With six grandparents (and one great grandparent) as siblings, I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the company of (or at least talking about) small children, even though I have no children or grandchildren of my own. As an outside observer, I’ve come recognize a combined look of pride and consternation on faces of parents and grandparents when their offspring begin to assert independence, loudly proclaiming “Me do it myself!”
Pastor Tim Phillips’ recent sermon, Tempted To Go It Alone, reminded me of that look. For me, it represents the uneasy relationship our culture has constructed with the concept of independence. We want our children to be able to take care of themselves so they can survive and thrive in a sometimes-hostile world. But most parents also recognize that “Me Do It Myself” should have some limits. It’s one thing to allow a two-year-old to select bananas in the Produce section. Quite another to let a toddler pick up a watermelon.
My career in Information Technology provides another perspective on this idea. I started out as a one-person development shop – designing, building, and supporting small systems on my own. I ended my career in leadership positions at a large corporation, where we spent seemingly endless hours convincing developers and engineers that they needed to talk to each other, to understand how what they did affected everyone else, how they could not succeed while maintaining a “Me Do It Myself” attitude. Even during my one-person development days I depended on others to do my job. Executives allocated funds, managers requisitioned equipment, co-workers installed networks and managed mainframes. Work was a team effort.
I’m struck how this plays out in politics. When I hear a politician’s version of “Me Do It Myself” I have one of two reactions – considering him or her either a disingenuous blowhard or a delusional baby, or both. Despite what our culture screams, very little in today’s world happens when we insist on doing it ourselves. The biggest successes and the most horrific disasters involve many people, each playing a part. Neil Armstrong needed help to walk on the moon, and Hitler relied on a nation to murder millions.
So what does any of this have to do with religion and spirituality? In my experience, that’s the realm where “Me Do It Myself” has run amuck the most. Over the years, I’ve met a few too many people who seem to use their “personal relationship with Christ” as carte blanche to trash their fellow human beings and the world we share. I hear people gush about Jesus as if he is their very own best friend. I am more impressed by the collective aspects of spirituality. Every significant spiritual experience I’ve had has involved other people. A “me do it myself with my buddy Jesus” attitude toward religion strikes me as disingenuous and childish. If Jesus had been a complete loaner, a self-made messiah, his message would have died on that cross.
I believe that spirituality and religion are group endeavors, and that we do ourselves and our neighbors harm when we insist otherwise. Our church’s mission statement claims that we are “a community of faith,” not a collection of faithful individuals. When my faith allows or requires me to forget the people, animals and plants that I share this planet with, it does me and them a great disservice. And I say that as an extreme introvert, who would fade away if I never had any alone time. Yes, at times I need to be alone, but to be fully alive I need to live in community.
I am supremely unqualified to use sports analogies, lacking even a modicum of what seems to be a “normal” fascination with teams playing games, but I do love opera, and I know it takes a company to put on a show. Soloists get nowhere without a crew and cast and orchestra and administration, not to mention patrons and audience members.
And so it goes with our life as a faith community. We can only be a people of God when we come together, when we grow out of “Me Do It Myself” and learn to celebrate our reliance on each other. We as individuals do matter, but we need each other to thrive. When one of us goes missing we all feel the loss.