Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Spirit of Individualism and The Spirit of Community (and How Switching Mindsets Takes Alot of Humility)

Peyton and I were listening to an episode of This American Life recently and every since we listened to it I've been turning over some thoughts it prompted. The episode is about Daniel Kish, a blind man who can "navigate the world by clicking his tongue". He challenges the way blind people in our culture are conditioned to be more dependent on others than he is (he rides a bike, for goodness sake!) and ultimately he proposes that other people's expectations can actually change physical characteristics, in this case a blind person's ability to ACTUALLY SEE.

It was fascinating on so many levels and there was a ton to be taken from it. One thing I kept coming back to, and would return to again and again in my thoughts over the coming weeks, was his impassioned zeal that blind people not be dependent on others in any way. I think it's really insightful and in many ways a good thing, especially in the wake of helicoptery parents and an extremely litigious society. Parents of sighted children are wracked with fear so much that they often become impediments in their children's learning of the world and I recently saw where parks in many of the colder areas of the country are banning sledding because they have been sued for children's injuries that occurred on the property. It's all but insane. And of course it's compounded for these blind children who, because of socially conditioned fearful parents and a school system that is terrified of lawsuits, are not even allowed to participate in P.E. and recess in a normal way. 

But, what I started thinking about is what this kind of thing looks like within a Christian community. I would hate to see a blind child marginalized in the way he talked about, even out of a well meaning concern for his or her safety. But at the same time, I was struck by how obvious a notion it seemed that we reject the idea of it being positive or healthy to be dependent on another person at any level. I thought about my own children, their own specific weaknesses and the hurdles I imagine them having to face later in life based on these weaknesses. I thought about trying to equip them to walk through these things alone and then I thought about an alternate idea of doing my best to surround them with people- both adults and peers- who will share their loads. I thought about my own struggles and limitations, mainly my anxiety. I thought about trying to walk through the darkness completely without support (something I've thankfully never had to do) and it felt terrifying. Incredibly terrifying. And I don't think any amount of self-confidence or personal independence or determination of purpose could make it not so. 

I've been thinking about our faith communities here and how I see this mutual dependence played out all the time. It manifests itself in a lot of different ways. It manifests itself at TGC when we say a "liturgy of giving" which includes words about giving until "it can be said there is no need among us", words that bring tears every time. I see it manifested in people giving of their time in huge ways, which is sometimes a lot more of a sacrifice than throwing money at something. It manifests itself in a close friend of ours who is single and is often picking up other people's children, babysitting over the weekend for free, coming over and cooking supper himself at the apartments of young families because he has the wisdom to recognize that's much easier than a restaurant trip with young children, and actively serving families in a bunch of other ways. He's told us his purpose is two fold- he wants to prepare himself to hopefully be a wonderful husband and father one day and all this helps with that and also he wants to serve families in our parish because he can. And lest you think he's has more of that important resource (TIME) than most people, let me ASSURE you that is not the case. I see it manifested at our other church, Calvary, when the priest's wife told me that they really don't consider the rectory (where they live) theirs alone. That it belongs to the whole church. And boy do they act like it. I've never seen hospitality like theirs, in the South or here. I see it manifested in a group of our friends that live with nine people in a house that would be a comfortable single family home in the burbs for a family our size or slightly bigger. At first I assumed these people were just DIFFERENT from me. But over time I realized that, at least to some degree, there is a tension they are holding for each other. They are not necessarily all extroverts who want to live in a frat house until they're eighty. They are people who saw the Lord leading them this way and said yes and are giving up independence and individualism because somewhere along the way God showed them His heart for community. 

I think a lot of why I see it so much up here is that many people are like us, they aren't near their parents or any extended family, and so church becomes a family in a very real way. I wish we didn't need such a difficult impetus to force us into what I think should be a natural outworking of living in a community of faith. 

But then I think how foreign to me all this seems. How vulnerable and intimate. How much it requires of a person. It reminds me of the night they washed our feet in my (decidedly spiritual) social tribe in college. It was a beautiful picture of love and grace; but it was awkward at its best, disgusting at its worst. And that's kind of how this is. You have to let people into your mess a little. Let em see your toe jam (or let them babysit your kids or cook in your kitchen, same diff). Or a friend of mine who told me about her dress having tear stains on it from another friend, overcome with grief, crying with her head in her lap. I mean, holy heck, vulnerable or what? It is easier to live like you can do it all on your own and everyone else can too and MY WORD is it awkward to try to start breaking down that barrier and so I KNOW why it's not something that occurs organically most of the time but something that takes a lot of thought and intention. 

