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Benevolent Individuals or Exhausted Seekers?

Every week at Q we are invited to Come Alive, exchanging the status quo of our current beliefs for a faith-filled worldview.

"You're more than you could ever be when you're dreaming with your eyes wide open."

In William Golding's famous book, Lord of the Flies, a group of boys that have been left to fend for themselves on a deserted island are used as an example of the degenerate tendency of humanity as they descend into bitter rivalry that leads to tribalism and murder.

Thankfully, there is a more optimistic real-life example of the benevolence that human beings can demonstrate to each other in the story of 6 Tongan boys who were also shipwrecked and left to fend for themselves on a Pacific island. This is their story...

As we explored Joy last week, Jenny questioned the validity of this commonly shared acronym for JOY : Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. She shared how this relegation of our own significance and value had been damaging to many people and Joel reflects on this too, noting that promoting self-sacrifice as a virtue can have all sorts of negative consequences.

However, in our eagerness to reject these long-held dogmas, it's easy to swing the pendulum to the other extreme where we neglect and devalue community on the altar of personal autonomy and freedom.

Dogma isn't unique to the church and Joel reflects how over recent years he's noticed the same human tendency to create common enemies, succumb to certainty and be drawn into the comfort of shared, institutional beliefs in the name of The Greater Good.

Original sin is a Christian doctrine that proposes that humanity is fundamentally evil and divine intervention is essential to bring order to the chaos within us and save us from our sin. Joel highlights how one of the problems of a belief like this is that it diminishes the value of each human being and distinguishes humanity as somehow separate from God.

So, how do we build a healthy group of people without dogma, conditional acceptance and self-sacrifice? Altruism can seem like the solution but can easily descend into a requirement for inclusion. Joel proposes an alternative: The Benevolent Individualist.

The Individualist shouldn't be confused with a Separatist. In contrast to the intolerant withdrawal of Separatism, an individualist celebrates the unique value and talents of each person; loving themselves, they are empowered to share their benevolence with the group, or as Jesus put it "Love your neighbour as yourself."

"The individual is the definition of potential itself. We are our own creators, constantly having Let there be moments."

Joel refers to various numbered personality types which are part of The Enneagram. If you're unfamiliar with The Enneagram and would like to find out more, then many of us have found it helpful in understanding ourselves, one another and how we interact. You can find out more here:

The Jewish patriarch, Moses, was commanded by God to tell the King of Egypt to free his people. When Moses asked God his name, the reply was "I am." So when Moses was asked "Who is your god?"he could have replied, with a powerful depth of meaning "I am!"

"In everything and everyone I see you. To everything and everyone I'll be you."

The ancient Sufi Mystic called Rumi once said:

"You are not just a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean in a drop."

Whilst celebrating that we are Benevolent Individuals we can also embrace the truth that we are part of a greater whole.

Chris recognises that she spent years on the endless, religious treadmill of trying to rid herself of the evils of "the self" in order to make herself worthy for God. She shares how she became an Exhausted Seeker who gave everything but found little hope and joy in this never-ending striving.

Chris spoke in the past about The Middle Way (You can revisit that message here) and how there's always an alternative to the binary right/wrong perspective of dualism.

In his book, The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr says:

"We focussed on a personal relationship with Jesus at the expense of understanding the Universal Christ. A merely personal god becomes tribal and sentimental and a merely universal god never leaves the realm of the abstract theory and philosphical principles, but when we put them together we find a god that is both personal and universal. Jesus connects us with our time bound and personal level of life. Without Jesus, the scale of our deep humanity is too much for our minds to handle, but without the universal we miss out on the Why? of God, which is to reveal himself in all that he has made."

There's great comfort to be found for The Exhausted Seekers in this universal perspective of God, because the attention is no longer on their own personal performance and they can get lost in the vast mystery of all things. However, as Richard Rohr says, the sweet spot is found in the embracing of both the personal and the universal perspectives of God.

A helpful analogy of the personal and universal can be found in the countless waves that appear in the ocean. Each wave is a unique expression of the ocean and yet each wave IS the ocean. We cannot separate a wave from the ocean or the ocean from each wave.

Each wave might represent our own personal uniqueness: our story, our style, our personality, our preferences, our individual relationship with God and our contribution to whatever context we find ourselves in, whilst the ocean is the infinite divine that we are part of and is always part of us, whatever our wave might look like on any given day.

"Where is God? That's like a fish asking "Where is the ocean?" The fish is born in it, therefore cannot see it. God will always be beyond comprehension in the same way the wave will never understand the ocean because it already is the ocean."

We are alive to make waves! Each of our waves will be different and as our waves collide, let's remember that each of us are part of the same ocean, so as we show kindness, generosity and love to each other, we're actually showing it to ourselves! As Jesus said...

"In as much as you've done it to the least of these, you've done it to me."

Jenny sums up her five take-away points. You might want to consider these questions:

  • What's your perspective of humanity and does it celebrate friendship, co-operation and human resilience?

  • If each of us are a wave in the ocean...What sort of wave are you in the ocean?

  • Have you swapped one dogma for another?

  • What is your unique expression of God in the Earth?

  • Have you been an exhausted seeker and can you embrace both the personal and universal perspectives of God?

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