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Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith is written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship.

Thinking, praying, and living the faith is at the core of ministry in the Office of Theology and Worship. In the following videos, learn more about what thinking, praying, and living the faith means to the leadership of the Office of Theology and Worship. Discover why it matters and what difference it makes in our lives, work, and worship.  

Charles Wiley  
Barry Ensign-George
David Gambrell
Christine Hong 
Karen Russell

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July 13, 2012

There Isn't a "Me" in Community?

I subscribe to several newsletters that provide links to articles that the newsletter people think I might find interesting.  This week one particular article piqued my interest.

I was initially taken with the article’s title, “Books Increasingly Show It’s All About Me”.  I’m interested in anything that might shore up my feeling that it really is all about me.  I was expecting some sort of report of a study on the benefits of self-absorption.  Imagine my aggravation level when I discovered that not only was that NOT the point of the article, but indeed seemed to imply that it might really not be about me at all. 

The article is really about how books printed in the United States during the past 50 years contain an increasing number of individualistic words and phrases.  The article also cited a study that indicates the lyrics of pop songs are also increasingly individualistic and argues that the books we read and the songs we work out to indicate a shifting mindset and/or world view.

Validity of the article’s assertions aside, it did set me thinking about an individualistic vs. community mind set.

I like to collect paradoxes of faith.  You know:  lose your life to find it; the first shall be last; the king of kings appears as an infant born in lowly circumstances; a childless, elderly couple promised offspring too numerous to count; the liberator of slaves grows up in the house from which he will liberate a people; one God, three persons.  Scripture is full of examples that are counter-intuitive to human nature and understanding.  I like to recount these things to remind myself that the promise of faith is itself counterintuitive:  the way things are is not the way things will be.

But perhaps the greatest paradox may be the paradox of a community of faith.  Our faith is personal, often intensely personal.  We are claimed individually in baptism, are called individually by God.  Yet we can only truly live out this personal calling in communion with others.  Baptism and communion are individual sacraments, but are linked in the call and promise of God.  Paul described it as being body parts – the parts individually are important and necessary, but when joined together they create something that is greater than the sum of the parts.  There may be much about the body we don’t like, but the whole is diminished if parts are missing.  (The one exception may be the appendix, but let’s face it, no metaphor is perfect.)

Some days (most days, if I’m honest), I’d prefer to live out my faith alone, never having to be accountable to anyone else for what I think, say, believe or do.  But the very act of holding my faith closely to myself diminishes it in ways I can’t fully appreciate without the rest of the body of Christ surrounding me.  And, self-absorption aside, the body itself is diminished when I am not fully taking part and being a part.  I am no fan of the “spiritual but not religious” descriptor that many people use when talking about faith.  I suppose that it’s possible to know God outside the community created for God’s people, but it’s certainly not possible for me.  Without “me” in community, it’s easy to lose sight of the “me” I’m called to be. 

My favorite part of the Great Thanksgiving prayer is the acknowledgment that we come to the table with not just those people we can see and touch, but with believers in every time and place.  I love it when Paul, in his letters to the churches, talks about the great cloud of witnesses of which we are part.  The individual faith I hold is only possible in the context of a community of other people of faith.  The more I participate in the community of faith, the stronger my personal faith becomes. 

Hey - I just found another paradox for my list.

Tags: community, faith, theology, worship