Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, writes eloquently on the meaning and nature of community. One of his surprising insights is that community is a place of conflict. In the slim but powerful volume From Brokenness to Community, Vanier identifies several areas of conflict within community. He teaches that people in community must learn “to give space to others so that they may grow, rather than competing with them and lording over them” (31). This insight stands in direct contradiction to a world that favors competition. He explains,
We have all been taught to live in a competitive world and to win, to be a success, and to move up the ladder of promotion and to get ahead. It is hard then in community to stand back in order to help others grow and exercise their gifts. There is then in community a loss of aggressive competition cultivated in our societies (31).
Vanier directly connects this insight to what is happening in the relationship between developed and developing peoples.
Yet at the same time I am sensing inside of the churches, as well as countries, a yearning for solidarity, a cry coming from people for togetherness and for love. For too long we’ve been walking on the road to independence. We’re beginning to feel our loneliness. We’re beginning to see that we can only live if we’re together. We’re beginning to see the immense dangers of separation, of apartheid. We’re seeing that if we separate ourselves, and then create barriers around our group, we’ll tend to become rivals (33-34).
Going further, Vanier links this insight to a theological vision in which he emphasizes God as family: “our God is not just a powerful Lord telling us to obey or be punished but our God is family.”
Our God is three persons in love with each other; our God is communion. And this beautiful and loving God is calling us humans into this life of love. We are not alone; we are called together to drop barriers, to become vulnerable, to become one…But we have to die to all the powers of egoism in ourselves in order to be reborn for this new and deeper unity where our uniqueness and personal gifts and creativity are not crushed but enlivened and enhanced (35).
Solidarity calls for transformation of our interiority and our communities—local and global—from domination to love and vulnerability after the model of the triune God.
See Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1992.
Submitted by: N. Rademacher, Associate Professor, Religious Studies