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This is who we are

I saw something at a sporting event that made me smile. After the game was over, the coach (wisely) sent the team over to thank the many fans that had traveled with the team to essentially create a home court environment for them. That was nice. While some of the players worked their way into the stands, others stood at the perimeter as the crowd spilled out toward them. Some of the players were doing the usual single-finger-thrust-into-the-air, some were applauding the fans, but I saw one player doing something else that has become a popular expression of enthusiasm--she was holding the part of her jersey that had the team name on it toward the crowd.

It was a good moment that seemed less about self-exaltation and more about sharing and acknowledging community. It was as if she was saying to the crowd, “This is who we are.”

One of the challenges we face as followers of Jesus is practicing community in a culture bent on individualism. As Americans, most of us are indoctrinated early and often to think of ourselves primarily in individualistic terms. We're told that we're unique, how each person has rights protecting them as individuals, how we should set and pursue individual goals, etc.

But the truth is, we don’t live in a vacuum. In fact, we don’t live in anything close to one. While we’re all individuals, we also all come from families. While we have first names that identify us individually, we also have last names that identify us in relationship to others. It is a serious error to look at ourselves as independent of others; we are all related in thousands of ways.

We drive cars that others made, on roads built and maintained by someone else, powered by fuel that people from all over the world have worked to provide. We eat food that others grew or raised. We live in houses that other people helped create--even if "we built our house ourselves." What a curious phrase. How revealing that we have appropriated this phrase as the means of letting others know we were more directly involved in the process than if we simply purchased our house. We may never have hammered a nail, poured any concrete, or stubbed in any plumbing but we still say, “We built it ourselves.” It’s not hard to see our individualism bleeding through, is it?

John Donne said it well when he wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” We belong to each other. We are our brother’s keeper. This is why we are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). We are to see ourselves in others and others in ourselves.

When the Christ was challenged to sum up the meaning of the Torah, He spoke of loving God and loving others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). And while I’ve heard this passage used countless times to show that we should love ourselves, I've never heard it used to teach that to love other people is to love ourselves.

Thinking outside the box is one thing; thinking outside of self is Christian. This is who we are!

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