Individualism: Everything Jesus Taught about the American Way

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Individualism: the idea that freedom of thought and action for each person is the most important quality of a society, rather than shared effort and responsibility

I’ve got to say, I’m a little conflicted about this topic. Because I really love my freedom of thought and action. Really really.

Really. 

It’s also clear to me that we’ve gone too far with it. 

But it’s really hard to draw the line between personal freedom and shared responsibility, isn’t it?

Individualism is one of the greatest innovations in history. It has its roots in the Bible. It’s the foundation of our country, and of all Western society.  I wouldn’t trade it. 

But it also has a long list of downsides.

Individualism combines with our natural human arrogance in an insidious way. I don’t think it would be off-base to say that all of the major problems we’re facing in our society right now are all consequences of individualism. Our division, our suspicion of one another, our inability to talk about our values with people who don’t agree, the idea of a post-truth world, even the staggering wealth gap, and the disappearing middle class, all stem from individualism run amok.

But it’s still better than the alternatives, which on the extreme end politically would be communism and totalitarianism, and in the local church and community would be communal living, and I really like my privacy.

So I’m conflicted. 

That’s why we’re looking at everything Jesus taught about the American Way. Because there are a lot of things about being an American that aren’t necessarily bad,  that shape the way we see the world, and the way we approach God. But they sure aren’t Christian. And individualism is one of those things. 

Individualism is all about each person doing things their own way.

That’s not the way the world always was, and there’s a whole history to that, but it’s kind of boring, so we’re not going to get into it. 

Well maybe just a little. And really reductionistic… 

So…why did the Pilgrims cross the ocean?

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Podcast 23: Scarcity- EJT about the American Way!

Here is Megan and Dave’s 23rd episode of the Everything Jesus Taught Podcast!

In this 31 minute long podcast episode, we talk about Scarcity and Abundance as a part of everything Jesus taught about the American Way. We also chat about:

  • Paper towels and key lime pie
  • Closet space in the church
  • Multiplying wheelchairs!
  • Dave’s inability to throw away food
  • Our conflicted minimalist aspirations
  • Love and stuff

Listen, comment, subscribe, share, and ask questions for them to answer on the next episode!

Podcast 22: EJT about Truth, Justice and the American Way!

After an unintentional hiatus for the summer…here is Megan and Dave’s 22nd episode of the Everything Jesus Taught Podcast!

In a nearly 45 minute long podcast episode, we talk about Truth, Justice and the American WayWe also catch up about:

  • Summer time travels (that our kids took without us)
  • How much money Dave would have if he hadn’t sold that Apple stock in 2007
  • Walter White and Tony Soprano
  • Dave’s problems with fundamentalists
  • Meditation

Listen, comment, subscribe, share, and ask questions for them to answer on the next episode!

Everything Jesus Taught about the American Way: Toughness

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We’ve looked at truth and justice. For the next three posts we’re going to look at everything Jesus taught about the American way.

Just like Superman! But we will continue to wear our underwear inside of our clothes.

We’ve picked three of the core values that most of us share as Americans, and we will hold them up against the teachings of Jesus to see what we find. As core values ,they often are completely unquestioned. We just believe them and sometimes we don’t even know that we believe them. They just are. 

And the first one is really captured by Superman, especially when the bullets bounce off of his chest.

And that’s toughness.

Toughness

Being super tough is what gets you hero status for us here in America. We worship the kind of power that makes others submit, whether they like it or not.

On the screen, power usually belongs to a good guy who just wants to be left alone until he’s pushed to the edge. But once he is pushed far enough, he always kills all the bad guys. And there’s something in us as Americans that says that’s what it means to be tough.  

But what did Jesus teach? 

Well, Jesus taught a kind of toughness especially for people with no power.  

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Justice for the Vulnerable

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I’ve been struck by two things recently that seem to contradict each other.

The first is that I’ve heard a lot of people say “The economy is so hot right now!” 

Granted I don’t really know what they mean. But I believe them. Partly because they seem like the kinds of guys who would know. And partly because I see lots of buildings going up everywhere. So I guess, the economy is so hot right now. 

But the other thing I notice is that there seem to be more people holding signs asking for money than there were even a year ago.

Moms holding a baby in one hand and a cardboard sign asking for help in the other, standing next to the drive-thru at Chick-fil-a. That feels new. It feels wrong. And it feels like the opposite of the economy being so hot right now. 

