Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Negotiating the Chiasmus - Individualism/Collectivism

If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater the effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders - what would you tell him to do?

I learned the term “analogical circle of predication” from my staff-worker Anna Lee. One understands greater concepts by making analogies to already understood concept. From our socio-biological fathers to our Heavenly Father, from our life to our faith, these are easy examples. So when I look at the experience of my own life, I cannot help but balk at what Scripture asks of me.

At the end of the last entry, I saw that I must face the fears I have of loving, of serving, of being in dangerous proximity to people whose lives I might absorb.

You see, it makes no sense for me to hide my weakness from myself. I know it full well and I must acknowledge. Of body, mind and soul, I believe the weakest point of my tri-partite being is my soul. I, too easily, blend into my surroundings by adopting the attitudes and dispositions of the people around me. I’m a giver and a pleaser. I like to see people happy and I like to know that I was the cause of it. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But actually, these are weak areas that need to be remedied.

Christianity was an easy fit for me. Sacrifice, the greater good, thankless suffering, service, these were values I was raised on. Happiness is happiness, so if you suffer and someone else is happy as a result, it all comes out in the wash. Except if you are happier as a result, which makes you selfish, which is terrible and morally despicable. I may never have said such things, but I certainly believed them.

It was my liver that the vultures feasted on for years. My strength, my skill, my willingness – all consumed for the sake of the team, the fellowship, the Kingdom.

“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”

“Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” – C.S. Lewis

But it’s OK, right? Because God will give me everything I need that’s sufficient, right? If I complain, it means I’m not holy enough to exist with less and I’m presumptuous enough to ask. How could I waste prayer on things that I want when Darfur, North Korea, famine, poverty, illness, injustice, racism? Jesus sacrificed one for all, so how could you be so selfish as to ask anything for yourself? Selfish.


This word became my liberation. No, you may have not tear off any more of my liver. No, you may no longer burn me at the stake. No, you may not withdraw freely from the stores of strength and skill I’ve developed. I do not exist for your sake. My life is not to be lived for your good. I won’t crucify myself for others anymore.


For so many years, I served faithfully in various ministries. If you were reading an inspirational Christian book or a sugar-sweet sermon, you would at this point hear me make a confession: “It was all about me. I put myself and my ministry in front of God and then God humbled me! The lesson is that God comes first!”

You should know better by now that my writing won’t ever look like a Thomas Kinkade painting or a Precious Moments bible cover. Like all people, my motivations were mixed. I served out of a duty believing that it was “right” to do so, out of the pleasure of serving, and because I saw that no one else would serve in these ministries. I wanted to lead by example and hopefully sway some of the non-participating men to pick up the slack and serve as well. But Church wasn’t enough. School fellowships, causes of justice, friends, everyone that asked was likely to have received my help.

But who would come to my rescue? So much of my life was left unrequited, unfulfilled. I wonder if service for me will always have this same bitter taste in my life.

And then I read John Galt’s speech. I remembered being so emotionally moved that I had to fight back tears. My chest heaved as I felt a tremendous release from my shoulders. I had a conversion experience more sublime than any of the church experiences I heretofore felt.
Somebody told me that it was OK to have my own wants. Somebody told me it was OK not to use other people’s benefit as the justification for my own life. Someone told me that it was not my obligation to sacrifice myself.

So what now?

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