A community is responsible to all members

Community goes far beyond having one another over for dinner:

I remember Berry answering one question about the purpose of community by telling a story about a man whom we’ll call Fred. Fred was a known slacker, drunk, and thief in the town of Port Royal where Wendell grew up. He couldn’t hold down a steady job and more often than not, the sheriff would be called to haul Fred to the local jail to cool off after a bar fight and sober up. As time moved on, Fred moved on to petty crime and even some violence, which translated into longer stints in the clink.

As Fred’s actions became a larger threat to the community, the outcry to the sheriff increased. People wanted to get Fred put into a State penitentiary. Yet the sheriff refused, and his response—as Berry told us in his story—was simple: “True, Fred is a son of a ___; but he’s one of us.”

It’s far easier not to be in community with the troublemakers. As Robert Frost put it, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” And we all yearn to have such a place to return to—but who wants the responsibility of providing it for others, especially the difficult ones?

The sheriff’s understanding of his responsibility to the community is not simply a responsibility to the “good” members, but also to the misfits who exploit and even threaten the very community to which they so reluctantly belong. Giving Fred up to the powers of the State pen would remove the problem, sure, but only at the expense of turning one of the town’s members into a jumpsuited, anonymous number within the State’s cold glare. Fred would no long have to answer to anyone he knew, and no one he knew would have to answer to him. Looking at the bigger picture, the sheriff understood that cutting Fred from the membership would be the greater crime.

Can you imagine anyone volunteering to take on this sort of responsibility? Perhaps community can only come as a burdensome gift, bestowed by circumstances we find ourselves in, one we must decide whether to shoulder ourselves or to put off onto someone or something else.

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