Last week, I wrote about how — since returning to the Christian faith after a long stint in secular spirituality — it’s been nice to have Jesus as a name, face, and central character in a narrative about the way the divine functions in our world.
Today, I want to stick to this theme, but shift the focus a bit from the central Jesus character to… you. To we. (You know — us…)
First of all, I need to delineate something…
We’re meaning-making machines by nature. It’s what we do to build our identity. In order to help us make meaning, we naturally construct a grand narrative for which life to revolve around.
Back in the day, for better or worse, our grand narratives — and thusly our identities — were largely written and constructed for us. Though some of us were able to deviate, most of us stuck to the grand narrative we inherited from our folks and the greater community around us. For many of us out West, this grand narrative was based on the Christian Bible. Most everyone in the culture my parents grew up in knew the Biblical story as it was regularly taught and referenced in Sunday school, around their dinner table, in the media (4 channels), by their politicians (broadcasted on the same channels with the same bias), and from their teachers at school.
And then came MTV. Then cell phones. And then the internet. Each technological advance opening us up to more and more grand narratives with which to construct our identities around.
Yes, some of these narratives are religious and faith-based (for example, it’s easier today, more than ever, for a white American to find, learn about, and practice Hinduism in her very own home, for example). But many of these narratives are secular in nature (I can build my life around a narrative of someone who lives in a tiny house, is an ultrarunner, practices mindful meditation, and adopts a plant-based diet).
Human nature hasn’t changed. We’re still meaning-making, identity-crafting machines. We just have more and more grand life narratives available with which to use as fodder.
This is fantastic (even if I didn’t believe it was fantastic, it wouldn’t matter — the internet and our increasingly connected lives aren’t going away).
The pitfall many of us have fallen in is that —
As connected as we are and for as many options we have with which to construct our identities — many of us are doing it in a bubble.
For a large portion of the last four years, I’ve been writing this spiritual blog, making meaning as I go, in the solitude of my home. It’s largely been inspired by blogs, books, videos, and other means of digital content that I’ve curated myself. My spiritual practice — centering prayer (which I found via my online bubble) — has taken place alone on my cushion in front of my fireplace. Even my prior path to ‘ministry’ in the secular/spiritual world was walked individually via an at-home digital distance learning program.
And in a way, I’d be perfectly comfortable continuing in this vein. But somehow, I’ve stumbled into this world where I go every Sunday and sit with other people. I’ve found spiritual mentoring through this community of others who share my journey (but who are also just varied enough from me to keep it interesting). My ministerial path has switched to a mainline seminary — a physical building where I’ll go sit with hundreds of other students (most of whom are far younger than me — kids these days, I swear), all who carry varied individual narratives, as we bump into each other and wrestle with ancient scripture and the meaning we make around it.
I feel like it’s such an old and outmoded way of constructing this grand narrative at the center of my spiritual life, but I feel more alive (albeit uncomfortable at times) than I ever have. Because it’s not just me.
I need you. And them. We need each other.
It’s important to have a community. I used to think I could do this stuff alone (a part of my postmodern, individualistic self still does). But a deeper part of me knows that my roots connect with yours and reach out for others.
We must mind the algorithm, friends. The one that bends to our biases and entrenches us deeper into our own individual narratives. The one that enables us as we curl more and more in on ourselves.
We flourish as humans, not by becoming more comfortable (and self-righteous), but by bumping into others, questioning our nonsense, and opening ourselves to the new.
This is community. I need your face. You need mine. And we need each other’s. (And not just through our screens, either.)
P.S. This is a big reason why I’m taking my solitary work on this blog and turning it outward towards you in a new project (to be announced after the new year— because you and I both have too much going on right now when we should be resting more this time of year). Stay tuned:)