Tired of Being Alone?

To be “a companion with others along the way, to carry the message that ‘you are not alone.’ and to give them courage to live humanly….” -William Stringfellow

Sick and tired of being alone? Build a community. That is what Andrew W. McThenia, Jr. did. He built a community – that was worth building.1

First year law students most certainly whispered about Professor McThenia, who was known in his community as Uncas. After all, he wore loud, outlandish neckties – had been arrested, and jailed. He had picketed with miners to challenge injustice. Fellow professors may have warned students that “if Uncas engages you, he finds the very growing edges of your soul….”2

Uncas’s primary intention, however, wasn’t to build a community. His intention was to pose “large unapologetic questions that ask [people] to re-examine the story they think they are living.”3 In light of the ridiculous maxim that “there are no stupid questions” – he was (and is) committed to asking questions worth asking. Questions, intentional questions, worth asking because the answers matter.

To the lawyer and judge, Uncas would question the institutionalized belief that practicing law was the destination itself. Rather, he would suggest, isn’t the law a tool used for a purpose? And can’t that purpose be higher than the law itself? Can a lawyer can be shrewd and kind?4

To the coal miner, Uncas used his whole body to question by “joining striker miners who, with him, lay down in front of coal trucks in southwestern Virginia.”5 He joined the miners to question the justice of cutting off “health insurance for 1500 retired or disabled miners and their widows.” 6

To his co-worker, Uncas used his intellectual scholarship to question the profession itself, school policy, and the ultimate outcome of the law. When a resulting disagreement rose to the level of risking friendship, Uncas humbly pointed out that what was important was the ability to “agree or disagree and still be colleagues who respected each other’s point of view.”7 Community is built on humbly giving and receiving forgiveness.

To the friend, Uncas was a collaborator in anything honest and decent. He answered calls at four a.m. to take friends to the hospital. To many friends he was an intense talker. To other friends he offered silent sanctuary.

To his student who did poorly, Uncas questioned the fairness of law school grades so that he could “reaffirm the worth of that student and reassure the student that, notwithstanding the grade, he or she would become a fine attorney.”8

To his student who did well, Uncas questioned the subtle succumbing of the soul that takes place over the three years of law school to reduce the world around them to winners and losers. Is there room for reconciliation? For resurrection?

If you are surrounded by a bunch of people, but still feel alone, consider whether your community is serving itself or serving others. Communities that only serve themselves diminish the community and its members. Perhaps the best illustration9 of what makes Uncas’s community work is the Georgia Justice Project which is headed by a former student.

Like no other program in the United States (or perhaps the world), the Georgia Justice Project offers legal defense coupled with “a long-term relationship coupled with a broad base of social services. If [their] clients go to prison …, [they] visit them. Once they are released or if they do not go to prison, [they] continue that relationship by offering … counseling, GED and literacy work, and job training.” The Georgia Justice Project runs it own company to employ clients” to reduce barriers to re-entering society.

Uncas questioned the idea that justice could be achieved alone. Can right actions without the right motivation ever achieve justice? Can right thoughts that never make it out of your head (or your office) ever achieve justice?

I think Uncas would say that he has asked more questions than he found answers for. But here is the trick: The first time you reach out to someone with a genuine question, seeking a genuine answer – you are not alone anymore.

And when the questions get so big that you have to consult something outside of the two of you – you have built a community.

And when your community bumps up against an injustice and you do something to answer the injustice – you belong to a community worth building.

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Author’s note:
This post is a rather narrow slice of the life and contribution of Professor McThenia. I have no reservations recommending his published works, which are many. Also, I did glean these five rules that Uncas seems to universally apply to his various communities. I am adding them here because they may be useful to building and participating in a community.

1. Uncas welcomed differences.
2. Uncas speaks his thoughts about a moral situation – with uncustomary candor.
3. Uncas treats people like lives to be treasured rather than problems to solve.
4. Uncas understood that as important as Christians’ faith-motivated actions are, what matters more is the state of our hearts.
5. Uncas freely gave and received forgiveness.


  1. ©2015 Brandon L. Blankenship. Creative Commons Multitud by Guzman Lozano is licensed under CC by 2.0
  2. A Tribute to Andrew W. McThenia, Jr., 58 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 3 (2001), http://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/wlulr/vol58/iss1/2
  3. McThenia, Andrew W., Deciding for Others: Issues of Consent, 5 Second Opinion 76 (1987).
  4. Wash. & Lee supra at 9.
  5. Wash. & Lee supra at 15
  6. Wash. & Lee supra at 15.
  7. Wash. & Lee supra at 14.
  8. Wash. & Lee supra at 13.
  9. That the author knows.