(Picture: Bret Polok via Creative Commons)
In the world we live in, lots is talked about the best context for us doing life here on this earth. And what often happens is we hear about this battle between individualism, and doing things in community. Some people talk about us all being ourselves, being unique, non-conformist, saying that’s the way to live. Others say it’s all about community, no role for the individual, we all need to work together and live in harmony.
The problem is, taken to their extreme, these concepts can be incredibly damaging. We’ve seen the extreme version of the community concept in the ideology of Communism, which we saw politically in large parts of the 20th century, and which didn’t really work.
But now we have the alternative running rampant in our culture. It’s called consumerism. This is the complete opposite of communism in many ways – it’s all about the individual. It’s about putting me first, and everyone else second. If others have to suffer for me to get my success, that’s fine – as long as we can’t see it. The world revolves around the individual, there is little trust left, and real, authentic community is lost.
And it’s just as flawed as communism.
The truth about what it means to be human lies, in fact, somewhere in between the two.
The best metaphor for this, is, in fact, a body. The human body is amazing. We have miles and miles of DNA strands (enough to go from here to the moon and back 300 times – for each human being), miles of blood veins, and get an entirely new body every 9 months as our body reproduces itself through DNA. We are made of many intricate parts which all come together to make a human body work.
All of them, individually, doing their job. Fulfilling the role they were uniquely created to do. And if they didn’t then we just wouldn’t function. We’d get ill or die.
Not every part of the human body can be a hand. Or an eye. Or a lung. Or a vein or DNA strand. But without one of them doing it’s job, fulfilling what it was designed for, then the whole thing falls apart.
And each part is unique. It’s not trying to be anything else other than what it should be. In many ways, it’s an individual. But at once, it is useless on it’s own. It doesn’t work effectively, it can’t reach it’s full potential.
Each part of the human body is unique, individual, with it’s own role to play. Yet if each one tries to do it alone, the human body won’t work effectively.
Without community, it loses it’s purpose.
And this is the model for how human beings were designed to live.
Paul touches on this metaphor in scripture – he talks about Christians being the ‘body of Christ’. Interestingly, he never mentions it relation to the word church directly – and lets be honest, the Christian church doesn’t always act like a body in harmony, does it?
But this is what church was meant to look like. I found it fascinating recently to hear about a ‘church’ which has begun meeting in London. A community of people getting together to have community each week. And it’s not Christian, or of any other religious belief. It’s just people meeting for community together.
If that’s not a sign we need community, I don’t know what is.
It’s a unique mix of individualism and community, which is our model for being fully human. (you can tweet that here)
Discovering our unique identity away from cultural concepts of ‘normal’, away from the stories our society tells us we have to live, instead living the one designed uniquely for us.
And doing this in the context of community. Being accountable to one another. Supporting one another. Using our gifts in conjunction with one another to serve the common good.
Because being divinely human as we were created to, is at about learning to be individually, uniquely you, in the body of our collective humanity.
And you can only discover your unique story in the context of community.
Do you agree with me or disagree with me? Why?
What examples do you know of communities which stimulate individual growth?
How do we balance individual growth and life in community?
Let me know in the comments below!
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