One of my favorite songs, “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes says, “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique/ Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes/ unique in each way you can see/ And now after some thinking/ I’d say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.”
A snowflake melts. But a cog works towards something. A cog acts.
I grew up being told I was special. If you’re under 35, you probably know what I mean. We’re the generation of grade inflation, personal branding and individualism. It’s almost a joke how easily younger generations earn trophies, special awards and praise for almost anything. I’m special … but so what?
On some level, this attitude goes beyond empowerment and crosses over in patronization. I don’t want to be told I’m special or unique or superior. I’m tired of the relentless effort it takes to put on a facade and hide my flaws and pretend I measure up to some invisible standard. I want to know that it’s OK to fail and that I’m not alone when I do. I want to know there’s something bigger and better than the trite and wishy-washy ambitions I attempt.
This is one of the reasons I follow Christ. I don’t want to be larger-than-life. Rather, I want my life to be part of something larger.
The Larger Story
There’s a tendency in our culture, and often in the Church, as well, to say that our faith is something personal, something just between us and God. But whether we realize it or not, we’re all part of a larger story. While we absolutely should have a personal relationship with our Creator, we also need to acknowledge that our life—and our faith—is not just about us. I think God never intended for my life to be about me and your life to be about you—like two unique snowflakes melting alone on the ground. Rather, God intended for our lives to be meshed and grinding forward toward something purposeful.
And while that’s a lovely sentiment, the truth is that human beings have been falling short of this reality since the beginning. It’s difficult to make your life about someone else when you’re kind of stuck inside, well, you. Even a cog is useless when it’s left alone.
Einstein once said, “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.”
In a similar (and maybe slightly less existential crisis sounding) spirit, Paul reminds us, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Cor. 16:9).
Ever think about what it means to be part of the “Body of Christ”? The words “Christ” and “Messiah” (the Greek and Hebrew for the same phrase, “anointed one”) existed long before Jesus, being used in the first century as a term for a military king who would save the Israelites from the empire that happened to be ruling at the time. No one was part of the Body of Christ. That would be crazy talk because for hundreds of years these people were waiting for their “anointed one” to save them from a real, physical, political oppression. All their problems, all their hurts and pains, would be salvaged by their hero. So they waited.
But Jesus came, and instead of reveling in His uniqueness, power and divinity, He died. The “Christ” didn’t lead an uprising like everyone expected. He gave up His life—kind of problematic if you’re trying to lead a military coup. This is what caused so much controversy about His claim of messiahship. A defining expectation of the Messiah was liberation! Instead, what seemed to concern Jesus was that “they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (John 17:21).
Jesus so believed in our potential for unity that He compared it to the oneness He experienced with God.
So when the first followers of Jesus began to use the phrase “Body of Christ,” there was a profound statement involved in claiming this:
I am part of the Body of Christ.
I no longer waiting for someone special to come and fix it all for us.
I am no longer bound by my nation’s borders, but partner with God building a new Kingdom.
I no longer live for myself, but as part of something bigger.
I am part of the process.
I am part of the body of Christ.
But the evolution of the word “Christ” (again, Greek for “anointed one”) evolved even beyond an expectation for a military king. The author of Ephesians writes, “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (Ephesians 4:10).
The whole universe? This is suddenly way bigger than one nation.
All Things New
Einstein would have loved this. At the core of Christianity is a belief that Christ and His teachings are not only about a nation or a specific group of people, but the universe and all reality.
We were never meant to champion individualism and the loneliness that comes with it.
We were meant to be part of the Christ-filled universe where mutual sacrifice leads not only to a new kind of Kingdom, but a new kind of existence. We believe that a day will come when everything is redeemed and God completes a Kingdom that’s been in the works for a long time.
“Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
Fleet Foxes sensed that there’s a bigger reality to be part of. But “Helplessness Blues” continues, “I don’t know what that will be.”
But we do—it’s building toward God’s Kingdom now and into eternity.
And when we contribute to it, when we’re a “functioning cog in some great machinery” serving something beyond ourselves, that’s when we’re really special.