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Why I can't be a Christian alone
There’s something alluring about the single-serving life, isn’t there? About living on your own and doing your own thing. There’s some freedom we find in that. As I get older, I feel like I’m getting more introverted. “Cool” being alone. There is some good to that—solitude is a major part of Christian life. But there’s also some bad in it. We can’t be who we are meant to be living in isolation.
Check out how the ever charismatic George Clooney puts it in this old movie teaser:
I agree with Clooney in a lot of ways. Material possessions do weigh us down. My tabletop appliances often do, specifically. What else weighs us down? Our jobs. Our employers. Our bosses. Our subordinates. Our bank accounts and credit cards. Our debt. Our education. Our obligations.
He’s also right in other ways. Our relationships weigh us down too, don’t they? Sometimes it’s just looking for a relationship that does. I have a lot of single friends (they’re mainly women) who tell me horror stories about dating. Parents weigh us down. Parents, our kids can weigh us down. Our roommates can weigh us down. Our exes do too. Some of you have neighbors that do.
George Clooney is going for an attachment-free life because he thinks that he can serve himself better when he is free of personal and material attachments. He lands most heavily on relationships doesn’t he?
We do like that kind of sanitization. We are individualistic. When we only have to answer to ourselves, we solve some problems. There’s no need to reconcile or forgive if we fake ourselves into believing that we are alone.
I’m afraid that people have made faith that way too. Many Christians are very interested in their own understanding and their own belief. They are obsessed with what they believe. And they actually might make their beliefs the center of their faith. When we make our beliefs the center of our faith, we really are making our own mental assent the center of it. And ultimately, that means ourselves.
How can we possibly be in community with God (who is in community in the Trinity as the Godhead) if our entire sense of that relationship is simply rooted in our own understanding? To be honest, I’m not trustworthy enough to have a corner on that market. I’m not trustworthy enough to decide if and how I’m going to relate to God. This sounds bizarre, I know, but I just don’t want to be subject to something as fleeting as my own rationality. I need to be accountable in a communal context. None of my beliefs are subject to my own individuality; I have to work them out in community.
I just don’t think it’s good enough to operate on its own. We need a context. We need to relate to God. But also each other.
I don’t know if you can be a Christian alone. I don’t know if it even works to be one. I think you need a community. I think you need a context. You can’t just float in reality by yourself (your actions invariably affect others). That’s one of the best reasons to read the Bible—because it contributes to some communal sense of your faith. After all, the Bible was written to groups of people!
It’s hard to be in community now, isn’t it? It’s amazing because our smart devices give us a false sense of community, but we’re still alone when we use them. See more from Sherry Turkle here.
I think being together is a radical statement by itself. And I think Jesus offers this basic truth. Not in a command to be together, but in a command to love one another.
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
In a radical chapter of oneness and community, one where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, and in the same section of the text, will call for all of our oneness, he says that our love for each other will be the basic way that we share the Gospel with others. Our community matters and the love it shows for each other matters.
To be honest, I was really close to falling away from my faith when George W. Bush was elected. So many Christians piling up for the war machine—not unlike the 84% of white Evangelicals who voted for Trumper, to be honest—and I was so ready to give it up. Let me just emphasize once more: I couldn’t be a Christian alone. Could not! I found y’all and it saved my faith.
I needed the community. Not just for the intellectual affirmation but for the emotional support and guidance, and for the chance to, for once, not to rely on my own thoughts. It saves me so far energy to just believe what the people around me have to say. Trust goes further than the human inevitability to test everything.
Consider then who else is floating out there on their own. Those who are trying to hold it together, but can’t. Who needs to relate to you to meet Jesus? Who needs to know you so that they can do the basic command that Jesus offers his disciples?