The Eastern Mind #9 — Self vs. Community

I want to further unpack the result of our foundational metaphysic. If we believe the universe is foundationally chaos, and we must control and predict, and the carpet can get pulled out from underneath of us at any moment, then there is a net side effect so common that we wouldn’t even consider it abnormal. It is rooted in a particular view of the world that is not in line with the invitation of scripture.

The western mind always begins the solution of any problem with the net impact on self. We see the world starting with the self and working outward. We view everything this way. Generosity is often only a value if we have extra to give, but we must make sure we take care of self first. Then, a cascading structure of resource allotment is based on those most dear to me.

This is very western. All the way back to Rome and before, this was true. Even in how towns functioned, water was apportioned, and influence was given. It was always rooted in the self of the most important person and structured based on production, accumulation, and status.

In this worldview, there are always going to be those who cannot bring value to the table. They don’t bring value to another person’s self, therefore they have no role in the societal structure. If you don’t produce, you don’t help me; if you don’t help me, you have no inherent value.

Who does this eliminate? What about babies who are given up as a matter of convenience? In the Roman world they were placed just outside the city gates to cook in the sun and die due to exposure. What about the kid with Down syndrome or the quadriplegic who will always be dependent on the system for help? Do they have value?

In the eastern world, it is very different. They see their foundational impulse as caring for the community first. When each person lives this way, all needs are met. And this idea has marked me forever.

When I was in Israel in 2013, I was on a tour that had a surprise stop in the desert to watch a shepherd boy with his sheep. There were 60 of us overfed Americans standing on the side of the highway, watching a shepherd who we later found out was more than four hours away from his tent, his family, and his food.

Out of nowhere, this kid came over to our group and gave us his lunch. It wasn’t much. And it wouldn’t have satisfied the hunger of any one of the people on the tour, let alone all of us. But this kid gave us everything he had. Understand, he was choosing to go hungry for the rest of the day. He wasn’t going to go home and get more. He wasn’t going to be able to eat until late that night, and it was early morning. But he gave it anyway, because in the eastern world, we take care of the community before we care for ourselves.

While this seems simple enough, I can tell you that this foundationally shook me. If I was the shepherd boy, I would have said hello. I would have visited and shared information about shepherding, and even entertained a few Bible passages and questions from these crazy tourists standing on the highway. But I would not have given them my food. I would have nothing to eat if I did that. God wouldn’t ask me to do that, would He? God would want me to be happy, wouldn’t He?

In the eastern world, the rich man in the town has the poorest person placed daily at his driveway. It is his responsibility and privilege to care for the poor man. In our world, we would call the police. Now read the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

May you find the power of “others first.” And may you show the world what it means to serve one another in love.