christian schools to stay afloat financially.
Karen- There is so much to do and see in Michigan that you really could take just about every vacation here. And Michigan is a “community” in many ways. We have a unique history and culture. I think it is a shame so many young people have been forced to move away to find jobs. I interact with many people on a Spartan discussion board who long to move back if they could find a good job. Hopefully the economy will turn around and they will be able to come home. They miss it terribly and want to bring up their children here. But it’s tough to find a way right now.
We sacrificed the “advantages” of a bigger church, six years ago, to begin worshipping in a smaller congregation…as in, you could probably fit all the Sunday School kids into one vanload. We knew it was the right choice when, about two weeks after we’d begun attending, the (long-term) Sunday-School teacher asked if our kids wanted to be in the Christmas play. At the larger church, I think they had to audition or something…weeks of rehearsals…here it was “put on a costume and welcome.”
I also appreciate that they put up with my just-average piano skills and let me play the offertory or some prelude music every couple of months…and even ask me back afterwards. I would so NOT be doing that in a larger church, for more than one reason.
There are other reasons we stayed, of course, but the community factors you’ve mentioned are definitely part of them.
Mama Squirrel – I completely get what you are saying. Sometimes I think it would be nice to be in a church where my only barely adequate piano skills were needed. We have many talented musicians in our church including a fabulous organist. But I’ve been in situations where ANY pianist was so appreciated and it is a blessing to be that person.
It goes both ways. I really appreciate hearing the quality music, but I miss doing something meaningful. I know I’ve written about this before when writing about church. I like to feel like it matters if I’m there or not. We’ve missed the past three weeks with sickness going through our house. I don’t know if anyone even notices. I gave up caring a long time ago. It’s just a sign of the times we live in.
I also agree about being involved with a Christmas program or something. Just put a halo on the kids and let them sing “Away in a Manger” already! Why does it have to be a production? I know, I know. That’s what everyone does nowadays.
I am so not hip. 🙂