Among U2’s greatest hits is a song that also happens to exist among my personal favorites. Which song you ask? “One.”
This song, over the past few years, has resonated strongly with some of my personal experiences of deep connection, love, conflict, alienation, and reconciliation. I think this song, above all else, captures the complications of intense and intimate relationships – something difficult to do in a world that is increasingly accepting of simplistic black & white solutions.
One lyrical detail that many may miss is the repeated and essential line, “we get to carry each other.” It is not an exhortation but a reminder. It’s not that “we’ve got to,” but, “we get to.”
In the midst of societal conflicts and the often resulting despair and oppression, it is easy to forget that we are, in fact, gifts to one another – especially in a western protestant context in which we have problematically individualized salvation as the forgiveness of “my” sins rather than understanding it as God’s ongoing work of restoring creation to its righteous order.
The temptation in such a context is to make demands of one another, gain leverage, manipulate, and seek personal gain. Yet these are the ways of destruction. Just look around.
The apostle Paul follows the same pattern as Bono (or vice-versa) in 1 Corinthians. The church in Corinth has split up into factions, each group rallying around their favorite church figure. Here Paul reminds them that they each are one as they have been united in Christ, called to receive and serve one another in love. Paul acknowledges their diversity as Christ’s body but emphasizes their unity as Christ’s bride.
In Acts 4 we are given a picture of the early church,
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
How capitalist of them! (sarcasm)
Listening to the song recently, I was also reminded of Mark 2:1-5
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralized man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
What resonates so much with me both in this passage and in the song is that the communal dynamic is essential to the forgiveness and healing. Jesus forgives and heals when he saw their faith. Christianity is not mere belief, but actions that cannot be carried out alone. That is, the practice of forgiveness and reconcilation require community.
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes,
There is a deep misunderstanding about how Christianity works. Of course we believe that God is God and we are not and that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit but that this is not a set of propositions — but is rather embedded in a community of practices that make those beliefs themselves work and give us a community by which we are shaped. Religious belief is not just some kind of primitive metaphysics, but in fact it is a performance just like you’d perform Lear. What people think Christianity is, is that it’s like the text of Lear, rather than the actual production of Lear. It has to be performed for you to understand what Lear is — a drama. You can read it, but unfortunately Christians so often want to make Christianity a text rather than a performance.
What Hauerwas asserts is that Christianity- like a Shakespearean play- is something that cannot be fully understood, or fully articulated, absent of community.
We belong to one another and we’re given to each other as gifts. We do indeed lose sight of that quite often, seeing each other as obstacles to flourishing and mutual delight rather than the means to it. What is needed, however, is clarified vision and a gospel shaped imagination so that we can see once again that “we’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.”