In his book Common As Air, Kenyon College professor Lewis Hyde describes how Americans shifted during the early 19th century from being concerned about the common good to what he calls “possessive individualism.”
Referring to political theorist Hannah Arendt’s claim that those in early Greece and Rome were said to enter “full humanity” only when they actively contributed to the common good through public service (in the broad sense), Professor Hyde notes how the American transcendentalists, led by Ralph Waldo Emerson, moved from the communalism of the country’s founders to self-reliance and even removal from society itself, romanticized in works like Walden.
Hyde writes, ‘’We became free to decline external demands…. The individual’s identity arose not from attachments but from refusals.” The “Me Generation” did not start twenty years ago but rather more like 170 years ago.
So, what of generosity?
The story of Jesus’ life and death typifies the communal vs. possessive individualistic dichotomy: He was the Sent One, by the Father, and he obeyed unto death. He was tempted with owning the world’s kingdoms by the devil who, a possessive individualist, wanted Jesus to worship him. On the cross, Jesus’ body was broken and his relationship with the Father was severed, so that our local bodies could be made whole and we could be reconnected with God and each other.
Therefore, each of us has opportunities to connect and serve in community, such as affiliating with a congregation, becoming a member, joining a Fellowship Group, a Catalyst Group or attending a Catalyst Night, or volunteering on Sunday or with our small group at a Hope For New York affiliate agency.
For we are truly only fully human, and generously so, when we have died to self, love one another, and serve the city in community.
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