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On the Birth, Death, and Rebirth of Community

A TIO Editorial

Community has always been one of those important words with dozens of meanings, each with its own history, issues, and values. And in a world which increasingly resembles a global village, issues of community have become more complex.

Religious communities have been having a particularly difficult time in North America and Europe. Christian Century’s recent “Dark Night of the Church,” published the day after Christmas, quotes researcher David Roozen’s observation of “a slow, overall erosion of the strength of American congregations.” The article is subtitled “Relearning the Essentials,” and it could as easily have said relearning the essentials of faith communities, whatever the faith.

Globally, the number of people who self-identify as ‘no religious affiliation’ is roughly equivalent to the number of Roman Catholics, pollsters tell us. And many who identify as ‘spiritual but not religious’ are in the process of recreating community – but not like religions do, they are quick to say. What religious or spiritual community means is getting very complicated.

Community is way too big a subject for TIO to ignore, and we are devoting the first three months of 2013 to the matter. Instead of trying to define community and list the ‘big’ issues, this month TIO is full of stories about seeds which seem to engender and nurture the birth and rebirth of faith and interfaith communities. Along the way we look at what women contribute to interfaith community; the roles of hope, hospitality, healing, and money; responding to violence; and the tools that build internal communal strength as well as influence in the larger community.

The issue concludes with an interview of Mirabai Starr and three reviews, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, of her new book, God of Love – A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In her book, Ms. Starr focuses on the central role of love in the Abrahamic traditions and, therefore, in the communities that represent those faiths.

Next month TIO will profile eight or ten vital interfaith ‘communities’ and explore what makes them work so well. In March, Jonathan Oskins, a graduate student at Claremont Lincoln University, will be the guest editor of an issue focused on youth and young adult activists regarding community.