Joshua Langlais is a local photographer and the creator of A Community Thread, a project for which he interviews folks on the subject of community, its importance, and how we function as individuals within it. This is an excerpt from his interview with Erika Spaet, a Lutheran pastor coordinating and curating Storydwelling (bendstorydwelling.org), an emerging spiritual community.
- Joshua Langlais
A Community Thread: What concerns you and what motivates you to do something about it?
Erika Spaet: A thread of heartache in my whole life has been isolation. I see and have experienced isolation in terms of experiencing hard things and not knowing how to talk about them and not necessarily feeling like I had places to talk about them. Experiencing addiction/incarceration in my family story and not knowing that that even was heartache. Not knowing how to articulate how I felt about that and not knowing who to articulate it to. So, that kind of isolation of This is really shitty and I don't know how to talk about it and I'm the only one experiencing it and no one cares.
And now when I ask people about their story, I see and I hear a lot of that, too. And that breaks my heart. Because when I imagine an alternative future—a future different from the one that I feel like we are barreling toward—it is the opposite of isolation. I would call it communion, which is kind of a religious-y word, but I don't think it has to be. It's the integration of all things, of all people, and the planet. An interdependence.
So, isolation breaks my heart. And in all its forms. And it breaks my heart for myself and the person that I've been. And it breaks my heart for people that I know who feel like they are the only one. It manifests also in an inward-turning where people don't necessarily feel committed or responsible for the health or well-being or the thriving of someone else, because we're all in it for ourselves. It manifests in a way that breaks my heart, but it also manifests in a way that makes me really angry about the human condition.
ACT: What do we mean to each other—individual to individual?
ES: The first word that's coming up for me is our capacity to be co-conspirators. We could potentially be in on something together. We are each potential allies of one another in the creation of whatever we imagine the world could be like and reality could be like.
It feels important to me to add this co-working or co-conspiring dimension to our relationship to one another beyond kindness, beyond compassion, beyond service. I can be a helpful person. I can be a kind person. I can understand that we are all, you know, in it together. But, for me, that framework only gets me so far. I need to see everyone as a potential necessary part of the creation of something else. I need to be able to depend on them. I need them to be able to depend on me.
That feels important because so often I just think that kindness doesn't get us there. We need to see one another as vital. Not me as always the helper and you as the helpee. Not me as always the one having something to give and you being in the place where you have to receive, but as truly co-conspirators.
ACT: What does it mean to you to be part of community if we all are co-conspirators?
ES: Maybe it's the only thing I would say that I really believe (I don't use that word lightly) is that we are wired to live and seek life and to thrive and to always be pursuing that and to be resilient when the world gets in the way of our thriving. We see examples of individuals and communities, despite everything, being resilient. I would say to be alive right now is to be in community or communion and to seek life and to also seek it for everything else.
I think we need to deal with the nitty gritty. We can't just be thinking about all things living in peace with one another one day. We need to think really locally and really tangibly about what does communion look like in my neighborhood at this moment? Like, what could we actually do? What is the most pressing thing right now? I think to be in community in a really physical, tangible way is to know one another so we know what does stand in the way of our thriving.
Read or listen to the entire interview at acommunitythread.com.