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Collectivity versus Individuality


There was a time, say pre-Reformation when suddenly the printing press began to change how people read and illiteracy, while still quite high, was beginning to sway from the advance of universities and the  access to knowledge.  In those times people most often read together. They read in collectivity, that is, as a group with someone reading a text to them.  Speed forward to the present information age and all of the access via technology that we have and you find that most people read to themselves.  Is your identity a collectivity or are you some kind of rugged individual, an island in an archipelago of individuals? It certainly seems the latter best describes the experience of riding on a metro car.

People are squished together on those cars but for the most part, they are individuals either reading alone or plugged into a listening device and listening alone.  That is a collectivity.  It is not necessarily communion.

Perhaps you have discovered Google’s Art Project.  It is a fantastic site that gives you access to museums and their collections from around the world.  Here is a link to one of my favorite artists, Albrecht Dürer who lived in the 16th century and his etching, Melencolia. So you can visit a museum alone, by yourself at your computer or mobile device and study paintings and arts of all kinds without ever being in a group.  One might ask, is it possible to interpret art apart from a collectivity or communion of persons?

This brings me to church (of course I’m trying to make a point about what we do and who we are on Sunday).  If you show up in worship on Sunday then you are at this stage of the world, odd.  Instead of reading alone in a cafe or at home, browsing the Sunday paper, you’re sitting in the midst of others who are collectively listening to scripture being read to them and proclaimed to you.  Is it possible that you are onto something the rest of our culture is not privy to or ignoring? Indeed, I think you are.  Something transformative takes place in the midst of a collection of people, particularly a collectivity that is also a communion.  You can read the scriptures alone and privately (and should). But the melding of your life with the lives of others in that sacred moment–that is simply an ancient way of getting at the truth of yourself and the world.  Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, the scripture says.  One hour in the week, week in and week out, shoulder to shoulder with others who are reading, singing, praying and listening at the same time in the same holy space–you don’t have to grasp that so much as allow that to grasp you.