Our Urge to De-merge

I sat on the couch performing surgery on myself. My notebook warmed my lap as I severed myself into two parts. This was no clean in & out surgery. I cut a connecting artery here, I transplanted an organ from this side to that, and I did elaborate zig-zag stitching worthy of a master seamstress.

A bi-vocational minister, I was performing surgery on my three-decade long resume into two versions: the early childhood version and the ministry version. I struggled to decide what parts went where. My academic advising of students went beyond classes as I listened and counseled about life issues. I always considered that part of my life a ministry. Too bad it didn’t really look that way on paper. 

As I cut and stitched my resume, I found myself connecting one life experience to another only to cut them apart a few minutes later. I kept changing my mind. It wasn’t that I was indecisive… it’s just that  I wanted the documents to fully represent who I am. In the end, I gave up and reassembled the two resumes into one. If churches didn’t value my secular work or if secular institutions didn’t value my ministry, well, I reasoned, they didn’t value who I am.

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Blame the Greeks or blame the Gnostics, either way our culture suffers from deeply ingrained dualistic thinking. This manifests in severing ourselves from one another as well as cutting ourselves apart. The concept of wholeness is somehow an alternative,  an “on the fringes” way of thinking. 

In politics, where we seem to have lost respect for any opinion but our own, this dualism of polarization needs no explanation to any but the most ardent hermit. The concept of communal problem solving is a decaying corpse. We’ve abandoned any semblance of civil discourse or seeing the value in other ideas.

In our sociocultural discourse we mirror the judgementalism of politics. If you don’t do things the way I do then you must be flawed. At the very least your silly ways are worthy of my laughter, ridicule, name calling, or sarcasm. 

As North Americans, we pretend that we don’t need one another. Having bought into the myth of the white pioneer rugged individualist, who did it by himself, we de-merge from others. It doesn’t matter that white pioneers journeyed across the continent in groups, relying on the help of one another. We tell ourselves we can go it alone. 

In contemporary times this manifests in lonely parenting, in stubborn self-reliance, and in self-hatred when we cannot do it all on our own. The Super-Mom myth that emerged in the last century is an example of this. Women were told that they could give 100% to a career and 100% to the home–without help from anyone else. Unable to achieve 200% by oneself, too many parents feel guilty.

As an instructor of future teachers, one of the core concepts I sought to teach students was that of the whole child. This is the idea that all aspects of the child, physical, social-emotional, and cognitive, are inextricably linked. I had to teach this alternative idea because we have artificially severed the academic from the physical and social-emotional. While there is a strong movement supporting wholeness, both within and outside the educational establishments, they are fighting an uphill battle against a deeply ingrained dualism.

Religion itself too often ups the ante. In religious dualism we’re dragged beyond the one life we all know we have, into the next. Many Christian sects, for example, set up the dualism of insiders who are saved and rewarded versus outsiders, everyone else, who is unsaved (lost?) and will surely burn in a fiery hell. We convince ourselves that only right-thinking people are worthy of the extravagant love of the God.

The dualism in some Christian circles, spurred by a tradition that misinterprets scripture has deemed the physical as evil or unworthy and the spiritual as good and pure. Hence, we rarely talk about sexuality except to condemn it. Christian doctrine, historically decided by men, is especially critical of women’s bodies and sexuality. The church’s discomfort even manifests in extra biblical beliefs about the immaculate conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This belief reflects dualistic thinking in which the body (sexuality) is bad and the spiritual is good. 

Is it any wonder that we even split ourselves apart? All of this dualistic, either/or thinking, leads to perceiving ourselves as less than whole. Our culture, politics, and religious life have resulted in an urge to de-merge. To reject our physicality or other aspects of our God-created nature, is to reject not only ourselves but the One who created us.

God of Wholeness,

You who created us to depend upon one another,
    You who created us each with Gifts needed by others,
        We ask that you help us to recognize,
           our need for one another.

You who created us each as tapestries of wholeness, 
    as images of your divinity,
        We ask that you help us to see the You,
            in us and in one another.

You whose love knows no boundaries,
    whose loving wholeness encapsulates all of creation,
         We offer gratitude for the faith you have in us.

Divine wholeness, 
     may we strive for faithfulness to You.
Gently encourage us to give up,
     our arrogant individualism,
     and our self-hatred that manifests,
         in rejecting parts of ourselves.

For it is the One-ness of You,
     in the acceptance of ourselves,
     and the embracing of one another,
     that we will find You.

In the many names humanity has used for you,
    we pray for wholeness.


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