Summary: The alarm that went off on September 11 is opening our eyes to the problem of individualism. The only thing that will keep us from collectively rolling over in our bed of apathy is a strong call to the cross of Christ and to genuine Christian community.
The New Awakening
Pastor Jim Luthy
It has been two and a half weeks since we were awakened by the news of terrorists striking on our own soil. Since that time, we have heard that the attacks awakened a "sleeping giant."
But that leads me to some questions. If we were a "sleeping giant," why did we go to sleep? And if we were "awakened," what were we "awakened" to? Do we even know? Were we awakened to a problem called terrorism that roamed unsupervised in the night like little Johnny ransacked the house while his parents slept? Were we awakened to our own lack of civil defense? What? What were we awakened to? And if these terrorists have awakened the same sleeping giant that kamikaze’s awakened 50 years ago, will our response be nothing more than to hit the snooze button so we can sleep in for another 50 years?
Today, we are seeing signs that America has indeed had a new awakening. But if our awakening is nothing more than a patriotic one, it will soon fade with the passage of time and with the ceasing of our rage and anger and grief. This awakening has roused us into action without even realizing the cause of our sleepiness. I believe its our job, the church’s job, to help our neighbors understand what it was that left us so unaware and what it is we ought to see as we rise from our slumber.
Try as everyone will to fix blame for our sleepiness, the search begins and ends with the attitude of our culture. In the movie Antz, worker ant Z represents that attitude quite well…
All my life I have lived and worked in the big city, which, now that I think of it, is a problem. Since I always feel uncomfortable around crowds—I mean I have this fear of enclosed space. Everything makes me feel trapped all the time. I always tell myself that there has to be something better out there, but maybe I think too much. I think everything must go back to the thought that I had a very anxious childhood, you know; my mother never had time for me. You know, when you’re the middle child of five million you don’t get any attention. I mean how is it possible? And I have always had this abandonment issue, which plagues me. My father was basically a drone, like I’ve said. And, you know, he flew away when I was just a larva. And my job—don’t even get me started on it because it really annoys me. I was not cut out to be a worker—I’ll tell you that right now. I feel physically inadequate. My whole life I have never been able to lift more than ten times my own body weight. And when you get down to it, handling dirt, you know, is not my idea of a rewarding career. It is the whole gung-ho super organization I can’t get—I have tried but I can’t get it. What is it? I am supposed to be doing everything for the colony. And what about my needs? What about me? I gotta believe there is some place out there that’s better than this. Otherwise, I will just curl up in a larva position and weep. The whole system makes me feel insignificant.
Many of us share the feelings articulated by worker ant Z. "What about my needs? What about me?" Haven’t we all shown that face from time to time? We live in an individualistic society. And as much as anything, although I’m not sure our nation realizes it, we were awakened to the problem of this individualism on September 11.
Randy Frazee, author of The Connecting Church, defines individualism as "a way of life that makes the individual supreme or sovereign over everything." The fruit of individualism that he lists against their counter-part define our culture--thinking of myself over thinking of others; Law-suits over reconciliation; Individual rights over community responsibilities; Career advancement over company loyalty; Cynicism over trust; and relative truth (truth defined by and for each individual) over absolute truth.
The church, of course, exists to be a counter-culture to an individualistic society. That counter-culture was taught and modeled by our own leader and Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Grueling in the desert, he said, "If it is possible take this cup from me. But not MY will, but yours be done." And later, we catch him dying a cruel death, even though he was without wrong, all for the sake of others. The church should represent this anti-individualism in the way we live out our faith. But instead, the same attitude that prevails in our world prevails in us.
I heard the story this week of a pastor who was confronted by a woman in his church after he preached a message on John 16, where Jesus himself said he would send the Holy Spirit whom, and I quote, "will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment." The woman argued that the Holy Spirit came only as a comforter and counselor and does not convict people in the world. She had established her own truth with whatever was comfortable for her regardless of what Scripture clearly said. Believe me, the church is not immune from the problem of individualism and the relativism it creates.