As people chosen by God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as God has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Jesus, giving thanks to God, the Creator, through him.
Lately, in the on-going discussions about our national character (as well as our international reputation), I have been regularly reminded that we Americans come at things from two essentially competitive points of view. What I hear most frequently is, somewhat simplistically, reduced to “we are all in this together,” or “I am in this on my own.” I see this expressed in everything from the political machinations over taxation, to the failure of tech companies to see people as something other than mere data points. Perhaps it is the nature of the beast, the quintessential human struggle. It is endemic in Christian circles as well.
We co-religionists have a long and unsettled history of swaying between the polar points of community and individuality. Does God care more about what happens with me or with us? Some churches emphasize individual culpability to the exclusion of any kind of political theology, others are so focused on the violation of community norms and ethics that they will entirely overlook the individual tendency toward selfish behavior. Some churches need the entire world to obey the rules they have set for their members, others turn a blind eye to the choices that individuals make.
It is generally more complicated than this, but still, I wonder, where should the balance point be? It is true, I think, that in the main the bible intends to speak more to us as a community than as individuals. The question becoming, “how shall we be, collectively?” Yet, we can’t overlook our individual decisions, as they often comprise the direction we seek for our communities.
In a recent article on the Center for Action and Contemplation website Fr. Richard Rohr, priest, teacher, and dean of the center, reflected on the notion that reality is communion. He points out that right from the beginnings of the biblical story, where the writer uses a plural pronoun for God, there is claimed an intentional mystery of relationship. The Body of Christ becomes another way of expressing the template and pattern of Life. Rohr writes:
We come to know who God is through exchanges of mutual knowing and loving. God’s basic method of communicating God’s self is not the “saved” individual, the rightly informed believer, or even a person with a career in ministry, but the journey and bonding process that God initiates in community: in marriages, families, tribes, nations, schools, organizations, and churches who are seeking to participate in God’s love, maybe without even consciously knowing it.
Perhaps then, this is the weight of the great commission, that we fulfill our calling best – in this day and age at any rate – when and where we can help people remember what it means to be a genuine community, rather than an aggregate of individuals. Can we be a place that speaks and listens with the needs of others always in mind, as opposed to a place where people compete to get their way? Can we imagine that more and better are a function of mutual creativity and input from a variety of voices? Can we come to see all our relationships as communion, with divine love and grace connecting it all together?