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Saturday, February 12, 2011

What about ME?

We live in tension. On the one hand, our culture celebrates individualism. To be 'different' and 'unique' is a preoccupation of so many. (Of course, we all know that non-conformists frequently end up looking like other non-conformists!)

I recall the radical punk movement we saw in Europe in the 1980's. Often times dozens of these young people with bizarre hair styles, dark makeup, odd clothing and assorted piercings would be seen flocking together. (All looking uniquely the same as each other) One day a young woman, in all her punk strangeness, was sitting alone with us in a train compartment. She seemed uncomfortable and we wondered, "Are there ever times that she wishes she looked normal so she could just blend in? Did she ever say, I wish I wasn't a punk today." Isolated and alone she appeared uneasy.

That is the proverbial 'on the other hand' of the story. We seek to be unique but we also hunger to be included. We seek out others like us. Even misery loves company! We want to belong. Yet, we fear rejection. So we preemptively reject others, or we act in a way that invites rejection. We boast that we do not care what others say, even as we listen for their every word. In pathological instances, the fear of rejection can make being accepted painful. I have worked with enough disturbed young people to see that at work. It is one of life's tragedies. We make choices which are self destructive and push away those who we need the most.

In theory, faith communities are intended to bridge the gap between 'me' and 'them' by creating a 'we.' 'We' is personal. It includes 'me' without devolving into a disconnected individualism. 'We' is personal, so it does not negate the reality of 'me.' The problem is, both  impersonal communalism and the selfish individualism are pulling at us. Hence, we live in tension: do I give up myself and melt into the group or do I assert myself and stand alone? Taken to an extreme either is unhealthy, hurtful and sinful. But balancing the two is like walking on ice. The slightest misstep and we are suddenlyflailing about at the brink of a fall.

So what about "me"? Do I matter? Am I all that matters? Why is it so hard?

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