in which I discourse, at length, beside and next to and beneath and occasionally despite the topic of community.

May 25, 2012

If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?

Yes, yes I would.


Actually, that would depend on what was at the bottom of the bridge and whether everyone else had jumped into a pit of ravenous spikes with ferocious wolves attached via the jawbone. If they had, I’d be more likely to decline. But everyone else has jumped into blogging about the communal theme of community and no-one’s died yet, so I figure- the water’s warm, the sun’s bright, pass the soap. or the rubber ducky. or whatever else good spas have. or bathtubs. I’m not sure which one it is I’m talking about.


I’m writing four minutes to midnight after having returned from watching a play with two friends. the play was also about two friends and much more than just that. friendship. family. Baxter. road trips. atheists. poets (although I found that more of a sideline idea. it was the catalyst for the play rather than the purpose). it was, I think, about being stuck in the daily grime of living and the questions that being alive raises, and wondering what there is to life because all that is visible is- a letdown, a disappointment. amaze me, one character demands of Baxter’s headstone, knowing that he cannot, and we watch him kneel there, desolate and disillusioned and seeing only a stone and no miracles, nothing to rescue him from the stuckness of his living and his being. in an anguished monologue at the end, the other character is high on drugs and talking to an unseen nun at Hiruharama. he tells her that he thinks faith is as much a drug as the things he takes are (and here my brain kicked in and said, dryly, Marx. predictable. opiate of the masses, yeah, yeah-) and that actually, all this- religion and faith and the drugs he takes and everything else- are all things people do to distract themselves, to run away from the guilt of messing up and making mistakes, and that in the end all we chase after are distractions from the numbing misery of knowing that everyone you love, everyone you’ve ever met, will die.

it was a very good play. it was thought-provoking in the right ways and afterwards, this one turned to me and said she just wanted to go talk to the actors, or really, the characters. I found myself watching them turn away, red canvas shoes against a white rug and a black-painted floor, while thinking I should start praying for Wellington actors. for the people who think hard and create and question. It’s fascinating, how this provoked out the Christian in us.


the monologue made me wonder about how it is to not allow yourself to be distracted, whether it’s possible to live and stare things in the face without wanting distraction from pain and guilt and terror and the emptiness. to see, truly and steadily. it’s something I want to think about.


I’m talking about community. I’m supposed to be talking about community. It’s twelve-twentyfour and I’ve just come back from a play about watching people die, smack-bang in front of you while downing a yardglass full of beer on their twenty-first birthday. although if you think about it, we watch people die all the time. every single day. everybody you meet is dying, slowly, ever so excruciatingly slowly as you watch them live. the moment we wake, we begin dying. life is about dying.

or perhaps it isn’t.


I think eating by yourself is the loneliest thing anyone can do. that’s when you feel the keen loss of company. of community, if we’re to wield the word like an essay insert, trying to set up keywords for the lecturer to follow. I’m terrible at essays. i hate keywords. I’ve already strayed into every other topic. I walked through Wellington streets with this one after the play, chatting about his short film. On Tuesday, I went to dinner with very old friends for another friend’s birthday, and afterwards (or was it before?) we were driving down the winding back roads of Johnsonville, three of us through the dark. And we were talking, a little madly because that is how the three of us talk, but when we were talking sanely I said I was glad he was back from Thailand because it opened up another friend group again. I said that I felt sometimes I had big sprawling friend groups- communities, if you will- of people I didn’t know very well. Friendly acquaintances more than friends. People I didn’t know well enough to ask out for a coffee and a hang-out-with-me-and-chat-for-a-bit, and sometimes it made me sad and alone. And they said, asking people you don’t know very well out for a coffee and a chat is how you make friends, you idiot.

I said, but that’s just weird. and then we started talking about sacrificing kittens. or the backseat passenger started humming tunelessly and loudly and I requested that he desist before I stabbed him in the face with the rest of his face. neither of these options is correct, but they are so close they may as well be true.


I think I decided, sometime between this evening and Tuesday, to try it.


the main community I live in, the TSCF/VUWCU community, tends to gather mostly at parties. Birthdays. Farewells. Twenty-firsts. And lately, weddings. Other than large events, though, the opportunities for mingling with many different people are few and far between, since everyone now leads separate lives away from the giant socialising hub that is a university. and now the season of twenty-firsts is over, our excuses are dying out.

so the past year or so, I’ve been trying to facilitate these opportunities outside of university, for those of us who have left it. also for people who never attended it, for people I barely know, for people who simply feel like hanging out and eating with others and possibly playing games. I’ve been trying to- create intentional spaces for community, intentional places for people to be part of each other and talk to each other and to affirm friendships. to be with each other and rejoice in each other’s being. projects, like book clubs and dinners and art groups. I’ve been co-conspirators with other wonderful social catalysts. I like that these things can be born from enthusiasm for community, or to be more specific, born from a desire to strengthen relationships between people. I enjoy facilitating this. I like to think of myself as an enabler.

I hadn’t actually considered meeting with individuals other than the people I’m already close to and can therefore meet up with individually without issue. I’m beginning to see this as an option.


Mark Grace says that Christianity is following Jesus in the company of friends. I have an endless battering of questions when it comes to Christianity, but one of the things I’m quite sure of is that community is an inextricable part of it. I do not think we can be Christians in isolation. I do not think we can be people in isolation. I think everyone needs real friendship. not just friendly acquaintances but people who are intrinsically part of one’s life, and inseparable from the texture and the colour and the emotions and events. people who are always there, who are constants in your existence. they know you at your worst. you know them at their worst. you know them at their best, too, and hope they know you at your best; you stand up for each other when you need to, and give each other space when it’s needed too. people who go through life with you. people who, I suppose, die alongside you.

