A few years ago, the US Army issued a recruiting slogan: "the Army of One."
I was bothered by that, because it seemed to play into the hyper-individualistic attitude of our culture. An attitude which Joan Chittister challenges in her fourth chapter. Perhaps the Army wanted its recruits to think of the Army as one. But we are so geared to think of our personal needs first and foremost, the Army realized that it was not creating the concept of community -- and so the slogan was dropped.
Community is the antidote to individualism. When we are redeemed by the living Christ -- it is we who are redeemed. It is a community redemption. Salvation for self has little worth if it does not include the journey of others. It is one thing to have a personal relationship with Jesus; it is something else -- and more powerful, to have a communal relationship with Jesus.
Community can be wonderful. Community can also be very hard. While in seminary, I remember going to Henri Nouwen (who was on the faculty) with a community problem. The administration of the school wasn't treating a student very well. The student -- my friend, was having serious mental health issues -- and the dean and staff seemed (from my perspective) to be doing its best to distance itself from the student. I was ready to give up on community.
I relayed all the slights and injuries that this student received to Henri, expecting him to rise up in full dudgeon -- as I had done. Instead, he looked at me, smiled and asked -- "what do you expect?" He didn't know the particulars of this case, but he told me that communities try and act with kindness and justice toward one another, but they don't always succeed. Get used to it, but don't give up on it. Because when community does work, the glory of God is revealed in extraordinary ways -- because we are as one; and transformation happens in a way that are not possible when living as an army of one.