Your Blog Steward

My photo
Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, September 6, 2010

From Personality to Community

It's been awhile since I reached into my books for a blog topic, but I am haunted (again) by a phrase from Cornel West in his book The American Evasion of Philosophy (University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), in which describing the mind of culture in this country he wrote of this "hotel civilization" (a phrase he borrowed from Henry James,) as it "has yielded an indigenous mode of thought that subordinates...community to personality..." In other words, because we live in the USA it's more about "me" than it is about "us."

My two years of working with people through Prairie Table Ministries has shown me the numbing truth of West's perception...our way of THINKING, not just how we act or behave, is dominated by our subordination of community to our own personalities. I have had people tell me, with no sense of irony or shame, these things:
* I don't get what you do, but it doesn't bother me that you do it
* We don't agree on this issue so I guess we cannot be friends anymore
* I tried that once, but it didn't work for me so I gave it up
* You folks can do that, but I am not a joiner
Every single one of those statements presuppoes the dominance of personality (of the individual, as I take West to mean) over and above anything the community may have to offer. Now most communities, such as Prairie Table Ministries, will survive such mind-sets--however, the mind-set of the personality (individual) over-and-above community distorts what "community" is... that is, the community is seen wrongly not because the person has seen it, but rather because the person cannot put aside the "personality dominance" in order to see the community accurately.

Take, for example, the line that someone said to me about not agreeing, so we cannot be friends...that understanding completely misunderstands "community" which, by definition in the Christian faith, is a group of people who do not agree! It does not take long at a Bible study at Prairie Table to realize we do not all agree, yet, somehow, we are all in this together...and we wouldn't be together at all if we needed agreement on everything...(to be fair, at PTM we do all agree Jesus is the Christ, but I bet there are a few differing ways to explain that too!)...Your friends are not necessarily the ones who agree with you, but rather are in community with you, even if you disagree...

The sign of a friend is not that we share convictions, but rather we challenge convictions our friends have...And in this way community is built in spite of the personalities (individuals) involved. For too long we have replaced agreement in personality with the cross of Jesus as the definition of human community (that is, the Church). The cross of Jesus as the Christ of God in the power of the Holy Spirit challenges each and every one of us to live a life of obdience to a God beyond our understanding and control...and we will not agree on how to do that simply because we are all created a little bit differently...but even so...we are all in this venture we call "life" together. A summary for Prairie Table comes from something the Apostle Paul wrote 1950 years ago, "Consider us...stewards of God's mysteries..." We may never understand why we are all in this together, (it is a mystery) but to refuse community because we do not agree, or understand it , or see it, or whatever is to miss the point of why God put us (not me) here in the first place.

May your conversations be true, and your tables be full.

No comments: