In the original stage play of The Sound of Music there’s a song called “No Way To Stop It” that didn’t make it into the more famous movie. It’s sung by Max (the family friend who arranges for the Von Trapp’s to sing in the festival at the end of the movie) and it’s a song of unabashed egotism. It ends like this:
Every star on every whirling planet/And every constellation in the sky/Revolves around the center of the universe/That lovely thing called “I”
In other words, I am the center of the universe. My universe. If things don’t please royal Me, I’ll have nothing to do with them. If I’m not enriched in some way by you or God or church or the government or my next door neighbor or whatever, I reserve the right to turn my back, opt out, and do my own thing elsewhere. This is the essence of what many have come to call our “consumerist culture” in America. Everything is about Me.But what happens when these divine, self-absorbed Me’s collide with each other? When my Me collides with your Me?
A t-shirt I saw recently highlighted the clash: “It’s not you. It’s Me!” In a twist on the old break-up line, this shirt asserted that there can only be one center of the universe, and let me set you straight, you’re not it … I am. But that only accentuates the clash of self-divine personalities, doesn’t it? We both want it to be about Me. The problem is that he’s got his Me and I’ve got my Me.
There’s an often-forgotten problem with placing myself at the center of the universe: It’s lonely. Just like it’s lonely at the top, it’s lonely in the center. When everything is about me and I’m in the middle, I’m all alone. I will gladly have you around when you act how I want you to, but the only thing that ties us together is my good pleasure. When everything in my life is an opt-in/opt-out option — marriages, schools, worship services, jobs, friendships, prayer, whatever — the only person left over is me. I am a universe to myself.
But whenever I reduce it all to Me, the Me that I reduce it to is itself reduced. The less connected I am to others, the more adrift I am.
Christians refuse to think of ourselves as the center of the universe. I do not stand alone in the middle of things that revolve around me. No. God is at the center of all things. But even at the center of all things, God is not alone.
We believe that God is Trinity. So, at the center is not the biggest Ego of all, not the biggest Me of all. At the center is God-in-relationship. At the center is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loving, serving, creating, enjoying, giving, submitting, praying, making, saving, playing, sanctifying with each other, for each other, to each other.
At the center of all things is not a Me. It’s an Us.
As Christians in church communities, we need to get us-ness into our very bones. We need it to shape the way we talk and eat and work and worship and spend our money. We need it to shape absolutely everything about who we are! Nothing we do is ever really private; it is always done in the context of relationships, even when it’s done when we’re by ourselves, because we are always connected to others. Recognizing and honoring and growing on those connections is essential to our health as persons and as a community.
How would Sunday morning worship change if you realized that you are truly connected to the others gathered with you? That worship isn’t something that you do for yourself (and, heaven’s, it’s certainly not about something so ego-driven as “centering yourself”!), but something you do for you-and-God and you-and-the-community, for us?
How would things change if the actually existence of the church wasn’t for our own sakes, but for the sake of God and the larger local community?
How would your money-spending change if you knew that your bank account doesn’t belong to you alone, but to God and to the others you share this world with?
What if your car wasn’t yours alone? Your phone? Your television? The food on your table? (I just noticed that I wasn’t able to keep away from using the word “your” with each of those things. The Me-ness of possessiveness is so ingrained in who we are.)
We belong to God. And we belong to each other. The Church belongs to God and it exists for the sake of the world God has sent us to. If we get that inside of ourselves, we will become a truly missional people, a people who actively extend the love of God to one another in both word and deed.