The first thing an anthropologist observes about a culture is how the people collect themselves into groups, how those groups interact, and how each person draws their sense of belonging and significance from the group(s) of which they are a member. For it is in this very cultural dynamic that customs and ethics are created and maintained. So it could be said that group think is inextricably woven, not only into the fabric of cultural ethos, but also into the psyche of each person, within the culture.
For some folks this offends their social narrative that celebrates individuality as the ultimate expression of human existence. While on the other end of the spectrum, we find those who insist that a collectivist polity is inevitable, because they misconstrue the anthropological significance of why humans seek relationships. In their own way, each of these opposing views are a distortion of what it means to live in community – one coercively seeking an homogenized conformity, while the other promotes a rationale for self-indulgence. So for the moment, let us set both of these aside.
Group identity, whether involuntary, like family and ethnicity; or chosen, like political and religious beliefs – inextricably contributes to each person’s sense of self. We can’t help but explain who we are, why we do and think the things we do, without including a group identity of some sort. This is likely because thinking of ourselves in terms of relationships contextualizes us – which is no real surprise given that we are physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually designed for relationship.
It is the image of God at work within in us that compels us to seek relationship – but because of the fall, we either end up dismissing the value of community, or community becomes a place of manipulation and power struggle (the aforementioned distortions). So even as we gather with extended family to celebrate what we’re most thankful for, some of those relationships, might seem like a tinder box awaiting a single combustible word to ignite them.
Since our exile from Eden, fear and shame hides in the shadows of every relationship. And because real relationships require the honesty of transparency and vulnerability, fear and shame either drives us to a self-possessed autonomy, or to a manipulative insistence upon lockstep conformity. But each of these drives a wedge between us, keeping us at an insulated distance from one another . . . where our fear and shame won’t be exposed. So how do we cross that divide?
Lest we forget, Jesus has already crossed this relational divide, and has opened a way for us to do the same. Christ suffered the brutality and shame of public execution – a form of torture intended to be so horrific that everyone would look away, and in fear fall into compliance with the Roman authorities. But the very God who spoke into existence the universe, humbled himself, willing to suffer for the sake of our reconciliation – in order to redeem each of us to himself . . . as well as, each of us to one another. This is how we cross the divide, allowing our hearts to be filled with the love of Christ, a love that’s willing to risk the shame and pain of vulnerability — so that the reconciliation of God might be on full display . . . so let this be what you are known for this Thanksgiving.
If for only a moment . . .