And more than anything, it makes me feel powerless.

I want to help. I do help. I’m sure you do too.

And at the same time, I’ve heard the same story, so many times, always with more details than I can keep track of, of job offers in other cities and cars that need gas, that I’ve become a little hardened to just how hard it is to be poor and vulnerable in this city. 

People are in trouble. They are taken advantage of, stepped on, overlooked, and cast aside.

And I want to help, but I don’t know how.

Or more precisely, I don’t know how to help and still have my life stay exactly as it is. 

So if that’s something that you struggle with too, keep reading.

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Listening For Truth

The way we listen determines what, if anything, we learn.  

That truth nugget is fleshed out beautifully by this story.

“When I was young my father said to me: “Knowledge is Power….Francis Bacon”

I understood it as “Knowledge is power, France is Bacon”.

For more than a decade I wondered over the meaning of the second part and what was the surreal linkage between the two? If I said the quote to someone, “Knowledge is power, France is Bacon” they nodded knowingly. Or someone might say, “Knowledge is power” and I’d finish the quote “France is Bacon” and they wouldn’t look at me like I’d said something very odd but thoughtfully agree.

I did ask a teacher what did “Knowledge is power, France is bacon” mean and got a full 10 minute explanation of the Knowledge is power bit but nothing on “France is bacon”. When I prompted further explanation by saying “France is Bacon?” in a questioning tone I just got a “yes”. at 12 I didn’t have the confidence to press it further. I just accepted it as something I’d never understand. It wasn’t until years later I saw it written down that the penny dropped.” (- Lard_Baron of Reddit)

I really admire that kid. Mostly, for sharing that story. But also, for keeping at it.

He was pretty sure that something wasn’t right, so he kept trying to find out what it was. Now, if he had just come out and asked somebody, he would have saved himself some trouble. But then we wouldn’t have that story. And I’m glad we do. 

It reminds me of this teaching from Jesus.

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Disagreements and the 3 Kinds of Truth

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Do you remember this dress?

What colors do you see here? Some people see white and gold. Others see blue and black. That’s crazy to me.

 

How about this sound?

What did you hear? I hear Yanny.

Some of our disagreements just come down to the way we see things, or hear things.  And there are things like the dress and the audio clip, that just don’t really matter, and it’s funny, and we can just appreciate how different we are. 

But there are some things we disagree about with people that we can’t just dismiss as a difference of opinion. They matter far more than what color a dress is.

But at the same time, the way that we have been talking about these important matters just isn’t working. 

So how are we supposed to disagree when it’s about morality, or science or religion?

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Podcast Episode 21 (Truth 2)

Here is Megan and Dave’s 21th episode of the Everything Jesus Taught Podcast!

In this 16 and a half minute long podcast episode, we talk about Truth and EvidenceWe also chat about:

  • Jury Duty
  • How the Bible is like testimony
  • Alligators
  • Why people don’t like good news
  • Dave gives a retraction about something he said last week

Listen, comment, subscribe, share, and ask questions for them to answer on the next episode!

Podcast Episode 20 (Truth 1)

Here is Megan and Dave’s 20th episode of the Everything Jesus Taught Podcast!

In this 21 minute long podcast episode, we talk about Truth and How and Why We Believe What We doWe also chat about:

  • Our Questionable Leadership
  • Caveman Brains
  • Car Magnets
  • The comforting lies of Disney World

Listen, comment, subscribe, share, and ask questions for them to answer on the next episode!

Truth and Being Social

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I remember the first time I disobeyed a posted sign. I felt like such a rebel.

I felt like this guy right here.

Signs are really powerful for us. But the signs I want to talk about today aren’t the flat signs with words and warnings printed on them.

I want to talk about the kinds of signs we look for, and listen for, that let us know if someone else is a part of our tribe, or not.

Like the way people dress.

Look at this picture. You instantly know if you can, or want to, hang out with these guys, right? You don’t need to think about it. You just know.

There are all kinds of signs that are indicators, that create an in-group and an out-group. There are all kinds of signs that say, “You’re either with us, or you’re against us. And they’re not always physical signs.

The way we dress, or talk, what we talk about, who we listen to, who we hate…all of these things are signs that say what group we belong to. All of these things are signs that tell us who we are.

Signs and the belonging they signify are powerful, so powerful that they short-circuit our ability to reason and they short circuit our faith.  Signs pre-determine what we believe to be true.

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