“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty ‘Hi-ho, Silver!’, The Lone Ranger!” That’s how we like our heroes: strong, independent (except for a sidekick), using their own standards to carry out justice. When the Lone Ranger rides, he only has himself to depend on: his own wits, his own strength, his own virtue. He succeeds because he only relies on himself. Right?
This attitude has carried over to the faith of most Americans. Most of the Christian churches in this country reinforce this, the individual believer is the most important component of faith and church comes somewhere after this. There are even churches that say the individual is the primary interpreter of the faith and can believe whatever they wish. The freedom that we value for us as Americans is also an absolute freedom for the believer, independent of anyone else. Of course, history is full of stories of individual believers that took their ideas to extremes, and caused untold pain for themselves and others.
Jesus never sent anyone on a solo mission. He sent his disciples out to proclaim the coming kingdom in twos, even Judas was part of this mission. Paul never traveled alone: in the beginning he was an associate of Barnabas, and later on he had others with him. Being alone was hazardous: sickness was common, especially among travelers going to strange places with different food and water. A lone traveler could come to grief very quickly with bands of robbers in the hills, two could stand back to back to fend off comers from every direction. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto, and would have come to grief without him.
The Catholic Church has always held itself as a community of believers founded by Christ. The individual has an absolute dignity before God, but we are not lone rangers. Our responsibility to serve one other, individually and as a church, is how we serve and obey Christ. What we believe together as a people that we have received from Christ through Scripture and Tradition is the standard of our Faith and our life.
We aren’t God’s enforcers, either. Evil deeds are something we can safely hate, but not the people involved. Bad things happen to good people, and people we love have attitudes and beliefs we may not like. We don’t change them by winning gunfights, we win by changing hearts, and the first heart we usually have to change in the one inside us. When we’re wounded, we have to let those wounds pull us closer to Christ, whose wounds transformed us. Faith as a license for uncharitable thoughts and actions toward evildoers is an abuse of Faith that I’ve spoken of before in The Warrior Code.
An image that’s come to my mind lately is one that pops up frequently in the book of Revelation: several scenes have the redeemed singing praise to the Lamb to the accompaniment of the harp. In many ways, the Church is like a choir: we are called to sing with all our hearts, but always listening to those around us. I’ve heard choirs full of soloists whose voices competed with each other; someday, I’ll stop having the nightmares. When we come into the rehearsal hall and the concert hall, we’re called to remember the wise words of Quincy Jones at an all star recording session: “Check your egos at the door.” In a choir, we’re called to breathe together, feel the music together, develop an instinctive connection with one another. Working on our individual voice is important and helps the whole, but we still sing together in a bound beyond description. The music we sing as part of the choir of the Redeemed is Christ.
We are called to work on our personal relationship with Christ, and our communal relationship with Christ, together at the same time. As Christians, we are all in this together and we’re called to move together, not strike out on our own.