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It’s Time for a REAL Block Party

When was the last time you went to a block party? If you had the recent luxury of attending one, you probably had to be rolled back to the house in a wheel-barrel to recover from your food coma. But, block parties have a much humbler origin than the extravagant gorge-a-thons they’ve evolved into today.

Old School Block PartyBlock parties date back to the Great Depression, where money for food was scarce and people found little reason to celebrate. Instead of bringing cases of beer, BBQ ribs and gallons of macaroni salad, one neighbor would bring an onion, another a potato, and a third a lamb-bone. Whatever people could scrape together would go into a neighborhood pot to contribute to a community stew. The more people gave, the thicker the stew, and the more who contributed the greater the communion. Perhaps in our present economic struggle, it’s time to have a real block party.

Seeing the reliance of neighbor upon neighbor, even stranger upon stranger that our grandparents experienced during those times leading up to the Second World War, it is clear how those men and women earned the title of “The Greatest Generation.” These people knew how to have a block party, and a decade of hardship and community reliance prepared the nation to endure the great struggle of World War II to it’s glorious victory.

Indeed, pains, trials, and struggles have a way of eroding our desire to go-it-alone and humble us to rely on others. While these trials are not necessarily welcomed challenges at the onset, in retrospect they’re often viewed as a unifying event that brought people closer together. Beyond the struggle we often find ourselves remarking, “Wow that was difficult, but I never knew before how much my spouse cared about me,” or “After all we have been through, I no longer see these people as friends, but as family.” Indeed, when approached in fidelity, perseverance, and selfless love, our pains, struggles, and trials can bear fruits of deeper communion in the Body of Christ.

Too often, however, we still make the choice to go it alone. Some find no other option, as their families and friends abandon them in their struggle while the rest of society treats them like lepers. I see countless veterans fall for the lie of “I need to fix myself before I can be good for my platoon, wife, or kids.” Denied mercy or unconditional love in their pain, they take on their struggle in isolation, and friends, family, and neighborhood support are replaced with pornography, video games, and pity-parties. In isolation, struggle loses its capacity to unite and causes men and women to retreat further into themselves, where they hope that by independent triumph they might earn the right to be called spouse, brother, friend, or neighbor. When the victory fails to come, the shame leads to further retreat.

Men and women in isolation, if only you knew how much the neighborhood needs your potato! It desires your half-eaten corncob, your cherry tomato, and your pinch of salt. The meager contribution of all thickens the stew to a hearty meal, and while it’s likely that no one is being wheeled away in a food coma, all leave the party nourished by the contents of the neighborhood pot and the hearty communion of persons that makes life worth living and struggle worth battling.

A Catholic Block Party.

A Catholic Block Party.

It’s almost like going to mass…

Our struggles indeed, can be a great gift when they are faithfully encountered in Christian charity. Today, perhaps we are the ones struggling in isolation that need to reach out to our neighbor for help. Maybe it’s the opposite, and we know a man or woman, brother, or sister, in isolation that has fallen for the lie that love is conditional. Let this be our Lenten almsgiving today: to reach out to one person who longs for communion, and let’s start with our own families.

Lord, Give us the grace and humility to enter our suffering as a community and to draw a struggling brother or sister out of isolation. The community stew needs all our contributions to properly nourish the Body of Christ.

Light up the darkness!

Matt Ingold