Is there a way we can say both the individual and community are needed and actually mean it in word and practice?
Well, here is where I offer my answer. Oh, and yes, I am wondering what I’ve gotten myself into ;-).
As I mentioned, this topic is important to me, particularly when it comes to my Christian faith and role in a church community. I don’t know how much time I’ve spent reading and reflecting, trying to reconcile individual - community, community - individual. Back and forth...
I read the Bible and I see countless examples of faithful individuals confronting the community (Prophets and Jesus to name a few) and the Epistles offer numerous injunctions for Christians to be individually transformed. Yet these examples run parallel to life in community - Israel, disciples, early church. No one as was alone or a “lone ranger.” So which is right?
Well, in all this reflecting I’ve done, I’m wondering if too often we limit ourselves in the discussion of individual and community. For example, we hear of the liberated individual against the oppressive community. Or the individualistic runaway against the covenant community. But in framing it this way, we accept what I’m beginning to think is a false dichotomy. Stories such as Anne Rice’s de-conversion or the 16th Re(split)formation create an either/or distinction for how we understand faith individually and in community. There are winners and there are losers. Christian history is clear on that. But however this division has been and will continue to be experienced, it’s not right!
I say this because the individual/community dichotomy needs a broader perspective. Much of the discussion is framed in a world of broken relationships - you could say the fall of Genesis 3 is all we know. So we stay there. But as I recently explored in a series of posts, this doesn’t account for God’s original intention in creating this world. Or for God's plan for restoration of what is clearly a less-than-ideal situation. God’s plan of creation and restoration is rooted in shalom - the relational wholeness present in God's creation - harmony between the Creator God, humanity, and all of creation. In the shalom of Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22 we get a definition of reality that includes complete individuality and complete community. In a shalom environment, you replace the “or” with an “and” - individual and community.
Take this for what it’s worth - an idealist picture of wholeness for individuals and community. Much more can and should be said I agree. And I’m not so naive to realize this isn’t the world we live in. Too often, however, we quickly accept the reality of shalom’s absence, forgetting the base from which we were intended to relate to one another and to God. All this to say, if we are to begin imagining a balance between individual and community, I think we need to remember where we come from (and where we are going).
While these are some words I offer for framing the individual-community discussion more constructively, I realize I also asked if such a theory can apply in practice. How do we "do" shalom?
Well, that will be part III.