Learning to be Individuals

As a species, we are moving out of the tribal orientation of group think

—where no one had an idea of her, of his, own,

and everyone lived the way life had always been lived before them

—where everyone knew how it was supposed to be done, because nothing new was ever done

—where the rules were strictly imposed, and deviation was severely penalized.

We are moving away from that orientation, and moving toward a community, or communal, orientation

—where the group exists to support and sustain the birthing, the coming to be, of the individuals within the group.

We are moving from a telling, doing, obeying orientation to more of a listening, experimenting, being and being-with orientation.

Jesus broke the mold and set the tone with his “You have heard it said, but I say unto you,” approach. Before Jesus, the religious teachers of the day had no mind of their own. They were simply receptacles of the teaching that had been passed along to them, and they passed it, unaltered, along to their disciples.

This is in the tradition of the Yogi masters who are, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “a clear pane of glass” through whom pass the wisdom and the instruction of the ages, without alteration or improvement, and without the personal imprint of the individual guru. The work of the disciple in this tradition, is to disappear, to cease to exist, to become a mindless carrier of the tradition, in the manner suggested by the writers of the Bible, “neither adding, nor taking away.”

Jesus comes adding and taking away. “You can’t pour new wine into old wineskins,” he says, and, “Every scribe fit for the kingdom brings out of his treasure something old and something new.” “Who do you say that I am?” he asks. And, “Why don’t you decide for yourselves what is right?”

With Jesus, comes the idea of new ideas that cannot be contained in old constructs. His disciples didn’t get it, and quickly acted to close off the possibility of anyone thinking something the disciples didn’t tell them to think, but “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” is heard, even in the wilderness, and once heard, there is no forgetting what has been said.

Jesus calls those who follow him to respond to this moment right now in light of the possibilities and needs of the moment—perhaps by doing things that have never been done, and may never be repeated. Jesus does not simply stand aside, and allow the traditions of the past free and easy access to the moment of his living. Jesus stands between what always has been done, and what needs to be done, and says, “Love your enemy,” and, “Whoever is without guilt can cast the first stone.” With Jesus comes responsibility for one’s own living, for one’s own acting, for one’s own choosing and deciding in the moment that calls for action. With Jesus, “the old has passed away and, behold, the new has come.”

But, it doesn’t come all at once and that’s that. It comes in fits and starts over long stretches of time. It comes, but then it depends on us to pick it up, and carry it forward. It is much too easy to allow the tradition to do our thinking for us. We need the right kind of community on our side, because we don’t have what it takes to do the work of independence independently from those who are also doing that work. We need one another in order to think for ourselves.

This is the primary work of the right kind of community—enabling individuals within the community to find their own voice, sing their own song, tell their own story, and live the life that is theirs to live. The work of the right kind of community is to enable individuals within the community to be who they are—to be true to themselves—to live authentic, genuine, straight-from-the-heart lives. It is the work of the right kind of community to enable disciples to become like the Master in following no master. The community exists to bring to life the life that is waiting to come to life within each of us. It does this by not-knowing what that life is, or who we are supposed to be, and by listening with ears that hear, seeing with eyes that see, and comprehending with hearts that understand who we are that stand before it, wondering who we are and what we are to do.

The right kind of community doesn’t have a clue about what should be. We all enter each moment, not knowing what will be asked of us by the moment, or what will be called for in the moment, or how we will respond to the moment. Maybe we will fulfill the moment’s needs, and, maybe we will fail the moment. How to be true to ourselves within the context of the moment here/now is the perennial problem of the community, and of the individuals making up the community. There is no formula for solving the problem of knowing what to do, when, where, and how, apart from sitting still, being empty/quiet, listening intently to the silence, self and moment, and waiting for what arises, emerges, appears, occurs to us, calls from the silence to light the way and elicit/evoke our response.

Ideally, the right kind of community would stand before each of us, not-knowing who we should be, or what we should do, or how we should live our life, but listening to each of us—lovingly, mindfully, attentively—trusting the power of compassionate awareness to provide what is needed for us to be who we are. The minute the community presumes to know what we should do, who we should be, how we should live, the community ceases to be the right kind of community. The right kind of community imposes nothing, but provides what is needed: Caring space in which we might hear what we are saying and see what we are looking at.

While the community doesn’t know what should be done in the moment of our living, the community does know how to know. The community possesses the vision of the How of Being. The community knows about process. It knows, for instance, that we are to live with compassionate, mindful, non-judgmental, non-willful, non-opinionated awareness—to listen with loving, attentive presence, to the silence of our life, and see where it goes. No expectations. No agendas. No plans. No opinions.

We have to become comfortable with not-knowing. We must practice relishing playful experimentation. We practice refraining from taking things personally, and practice taking very few things seriously.

We are not to be burdened with having to be pleasing. We are not to be undone by our mistakes and failures—or by those of others. We are not to focus on what we can’t have, on what we can’t do, on what can’t happen, but on what we can have, on what we can do, on what can happen.

We are to laugh a lot, and spend time doing the things we love to do. We are to drink deeply of life, to live as fully as we are capable of living within the time and place of our living, so that, when it is over, we will not die wishing we had had the courage to do what needed to be done.

The community, when it is being the right kind of community, is with us to enable the life that we are capable of living, to bring out the new thing that is “us,” and to set us about the business of being alive, rejoicing and delighting in the wonder of being—in the wonder of “us”—throughout the years of our living.

Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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