In our western culture, messages that tell us to "strive more," "try harder," "make more money so you can retire sooner," "buy that house so you can achieve wealth," and "pull yourself up by your bootstraps"–all of these messages point to the one person who is the most important, and that is the self. They have no regard for the other. These messages have broken up families. These messages have taken mothers and fathers away from their children at very high emotional and psychological costs. These messages convey that self and wealth are the most important things to achieve in life while hiding the relational and emotional costs they will bring in the end. They scream individualism while negating the community and have been detrimental to our lives as a whole and the body of Christ. It does not help that western Evangelicalism has jumped on the bandwagon and taken up the reigns in the name of Jesus.
Community itself is "the only antidote we have to individualism.” (Chittister, 41) For it is in community that,
We begin to realize that we don’t have the master plan for everybody else’s life. We begin to see that children must be allowed to go their own way and that husbands have to be allowed to make their dreams come true instead of simply making their bank accounts bigger and wives must be permitted to become gifted people themselves instead of simply being the family’s live-in help. (Chittister, 46)
And it is in community,
Neither communities nor families exist for themselves alone. They exist to witness to Christ and in Christ. They exist to be miracle workers to one another. They exist to make the world the family it is meant to be. Their purpose is to draw us always into the center of life where values count and meaning matters more than our careers or our personal convenience. (Chittister, 44)
It is about us as a whole, as a people, as a community of God, the body of Christ, working, living, breathing, moving in unison, and "to look out for us and help us along the challenging vicissitudes of the journey.” (Peacock, 68) Joan Chittister describes this way of shedding off our individualistic worldviews as, "when we transcend ourselves for the other, though, community becomes the sacrament of human fulfillment and purpose in life.” (Chittister, 46) In other words, “we have to learn to be for one another so that the love of God is shining certainty, even now, even here.” (Chittister, 48)
Ms. Chittister goes on to describe God’s design for our need for relationships in the sanctification process:
That’s how relationships sanctify me. They show me where holiness is for me. That’s how relationships develop me. They show me where growth is for me. If I’m the passive-victim type, then assertiveness may have something to do with coming to wholeness. If I’m the domineering character in every group, then a willingness to listen and to be led may be my call to life. Alone, I am what I am, but in community I have the chance to become everything that I can be– (Chittister, 49)
In other words, this is to become fully human, which ties back into what NT Wright said about the early Christian's message about the good news on becoming fully human. (Wright, 365) Being fully human cannot happen unless we realize that there is no place for individualism within the body of Christ because "God calls us to be in relationship with one another.” (Peacock, 147) We can see that this has been the case from the beginning of the Holy Scriptures to today.
Chittister, Joan. Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today.
1st HarperCollins pbk. ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1991.
Peacock, Barbara L. Soul Care in African American Practice. Downers Grove, Illinois:
Wright, N. T. Christian Origins and the Question of God Vol 1. 1st North American ed.
Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1992.
*Photo credit goes to Belinda Fewings from Unsplash