Awhile back, I read two different blog posts by two different friends both admitting that they had a hard time being on the receiving end of someone serving them. These are both girls whom I have SO much respect for and I was humbled by their transparency. Both of them are such servant hearted women and I admired their humility in admitting it was hard to BE served. The crazy thing? They both had newborns at the time. NEWBORN BABIES, yo. 

Both posts resonated so deeply with me. I remember those days so, so well. I did NOT want anyone taking any of my burden (except maybe Peyton and sometimes I didn't want to need him). I thought "I gave birth to these children" and I don't need any help taking care of them. I appreciated the meals people brought after Annie and Graves were born and I typically didn't feel any guilt. Until a day came when I realized I NEEDED those meals and was relying on them heavily or until a day came when I had to call someone who had said "call me if you need anything". I even remember getting so irritated one day in Target because a lady had to hold open the bathroom door at Target so I could push my cart out of the family restroom. For some reason I was just so frustrated I had been standing there trying to do it by myself for five minutes. I wanted to not have to depend on a stranger to get my kids released from family bathroom penitentiary. 

I know that some of this is specific to me, that it's my issue. And that's a post for another day. [I think a lot of the physical stuff goes back to me being small and being told I couldn't do a lot of things (e.g. passing the lifeguard test) and me feeling like I needed to constantly disprove people. And I think that just carried over to other areas.]

But I also see it for too often in our culture.I love reading about a time and place not my own and I've been trying to pass that on to Annie so we've been dipping our toes into historical fiction via American Girl books. I think about what it must have been like to have lived in such a different environment. I think about the mothers of yesteryear who HAD to rely so much on each other in their postpartum days. I ponder why we are so scared of the village, even when it's the village we've, in many cases, basically handpicked. Why do I scorn the thought that it's okay to let the people who I love and cherish and feel safe with have a role in the raising of my children?

I'm sure some of it is because I'm scared they'll do something wrong, or at the very least, something I wouldn't do. But I think the bigger part is that I don't want to admit that I can't go it alone. 

I see people either uncomfortable with the idea, or flat out terrified at the thought of, needing each other. And I guess that's fine for the culture. But it breaks my heart to see it in the church. 

I don't need the physical support that I needed when Annie and Graves were babies. But I need something else, just as much if not more. I need the emotional support of those close to me. I was telling a friend that I realized recently that I'm relying on my support group in a way I truly never have before. It's like...it feels really good and I think that's the way the Body of Christ should be, but at the same time it's new territory and I'm not used to depending on other people so much.

I share this song probably every six months or so on here, but it's one of my favorites. It's called "Servant Song" and even years ago when I heard it and I hadn't really thought to flesh this all out, it occurred to me what intense power and honesty were in the final line "pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too". Having that grace means not being afraid to let someone else hold the Christ light for me in a truly dark time. I know from experience, that that is one of the most powerful things in the world to be on the receiving end of but it's also a very definite way I don't want to let go of control especially in the nighttime of my fear, when maybe holding my own damn Christlight like seems like the only thing I can control. 

But I'm praying earnestly for that grace. And I'm watching myself learn a new way. It feels good, even though it's a scary good. It's a good I know the Lord wants for us. 


Mallory Pickering said...

Are you going to read the new Donald Miller book?

Sarah Denley said...

Mal, I want to so bad! Are you reading it? Or maybe a better questions is when are you reading it?

Mallory Pickering said...

Probably not for a long, long time.

Sarah Denley said...


Mallory Pickering said...

Too much on my list! Can we start Eudora on March 1st? I have two more weeks of discussions with my MIL on The 13th Tale. Sorry! We got a late start.

Sarah Denley said...

Of course! And I have a rediculous list. So...Don in 2018?? LOL.

Jennifer said...

I love this SD!!! Wonderful school - used to sing it at youth group all the time but it is one of those songs that means more now than it did at 16!

Mary Louis Quinn said...

That is one of my favorite songs! I used to sing it to Curran when I would rock her at night. I don't know why except that it was always soothing to me.

Our priest tells a story about when he took a job in Nebraska right after college (before he went to the seminary) and knew no one, and his parents gave him the advice to find a place to live near the church, and he would find immediate "family." And he did. (There's more to the story than that, but it reiterates your point about where you can find support/family when they only support you've ever known has been removed.) :)