“The fundamental question we posed, and that was repeatedly posed to us, was how to preserve or create a morally coherent life. But the kind of life we want depends on the kind of people we are – on our character.”
Sociologist Dr. Robert Bellah’s book ‘Habits of the Heart – Individualism and Commitment in American Life’ is unquestionably one of the most important books written about American culture. Specifically, the connection between individualism and community and how that impacts our sense of democracy.
At the core of much of the debate and discourse in our country is the significant difference in our understanding about the place of personal and private versus corporate and communal. There may be no better time than now to take a closer look at this.
Lent is a time for each of us to do some robust reflection on our own choices. Where would we find those choices on the continuum of individual to community? What informs the choices we make? How does Scripture, following in the Way of Jesus and living out the Baptismal Covenant, inform our understanding and our calling? And how does all of this impact how we value the individual versus how we value the greater community.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians may be particularly helpful for our reflection:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[a] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
(1 Corinthians 12:12-27).