In my early years of seminary, I entered into my Old Testament class overhearing another student speaking with the professor. What I could make out in the faint conversation was an indication that my professor was United Methodist -the same denomination as me. Although there are plenty of Methodists at this particular seminary, it’s not a forgone conclusion that a professor would be of the Wesleyan fold. After the conversation was finished and the student left, I asked the professor to confirm my suspicion. “So you’re United Methodist?” I asked. His clever little response struck me: “I ARE United Methodist,” he replied.
My question was aimed at pinpointing a piece of his Christian identity, and he made a point of sending home the message that his Christian identity is not his own. Indeed there is a “corporate-ness” to the Christian faith. The majority of interactions with God and humankind in Scripture is addressed with corporate language (this may be surprising to western americans who read the word “you” in the Bible and forget that it can be plural. I guess the South had it right by changing it to y’all). Unfortunately today, the communal dynamic of Christianity is seldom highlighted in many circles of faith. Many of the worship songs reflect “me” and “my” and “I” and how God affects the individual self. Sermons are becoming dangerously similar to something like life lessons from Doctor Phil; and Self Help-Christianity is quickly becoming the nation’s next new religion. There’s no denying that there is a deeply personal element to the Christian faith, but have we gone too far?
Individualism is a philosophical stance on life that focuses on self-reliance and sustainability. This post-enlightenment ideal seems harmless, but as it is popping up in all forms of western culture and society…there is cause for alarm. In the extreme forms of individualism, no need for belonging. Belonging suggests that one finds identity in something bigger than oneself, but individualism will tell you that there is NOTHING bigger than you. So in fact, there really is no need for a sense of identity with individualism, because identity is found in external influences (i.e. family, religion, nationality, race, culture, class). I believe many of our young people in America deal with emotional disorders and depression because of their lack of personal identity caused by rampant individualism.
Although I am a Christian, many times I cannot help being a Westerner. I struggle with people in the Church and people of the faith. I don’t want to call them “brother” or “sister” when they betray me or hurt my feelings. I would love to have the freedom to simply “shop around” for a church that fit my liking (I can’t because I’m a pastor). Better yet, many times I would just prefer to keep my faith to myself because I don’t want to deal with disagreements or uncomfortable interactions. The biggest problem with Church is the people. Yet…in a very strange way everything I crave spiritually, every time I’ve grown or have experienced the love of God; people were there. I’ve heard it said once: “The worst thing about the Church is the people; the best thing about the Church is the people.” For better or worse, I belong to the Church -the people of God; and I am defined by the Christ I worship and serve.
I are a Christian.