The Necessity of the Imperfect Community (Inspired by Jayber Crow)

Feb 13, 2016

An interesting discussion popped up on my Facebook about some of the ideas we’ve been talking about on Close Reads as we work our way through Berry’s Jayber Crow.  Here are some highlights.

One of the big ideas that Berry is showing us in Part Two as he repeatedly presents community as a non-sentimentalized ideal, is that the Community is not perfect, but it is the place in which we are perfected. It is the place where we learn to love each other while continually disappointing each other. And I think he is doing the same thing with the marriages he portrays. All those broken and breaking relationships. A marriage is yet another community that is not perfect but is the place where we can be perfected. A place where we try to love each other while continually disappointing each other. So when Jayber enters his "marriage", he is entering the place where he too will be perfected. 

And what do I mean by “perfected”? All sorts of things. Perfected in the sense of refined and made complete but also in the sense of sanctification.. We are being perfected, we are being sanctified, we are being made like Christ. I don't mean it to be understood as a completed past tense occurrence. It's the place where we CAN learn how to be human. But as Berry shows us, not everyone does. But the community is the place where that can happen and it needs to be an imperfect community.

I think Berry makes a profound point about the community being imperfect and yet that imperfection is just what we need to grow. The Enlightenment has us all obsessed with creating the perfect environment for us to achieve our potential. But maybe our obsession is making it harder for us.

And all too often we want a community that places no demands on us. And we often want the same thing in a church community too. We want love and acceptance but we don't want the hard stuff that comes with that.

And there is a certain artificiality in modern "community" too. We call our clubs of like-minded people our community, but I've been thinking lately that there has to be a sense in which we don't choose the community. Like our families, which is the first community that disappoints us. And because we don't choose it, we can't be consumers about it. Always shopping for the community with the right fit--the perfect one.

In fact I think that an expectation of perfection in our communities and an inability to embrace disappointment as one of the things that community provides for us is why Christmas is so hard for so many.



Angelina Stanford

Angelina Stanford

Angelina Stanford has an MA in English literature from the University of Louisiana, graduating Phi Kappa Phi, and has taught in various Christian classical classrooms for over 20 years.  She is currently teaching the Great Books online to high school students at the Harvey Center for Family Learning and recently joined the online faculty of the Circe Academy.  She’s also the co-star of the popular Circe podcast “Close Reads.”  She has a particular interest in myths, fairy tales, and understanding literature through the study of mythological archetypes and biblical typologies—as well as a mild obsession with the influence of Celtic fairy stories and Celtic Christianity on the development of British literature.  She also has a more than mild obsession with Wendell Berry.​​

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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