No man is an island
There are all sorts of resonances which flow from this ancient poem by John Donne:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Of course, having been brought up in Jersey, I am familiar with the challenges and joys of being surrounded by the sea! Island mentality is great, but it is problematic if you can’t think beyond your real or imagined borders.
Whatever your view of Brexit, though, wouldn’t it be a shame if our great country decided to retreat into an “island” mentality, unwilling to cooperate with others, and think only about self-interest. We are in danger of losing that sense of connection, mutual accountability, and corporate identity, which is part of our history as a nation. But this is not my main thought.
My big fear is that since the 1960’s we have lived in a context of huge societal and community changes, many of which have been spurred on by “individualism”. One writer defines individualism in this way:
It’s about the weight we attach to individual thought and action relative to the importance of authorities and traditional institutions. In other words, individualism is about the value of thinking for yourself versus what you are told by other people. (see Glynn Harrison, A Better Understanding).
All well and good, you might say. Every human being is uniquely made in the image and likeness of God. We are indeed special; we are unique individuals.
But Harrison goes on to point out that individualism has overvalued private thought and judgment, to such an extent, that the value of tradition, the role of the state, and the place of the authorities, are thought irrelevant. I define who “I am” irrespective of what my biology, my gender, my nation, or my background, might determine. And who is to say that my private judgement is better than generations of family, national or church wisdom?
We are family
Because all human beings are made in the image of God, we have much more in common with one another than, sometimes, an individualistic society might think.
Human beings are deeply social animals. We want to be connected to one another. For sure, the means by which we are connected have become increasingly complicated with modern technology, but nevertheless, we long for connection. I
may have thousands of “friends” on Facebook, but do I really have any friends?
This is one of the many reasons why Church life is so good – not just for individuals – but for society. It provides a real place for community. It can be the home that you might never have had. It is one of the very few places in our modern world where people from all ages, backgrounds, classes and cultures, come together for the goal of meeting with the God who made us.
The world wants connection, but connection comes with a commitment to community. This is a surprise to our individualistic age.
For example, since 2006 The Henley Centre for Forecasting has been asking the same question every year: “Do you think the quality of life in the UK is best improved by (a) looking after the community’s interests instead of our own or (b) looking after ourselves, which ultimately raises standards for all”. Before the year 2000, most people chose (a). But since then, most people think that looking after “me” first, is the most important. This is radical individualism.
You’ve got a friend in me
Well, we can’t resolve all of these deeply philosophical and sociological problems easily, can we?
We, at Christ Church Virginia Water, have committed ourselves to be “in the community, for the community, to the glory of God”. Why do we say this? Because:
- There is a deep problem of loneliness among all ages. This is best met with community, and by developing deep friendship. We think that the Church has something to offer on this subject, not least, to introduce people to Jesus Christ, who called his disciples “friends” (John 15:15);
- Sociologist, Margaret Mead once quipped: “Always remember that you are absolutely unique; just like everyone else”. Ideas might spark in individual’s heads, but societies change when communal/community groups act in unison. Yes are unique individuals, but individuals whose uniqueness is best expressed when you resolve to be family and friend one-to-another.
Let’s be Christian Family, “in the community, for the community, to the Glory of God.”