While I will never disown my American heritage, I can’t deny that we, that is, the land of the free and home of the brave, have had our faults. Certainly China has its faults too, as any country does, but I believe they also have traits that are more attractive than America. And one of them is the emphasis on community over individuality.
Since its inception, America has promulgated the rights of its citizens to speak freely, worship freely, and vote peacefully in a democratic republic. And, oh yeah, there was that little skirmish between us and those Brits across the sea, where we brazenly declared independence from an overly intrusive king who liked to burden his colonists with taxes. So yes, there is a bit of that independent spirit coursing through each American. And certainly it has had its merits. Settlers braved the wilderness to establish new frontiers. The Wild West would have been quite tame without its cowboys and outlaws. And now every man, no matter his socioeconomic status, can pursue his American dream to be whatever he wants to be, and we applaud that. That is a basic staple of the American spirit.
But individualism isn’t perfect. When America needs terrorist acts like 9/11 and the Boston Bombing to unite its people, we have lost our sense of community. When Judeo-Christian ethics provoke secular rancor rather than national pride, we have lost an integral piece of America. When we become obsessed with Facebook updates and controlled by our technological devices, we dissociate ourselves from community and enter a myopic world of our own. Not that I’m saying all social media is evil, but an excessive dose of it certainly isn’t beneficial.
While China has begun to reflect some pockets of individualism, it still retains its communal mindset. For example, one of my students said marriage is a family affair, quite literally. Both families must agree to this covenant between a man and woman. Certainly the couple has their say, but it is collectively a family decision in the end. In America, a family’s approval is nice but not necessary. Marriage is the couple’s affair, and they ultimately decide whether they wish to marry or not. And then there’s the Asian trait of saving face, which is quite puzzling to most Westerners. I do find it frustrating myself, at times, but on the positive side, it does seek to put the interests of others above your own when done well. And that’s something we Americans could work at a bit harder.
I believe this American individualism has infiltrated our churches. While we can’t avoid the influences of our own culture, we don’t need to fully embrace them either. As a church, we are called to be a community of believers, not just a people who gather to get updated on social happenings or hang out with friends. In Acts the church was a vibrant community that freely gave to the needy and ministered to the disadvantaged. And there was passion and excitement about the radical, life-changing gospel. Masses of people were embracing Christianity and then evangelizing others.
We must be that community once again. A community centered on the gospel and devoted to caring for the poor and needy. A community so concerned about others in our church body and outside it that we forget about our own petty, self-centered interests. A community that passionately shares the gospel to a lost world that desperately needs to hear the truth. A community that lives and breathes the gospel.
Because the world is watching. And we have the awesome privilege to reflect Jesus’ love and compassion to a world searching for truth, seeking satisfaction where there is none, and pursuing pleasure that is fleeting. We have the truth that gives enduring satisfaction and eternal delight. We can bring hope to a hopeless world and peace to those who are desperate for the truth, yet don’t even know it. So let’s be a community that loves Jesus wholeheartedly and others more than ourselves, because that will revolutionize this world.