Eric Keck's recent Blog has stirred quite a maelstrom in me. I find that I am struggling between my firm belief in the importance of individualism, and my equally strong convictions regarding the value of collectivism. In short and as I understand it, Collectivism holds that the individual is not an end to himself, but is only a tool to serve the ends of the group. Individualism is basically the opposite -- every man may live his own life for his own happiness as an end to himself. They are opposite ideals yet equally valuable. I cannot see how any individual or organization can exist without a healthy dose of both ideals functioning at once. I think it is in the marriage of these two ends that the elusive "kingdom" must exist.
Our economic system is based on the ideals of individualism. Capitalism is by definition "a social system where the individual does not live by permission of others, but by inalienable right." Now I know I'm going to start a landslide with this comment, but isn't that what Jesus taught us? I'm not talking about entitlement here -- another topic altogether. I'm not saying that America is "God's Country". I'm talking more about responsibility. In the end, individualism leaves us solely accountable for our own choices. We are by birthright free to choose our own destiny. We are to be everything God created us to be. Invest the talents. Think big. Abundant Life. When we bring the good news, aren't we declaring to the world in short that God loves us? God knows us specifically, individually; has knitted us together in our mother's womb, has counted the hairs on our individual heads, has kept our individual tears in a bottle? "I have carved you in the palm of my hand. You are mine." God is my inalienable right. Just as I am. Me. A sinner. The Good News as I understood it was that God, my Creator, in all of his Divine Glory, wanted to have a relationship with me. Kim Johnson. Despite my sin. So much so that He would die to win me. He did die to win me. Even though I didn't deserve it (and still don't).
Now on collectivism, I absolutely see the importance of the individual to die to self and become a tool to serve the ends of the group. I know that sounds contradictory. ( Hence the maelstrom --cognitive dissonance.) We do this on many levels. The most obvious example is the family. I am a Mom and a wife -- the individual me has had to take a back seat to the ends of the group (in this case my family, my kids). The struggles that Beth has shared are reflected here -- as she opens her home to "other peoples' kids" her own family has had to compromise individual needs to serve the ends of the group -- in this case the community. My education and career have taken a back seat to my children's education (this also reflected in Beth's blog a few entries back). There are many examples on a way deeper level: military service people, firemen, policemen, nurses, emergency workers, boy scouts, pastors, teachers -- you get the point. People give back to the community in a variety of ways: teach adult literacy, feed the hungry, take care of other people's kids, volunteer for PTA, volunteer at the Blood Drive or in a voting booth, clean the beach -- Now comes my big and controversial "kingdom" question --- is it a group for whom we are a tool? a group that we serve? or is it God?
In the end, I believe it is individual's obedience to God's call that makes and keeps any form of collectivism functioning in a healthy way. As soon as we become a tool for the "group", we are less of a tool to God. Herein lies my "discomfort" with the discussion of "being the kingdom" and "advancing the kingdom". (It's all about definition for me, I'm sure -- but please bear with me.) If my motive when I do anything is to "be the kingdom", I am no longer giving out of my abundance -- I'm working with an agenda. I am maybe acting out of guilt, fear or obligation -- or more ugly, self righteousness (yuck). I can think of many things I've done as a Christian with those agendas operating (the ends justifying the means -- the ends of course being the "advance of the kingdom"), and many things that have been done to me with the same origin. I don't think the kingdom is mine to advance. It is God's. And I am born into it, as Bean pointed out. But I agree with Genesis -- I bring it with me wherever I go. I am a piece of it, not all of it -- I see the 'we' in that. And it is thankfully greater than the sum of its parts. Collectivism at it's best -- but in the end, it will be the individual that stands face to face with God.
I am very interested in what you have to say about this. Your feedback helps me understand -- so bring it on!