Leaning Into Who We Are

  • Jack Heppner, Author
  • Retired Educator

…as members of a social species, we don’t derive strength from our rugged individualism, but rather from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together. Our neural, hormonal, and genetic makeup support interdependence over independence.

~ Brené Brown in Braving the Wilderness, 2017, p. 53

Our natural inclination toward interdependence as a species was on full display last month as the world cheered on the international effort to free 12 boys and their soccer coach from deep inside a flooded cave in Thailand. It could have been otherwise. We could have focused blame on the 25-year-old coach for foolishly taking his team into the cave just as the rainy season was beginning. We could have looked the other way while muttering, “They got themselves into that mess; so let them find a way to get out of it!” But we didn’t. Instead the world came together at great cost to rescue people they didn’t even know.

I didn’t hear anyone come up with excuses for being indifferent: The kids were not part of our church youth group. What religion do they subscribe to anyway? Why are a few kids in Thailand so important to the world? These were kids of color. A dozen kids are so few compared to the many others who suffer misfortune in the world.

No way. These kids were in trouble and the world came to their rescue. And when the final group emerged from the cave there was a collective sigh of relief the world over!

I have noticed this sense of global interdependence before. For example, the rescue of miners in Chile in 2010 likewise captivated the world’s attention. Resources flooded in from all over the world and we collectively counted down the number of meters left to drill to create the shaft that would bring the miners out. Whenever hurricanes strike, stories emerge of strangers helping strangers in their time of crisis. Recently I heard of three young men who risked their lives rescuing a blind man who had fallen onto the tracks of a subway train. And then there was the Go-Fund-Me page that raised millions of dollars for the victims of the Humbolt Broncos accident.

Why do we do such things? Because, as Brené Brown would say, it is in our DNA to do so. Humans are wired that way – created in God’s image. But that gets me thinking; if the world can come together to rescue people in a crisis situation, why do we so easily resort to our independent ways once the drama is over? What keeps us leaning into independence most of the time? Why are so many of us absorbed in a type of winning that requires others to lose? What would happen with our mundane lives if we regularly practiced the kind of interdependence we saw on display when a dozen kids were rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand?

To be fair, there are plenty of examples of people who live an interdependent lifestyle. Some governments, or at least individuals within governments around the world are doing their best for the welfare of all their people. At the same time we are bombarded with daily news of government policy and court decisions that favor the wealthy over the poor; that erode the minimal support structures which the poor and destitute rely on for survival. What is driving the political movement to the right around the world that fails to see our need for global interdependence? How is it that thousands of people die needlessly every year in the richest country in the world because they don’t have access to healthcare and those in power are doing their best to keep it that way? Why are corporate profits considered more important than the welfare of the poor? And why do I so often catch myself thinking about my own self-interest and forgetting about the interests of others?

What troubles me the most in all of this is that the white, evangelical world in America is providing religious cover for the operatives who stoke the fires of fear, bigotry, misogyny, racism, intolerance and independence. I was raised in the evangelical world and served the church for most of my life as an Evangelical Anabaptist missionary, teacher, preacher, writer and administrator. But like Francis Schaeffer, I have gone on record to renounce my affiliation with the evangelical movement in North America. I cannot sit idly by and identify with a Christian movement that proposes we go against the very interdependent identity that is part of our created human DNA. That would require me to renounce my understanding of the Gospel and the mandate Jesus left us with. Once a Christian movement abandons the essence of what it means to be human and finds all kinds of ways to sideline Jesus and his teachings, it is time to jump ship even if it means learning to “walk on water.”

The Christianity I envision might be compared to experiencing daily what the world experienced when the Thai youth were being rescued. Not only to experience what we were created to experience, but to follow Jesus into the world where he can most readily be found – alongside those who suffer for whatever reason.

I have reflected recently on why I find such deep joy and fulfillment through my involvement with the Altona Community Garden. I am beginning to understand that it most likely comes from living in sympathetic vibration with my created DNA. The garden itself came into being because of the interdependence of the Altona Community Action Network and the task force it appointed, as well as the support of local civic and business leaders. And now as I watch a truly interdependent gardening community participating in life together I have a sense that something, at least, is right in God’s world.

You might say that we are learning to lean into who we really are.