I was torn when I saw the “going out of business” sign at the local Tower Records. Being a bit of a bargain hunter, I usually love liquidation sales. Certainly, I was pleased to find Anathallo’s Floating World for less than $3 during Tower’s final days. However, I find myself mourning the passing of the old brick-and-mortar record store.
My great escape in high school was to slip away for an afternoon to the local indie record store where I would chat with the clerk, Scoob, for hours about the latest releases, upcoming shows and life in general. While bands today might get signed to record deals through their slick MySpace pages, there is something urgent and heartfelt about those Xeroxed flyers promoting local bands that plastered the walls there. I miss the feel of flipping through the 7” singles bin and the thrill of randomly discovering new artists.
Living in the era of digital music has many benefits. For example, we no longer have to schlep across town to buy music. Instead, we can preview and download “Crazy” from the convenience of home, or from wherever we choose to connect. The wide selection of music available online is breathtaking. Even the largest store could not contain the number of tracks available in just the “electronic” section at the iTunes store. The fact that over a billion songs have been downloaded from the iTunes store alone drives home the point that there is no going back.
In some ways, this digital era of music reflects the inner workings of our hearts. It is convenient and easy to retreat into our own private worlds where we download songs while disconnecting from the real people around us. Even when we are out and about, our earbuds do more than provide a soundtrack to our day—they create an invisible barrier that allow us to pass through the day completely disengaged from the outside world. Interaction with actual human beings can be awkward and strange and difficult. As much as we would like sometimes, we cannot right-click on others and reformat what we do not like about them.
There is something powerful about the face-to-face, personal interaction that places such as indie record stores can provide. Though it might be tenuous, at best, to base a friendship simply on shared musical preference, such places can create a sense of belonging. The oft-referenced “third place,” a location that is neither work nor home where a person can go simply to hang out, recognizes the importance of this longing for community. Coffee shops offer free wi-fi connections in order to lure customers to linger, maybe even to telecommute from their location. Bookstores host reading groups to gather like-minded people for discussion and conversation. Even hipster bars hosting mommy-and-me events attempt to draw us in and to create some sense of connection, of belonging.
In the end, though, this is not so much about literal gathering places as it is about our attitude and approach to others. We know that our deepest sense of belonging is not based on musical or literary affinities, or even on similarities in our upbringing or background, but in our Savior who broke every barrier in order to reach us and bring us together. Though it is a spiritual mystery, and an often messy reality, Jesus intends to bring together widely diverse people, breaking down the barriers by which we tend to categorize ourselves.
This is an enormous task. It is difficult enough to connect deeply with people whose company we enjoy or who have similar backgrounds. The amount of work it takes to understand and connect with those who are different from us can be paralyzing. But until we begin to move in this direction, we are incomplete, lacking something vital.
It is a thing of beauty and wonder when the body of Christ can create intentional communities where even the strangest misfit can really belong. Whether it is through small groups, cell ministries, house churches, coffee shops or gathering around the Scattergories board in the family room of a friend, these kinds of communities are built when we begin to value relationships with others, in all of their glorious messiness, over personal convenience.
May we connect with one another deeply and build little communities within our personal sphere of influence, wherever we go.