The Disease of Self
Last week’s post brought up a lot of thoughts for me and a couple interesting conversations with friends, so I will continue the exploration of how we retain our self in a world that demands conformity.
An interesting moment arose when a friend mentioned a Christian song he had just listened to that used the line “the disease of self”. The concept seems to grow around the idea that to be part of something bigger than ourselves is a good thing but to do so means that we must be entirely absorbed into that to the point that our own identity disappears.
I am in agreement that it is a powerful thing to be part of something bigger than myself. I have and have had the opportunity to do this several times in my life. I am part of the family I grew up in. I am part of my family now. I am part of a church as I have been a member of other churches. I have been on teams in spots and work. I am parts of creative groups, project groups and service groups. I am a part of the Kingdom of God. Connecting in that way, contributing to make something happen that can only come from a group effort is a wonderful thing.
But part of what makes this kind of participation work is that is made up of individuals. That different people with different skills and different ways of looking at things come together to make something more is truly powerful. If they didn’t maintain their uniqueness it couldn’t be powerful. It would be like trying to build a car engine out of nothing but spark plugs.
I don’t know how this idea that God wants us to be absolutely nothing or ourselves came to be. I think that passages of scripture that warn us against selfishness or that steer us toward being connected to community mean that we empty ourselves
To put it in terms that Tori Amos used – You’re just an empty cage if you kill the bird.
As disturbing as this concept seems to me, somehow it has traction. People buy into it. Is that because they want so badly to be part of something bigger than themselves that they are willing to make huge sacrifices for that? Is it because they want to be right, to do right and someone they empower with authority tells them this so they buy in? Are they onto something that I am just too dense to see?
Or maybe, the rhetoric has been around so long that no one questions it.
In the book of Revelation, the Bible tells about those that overcome will be given a stone with their name on it, their true name only known to them. That implies uniqueness and individuality of a deep variety. If mine is only known me and yours to you, that most certainly means that it is not the same name for both of us. God seems to be celebrating individuals, honoring the self of each person.
Then there is the point that God seems to really like individuals in the stories of the Bible. He seems to get angry at groups pretty quickly, but Abraham, Moses, and David all seems to connect with God in individual ways. God seems to like them for being who they uniquely are.
And what is the value of me being part of something bigger than myself if it is not me that is involved? To be part of a football team requires that I contribute to team goals and work with others to achieve them. But the strength of the team comes form the fact that I contribute differently than others on the team. Our differences working together is what makes us stronger. Otherwise it’s not a very good team.
St. Paul makes this point when he talks about different parts of the body having value by being different parts of the same body.
Selfishness is something to overcome. Being yourself is something to strive for. Find your identity and then blend that into something bigger than you. You will be part of something fantastic. Possibly even miraculous.