On ‘Getting Away’ and ‘Cruising Community’

August 28, 2018

Summer rituals in our culture include ‘getting away’ in whatever form that means for each of us. This summer Paul and I spent nine days on a cruise in the British Isles. We saw parts of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England that neither of us had seen before. Several of the images are unforgettable: the gardens of Cawdor Castle, the 400 swans at the Abbotsbury Swannery, the painful history of Belfast painted indelibly on the murals of the city’s buildings, and the Welsh Choral Society’s concert in St. Cybi’s, Holyhead. There was a luxurious amount of time to read, with beautiful sunsets over the ocean and the comfort of being rocked to sleep by the waves.

Intertwined with these privileged moments was an underlying unease that would keep me from becoming a regular ‘cruiser.’ In this traveling community, roughly the size of Houghton, one-third of the people were there to meet the needs of the other two-thirds of the community. The staff was impeccably gracious to everyone, ready to meet any need at a moment’s notice; they even sought to anticipate what we might need in the next several hours. If you waited too long between bites of your lunch, your plate would disappear before you could say “wait, I am not finished.”

As the trip went on, I found myself thinking about the sociology of a cruising ‘community.’ In fact, I began to wonder if it meets the standard of a true community at all. One-third of the community is there to ensure that the other two-thirds of the community never have to take any responsibility, never have to enter into the usual patterns of giving and receiving that constitute the nature of true human communities, and never have to defer their own gratification for the good of others. There is no need for anyone to know about the particular gifts that each of the others might bring to the community, nor to reveal one’s own gifts. No one needs to know anyone else’s story for the cruising community to function. In fact, no one really needs to know anything about anyone else at all. Perhaps at the root is the fact that there is no common purpose that requires the community to do anything together, to draw on each other’s distinctive particularity to accomplish something together.

It may sound as if I am on a tirade against cruising. I am not. Nor am I arguing that one should never go on a cruise. There are times when this is just the thing we need.

Rather, I am calling attention to the fact that, as Labor Day approaches and the summer is over, each of us has the grand privilege of returning to communities of responsibility where we are named, where we need each other’s strengths to do together what none of us can accomplish on our own, and where we have the opportunity to bear one another’s burdens. Daily we have the privilege of giving to others and receiving from them in the cosmic pattern of the exchange of grace that is at the core of the universe.

I am grateful today to be back in the community of Houghton, welcoming the new and returning students, anticipating another year of being transformed together into the image of Christ, and celebrating our calling to prepare graduates who will carry on Willard J. Houghton’s work of “fixing up the world” for Christ for generations to come.

May you find yourself today grateful for the particular community of responsibility into which God has called you to serve as you return from your own summer of ‘getting away.’

Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976

[See here for reflections on last month’s recommended reading, The Magnificent Story: Uncovering a Gospel of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth (InterVarsity Press, 2017).]