Updated: Aug 6, 2022
In Eastern and Central Europe they say that it is the tall grass that gets the scythe. One mustn’t stand out. Throughout the history of the East the common people survived by blending into the landscape, by not sticking out, and by holding together. Community is all.
In the States it is said that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. By sticking out, by standing up and being heard more can be accomplished than by being lost in the throng. The society and history of the States was formed by people who stood out, who left the familiar, unwilling to merely endure, determined to change their lives – to overcome. Standing out, individuality, is still valued. Both societies have paid a cost.
In the United States and throughout the West family bonds are loose, people are mobile and continuity is strained. Uniqueness is taken out of context, the sense of community is fractured, and intimacy is little known. In Central and Eastern Europe boundaries are sharply defined and culturally enforced, initiative and experimentation are stymied, individual responsibility is diminished, uniqueness is not treasured as an asset and the honesty of intimacy is subordinated to the wants, not necessarily needs, of others with more perceived power.
Neither extreme faces the facts of how the Lord has made us to be.
The fact is that we are individuals.
Every Slovak, every American, every citizen of Katmandu and Nukunono, everyone who is, has ever been or ever will be is, was or will be an individual.
Individuality has to do with relationship. It is relation-oriented – or rather arelation-oriented. By definition the individual is something that cannot be divided or isolated further. One alone. One alone we are born and die, sin, repent and are redeemed. One alone we stand before our Father. One. But one is the starting point from which one progresses towards relationship and intimacy. The individual is the building block – the first piece of any relationship.
To focus on and elevate individuality is individualism – the primacy of the one. The individualist’s world is divided down to “me” – and “them”. Individualism cuts relationships. Individualists don’t want to be stereotyped or lumped in with anyone else. They are determined to be their own person – but that is an impossibility. We are never apart from relationships. Our lives are not ever lived in isolation, no matter what we might want to believe. To pretend otherwise is to flout sanity. Individualists, in their desire to be only individual, face isolation, self-doubt, lack of confidence, self-pity, paranoia, loneliness, and insecurity. We were not made to be alone.
He who separates himself seeks his own desire,
He quarrels against all sound wisdom.1
Too often people confuse “individuality” with “uniqueness”.
The fact is that we are unique.
The definition of unique is similar to “individual”. Both have to do with one. While the individual is one in isolation, being unique means being the same as no other. Individual is relational, the one apart from relationship. Unique has to do with being the best YOU that you can be – not being a copy of anyone else. We are not Big Macs, mass-produced the same the world over. We all have our own separate individual genetic blueprints, but that is only one aspect of our uniqueness. Unfortunately, instead of developing oneself, one’s own God-given uniqueness, we too often ape others, focusing on the physical. Supermodels, athletes, movie stars and other “beautiful” celebrities are copied. But we don’t only copy society’s concept of the beautiful. Walking down Karlsplatz in Vienna I see the flipside. The tattooed, pierced, shaved, augmented and altered bodies huddle together in dress-alike, look-alike, think-alike clots. A darker version of any other “in” crowd. It is easier to get lost in a crowd than to have our uniqueness seen. Generally, it is the physical that is emphasized – but we also conform to our cultures and set systems of thought. Today’s political correctness is a case in point. It is easier not to reason. Our uniqueness goes deeper than physiology, physical appearance or cultural programming.
Our uniqueness comes from the Lord. Psalm 139:13-16 speaks of how the Lord formed us in our mothers’ wombs, He ordained who we were and who we are to be. Genesis 1-3, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 go on to tell us of our relationship in the world.
Our being unique is not a stand-alone quality – it is made for use; use for the Lord and for each other. Uniqueness is only revealed in relationship. Against the backdrop of others our personal gifts can be seen and used.
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.2
Unlike individualism, uniqueness gives confidence and strength as our abilities, gifts and selves are developed and used. Individualism must be constantly maintained through separation and self-isolation. Uniqueness isn’t maintained but needs development and strengthening.
The fact is that we are made for community.
No person is alone. From birth we are a part of community; we are linked and interconnected.
Communism and socialism put the focus on the society and to varying degrees diminish the importance of the unique individual. Community is different. Community is a meshing of unique individuals into a single, amorphous, constantly changing entity. Not unstable, dynamic.
We tend to see our communities as too small and too isolated. We form couples and families and extended circles. We identify ourselves regionally, nationally, by continent and East or West. We are Christians and non-Christians. As Christians we form congregation subsets, congregations, denominations. But our understanding of community needs to be bigger. We need to remember that we are a part of all of humanity – and it is for the unsaved that the saved remain in this life. And, as Christians, the Living Church, the Body of Christ includes all that came before us and all that will follow (Hebrews 12:1).
The fact is that we are made for intimacy.
But, we are called to more than community, to being just collections of unique individuals. We are called to intimacy. Our example is the Trinity. Three in One. Three as One. As God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are intimately One, we are to be one with the Godhead, and with each other (John 17:20-23). In the True Vine we are grafted in and onto each other, winding and entwining, parts of a whole. Intimacy should be seen as a dynamic model, in motion not stagnant. We are ever-growing and ever-changing people and intimacy with each other has to be accommodating. Our intimacy gives ground to the other as we ourselves grow and spread. Our intimacy supports the other as we are supported. Our intimacy seeks forgiveness and forgives. The Trinity is perfect intimacy, while our intimacy is developing and maturing. We are babes in the process, but in the Lord we can grow. In the Sermon on the Mount3 Christ Jesus explains how we are to maintain our relationships, how to heal them and how to free them. The Lord’s aim is not merely for peace, or harmony, or for a collective transcendental “om”, but so that we can be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Intimacy demands that we take others into account. As we each follow the Lord, being perfected in His image, community and then intimacy requires that we learn to put others first. For this is Christ-mindedness:
… if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.4
Note that as in Christ’s Golden Rule,
Do to others as you would have them do to you.5
there is no negation of the individual, or diminishment of uniqueness. This is balance.
Our lives are ineffective as balancing acts teetering back and forth trying to find and maintain stability. With these four: Individuality, Uniqueness, Community and Intimacy, the best is working on making them an integrated whole, all working together in harmony.
And this takes a lifetime.
1 Proverbs 18:1 NASU (New American Standard Bible, Updated Version)
2 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 NASU
3 The Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5 through 7
4 Phil 2:1-4 NASU
5 Luke 6:31 NASU
Mike Scoggin (Michael D., Mick, Mickey, Mikey, Mišo, Miško – call me whatever, just not “late-for-dinner”) was born in 1957 and raised in Oregon. After university he wrote, edited, illustrated and designed for over twenty years. In 1998 he was offered a job at a Slovak University to teach writing and critical thought, which he did until September 2001.
He has been a Christian for over thirty years. He enjoys backpacking, sailing, travel, photography, painting and reading but, “not modern dance.”