Saturday, August 06, 2005
Identity crisis
I was thumbing through "Self-Reliance" earlier today, looking for some inspiration for a different kind of post. This essay by Emerson never fails to grip me. I'd say it's one of the most influential pieces of literature I've ever read.

Here's what jumped out to me...
Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivatation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brace and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses or Dante, but different from all these. Not possibly will the soul, all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Forewold again.

The context in which I'd like to apply this is the community of faith. I believe this great uniqueness is true not only for the individual but for the bodies of Christ. Every community of faith exists in a unique context, composed of unique individuals, and their design and how they fit together can not be duplicated.

"Why can't our church be like that church?" Because your community is not that community. What makes a community great is not its programming, its glitz and glamor or trendy relevance, but rather its submission to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit within its people.

Attempting to copy the strategies of another church or faith community into my own is not much different from transplanting my foot to where my liver should be. It doesn't work that way. What might prove extremely effective on your community may very well flop in mine. Every spiritual context is unique. Context is key. And no two contexts are identical. For me to covet an copy my neighbor's community is, as Emerson says, "of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession." It would not be me. It would not be my community.

This is why it is crucial, I believe, for communities of faith to write their own music, create their own liturgy, speak in their own voice. The Body of Christ has no space for copycats. In Acts 4:20, the apostle Peter as quoted saying to the Sanhedrin before whom he is on trial, "We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." And so it is with us who have experienced the amazing grace of Jesus. It is my experience and the experience of my community. To adopt the words or programs of a community in California or England or anywhere separates me from my own. I cannot grasp the lusting after the "success" of the megachurch down the street, whether it be Willow Creek, Saddleback or Southland, or even communities whose models I highly admire like Mars Hill, Norman Community and Vineyard Central, when the very same God moves and breathes and lives in my own community.

We each have our own story to tell. We each have our own story to add to the great drama that is the kindgom of God unfolding.

Every community of faith is a unique.

posted by Peter at 1:09 AM
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