I think we’re all familiar with people who we know deeply for just a season and then vanish. the loss of friendship is always difficult, but I suppose it prepares us for more significant losses. I’m talking about death again.

little deaths and big.


s’interesting how much we hunger to be in relationship with each other. I wonder how much of it is a hunger to be in relationship with God. the theologians say a significant amount.

the constancy and semi-permanence of true friends in our lives is a shadow of the constancy and eternal permanence of God in all of creation as well as our lives, perhaps.


it’s one-twenty. words are dissolving. I think it’s time for bed.

goodnight, community.


15 Responses to “in which I discourse, at length, beside and next to and beneath and occasionally despite the topic of community.”

  1. qwandor Says:

    What is the second-most lonely thing you can do? It is funny, I do not find eating by myself to be a particularly lonely experience, there are many times I feel significantly more lonely. In fact I often quite enjoy eating by myself, it can be a good opportunity to relax a bit, read stuff, or just think. Though I do enjoy good conversations over food as well, generally more so. Actually I think my order of preference would be eating with good company and good conversation, then eating by myself, then eating with awkward company or not being part of the conversation.

  2. qwandor Says:

    I am curious about this “asking people out for a coffee and a hang-out-with-me-and-chat-for-a-bit” procedure. Did you try it? How does it work? How does making friends work for that matter?

    Though, actually, I find cafés / pubs / restaurants / bars a bit funny. People here certainly seem keen on pubs. I would much prefer to have people over to my flat for food and/or hanging out, or to visit them, but that does not seem to be very much the done thing here. Or picnicking in a park is good, and more common when the weather allows.

    • marcherry Says:

      ‘how does making friends work’ is a huge question and it is a very alarming thing to be asked. I might write a post on this.

      to be succinct: you are friendly, and find things in common, and ask them questions about themselves, and care about them as individuals in and of themselves, not how and whether they can be your friends. and you don’t cling to them as your sole hope of non-loneliness, even if they are your sole hope of non-loneliness. that’s the short answer.

      as for the asking-people-out-for-a-coffee procedure, I do it all the time, actually, just more often with people I am familiar with enough to ask. people I feel I can spend time with one-on-one without feeling like I have to fight the awkward.

      It works like this: you text someone and say, ‘PM/Frith/Mel/Liz/Jacob/dude/woman/gorgeous/whatever, are you free this afternoon/this evening/now/whenever?’
      And they reply in the negative or the positive. If negative, try another person, or do something on your own, because that’s quite fun too. If positive, then you arrange to meet up. And you meet up. And you go to a cafe, or go do something interesting, or go to an art gallery or eat food or walk interesting places. And you talk. If you have something to do while you’re talking, that’s good. If you don’t, that’s okay too, although more difficult.

      That’s all :).

      • qwandor Says:

        Why/how is it alarming?

        There are a few people I find I can just talk to indefinitely, which is really cool. (One of them is Jordan, with whom I am staying at the moment. Though she is currently out at the lab.)

        I guess what I am interested in more is how to make it work with people I do not know very well, in the interest of getting to know them better (as you mentioned in the original post), and how to avoid the awkwardness. Have you done that much?

  3. qwandor Says:

    I do like your idea of trying to facilitate opportunities for community! What factors do you find to correlate to success? My own attempts so far along similar lines, at least in this country, have not been terribly successful.

    • marcherry Says:

      I don’t think I really aim for success, as such. I just- like people, and I want to see them, and I want awesome people to meet other awesome people. I want to provide spaces where they can do that. I don’t know, Andrew. I think not being too caught up on it helps. Sometimes people just don’t want to hang out, or don’t have the time, or are too busy, and y’know what? That’s fine. That’s why I see friends on an individual basis too.

      I don’t know. I just make a facebook event, poll when people are around, and say, ‘dinner and hang-out at mine. bring food.’ Generally that works. Sometimes games nights are good- Steven Buck and Josh Thompson do those- or movie marathons, or things with themes.

      • qwandor Says:

        I think I also like people (at least sometimes), want to see them, want people to meet other people, and want to provide opportunities for that. And actually, I have had some success doing so back in NZ, with things like walks and picnics and such. But I have not had much luck doing so in London, though I have observed other people who are more successful at such endeavours. So I guess I am wondering how to successfully get people together, though I am not really sure why I expect you to know. Ah well.

  4. Frith Says:

    The friendliest thing people can do on this earth is invite other people over for dinner. This I firmly believe. There’s something about eating together.
    And permanence of friends, if you can get it, is a beautiful thing.

    There’s a study I refer to often, though I cant remember where I read about it. it’s called something like the ‘photo test’. The idea is that tehre exists a photo of you doing something dreadful that would ruin your anme and those of your descendants for evermore if it were known. And you must list the people with whom you’d be comfortable entrusting this photo. In other words, friends you trust this much. The study found most people couldn’t even name two people. How sad is that?

    • Inviting people over for dinner is amazing – i totally agree!

      Is that true? Most people couldn’t list more than two people…? Really? Maybe we’re in a far better place than we realise…

  5. The way you facilitate opportunities for community is amazing Val. It’s a gift – please don’t ever stop doing it!

    “the constancy and semi-permanence of true friends in our lives is a shadow of the constancy and eternal permanence of God in all of creation as well as our lives, perhaps.” love this.

  6. Daniel Says:

    I’ve really enjoyed and benefited from your social gatherings and gatherment. You’re like a matchmaker of friends.

  7. Daniel Says:

    And a normal, everyday, inadvertent matchmaker of matchmaking as Polly and I mostly met through you.

    Eating together is the best excuse for community ever.

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