Happy Interdependence Day!
Hermey: Hey, what do you say we both be independent together, huh?
Rudolph: You wouldn’t mind my – red nose?
Hermey: Not if you don’t mind me being a dentist.
Rudolph: [shaking hands with Hermey] It’s a deal.
I love that line, “What do you say we both be independent together, huh?”
Makes me grin every time I make my family hunker down to watch Rudolf in the Christmas season. “Independent together!”
Makes me grin every Fourth of July too.
“What do you say we both be independent together, huh?”
Today is Independence Day, a day when US citizens celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the announcement of the separation of the 13 colonies from the British Empire, now bound together as one nation.
We were independent together!
It’s a motif that weaves itself through our country’s history and traditions and self-image: We Built This was a tremendously successful campaign of the Republican Party in 2012, even if built on an out-of-context soundbite offered up by President Obama.
It appealed to a wide swath of the electorate: I don’t need government or anybody else! I have bootstraps, and I’m pulling myself up by them.
I built this! I am independent!
Hermey would have loved this line. Right before the quote above, he tells Rudolph, defiantly: “But I don’t need anybody: I’m…I’m independent!” Rudolph is all in with that noise: he’d just gotten mocked and shunned and may never again see the doe he’ll love forevermore anyway. As Hermey wasn’t exactly getting the warm fuzzies at the Elf Factory, the two of them bonded together…um, independently.
See, campaign motto aside, we aren’t at all independent. (For starters, somebody else made those bootstraps you’re wearing.)
But more than that, we aren’t made to be independent.
Jewish scholar Martin Buber wrote a stunning book called “I-Thou.” In it, he writes of two different ways of being with another: An “I-It” (or “I-She,” or “I-He”) and an “I-Thou” way of engagement.
In the first mode (I/It [or She or He]), each of us (independently) sees the Other as an object. The Other is completely separate, is a tool, is an external, is something that serves a purpose for the Self.
In the second mode (I/Thou) we see that our existence is tied to that of the Other’s. There is a relationship between the I and the Thou, and because of it, something new is created. Transformation occurs.
In both ways of being in and with the world, the Other can be inanimate (a rock) or another living being (a cow, say. Or a person.)
Buber, of course, wants us to consider leaning into the latter, the I-Thou dynamic. He famously wrote, “All actual life is encounter.”
This “encountering” notion is key for Buber, because in these encounters with an Other, we open ourselves to encountering God. Separate Its become intertwined Thous.
When this happens, Buber says, we experience a revelation of God. We are not meant to be alone, but rather to experience the Other…who, in turn, sees us, encounters us, also as a Thou, and not an It.
Paul, the Jew-become-Christian, understood this concept when he wrote this in 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 12:1-31
12Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
We have need of each other. Eyes need heads, and hands, and feet, and even body parts that we don’t mention in polite company (unless you are Julian of Norwich, who not only mentions such places, but gives thanks for them).
Here’s another way of thinking about it. Last week I got a tipoff about this site: Better Living Through Beowulf. The link was to this page: No Room in This House for Two “I”s. The author, Robin Bates, uses this entry to reflect on suicide bombings in Kuwait and shootings in Charleston and grace and shared encounter.
He quotes the Sufi mystic, scholar, and poet Rumi, who wrote the following verse:
A man knocked at the door of his beloved.
“Who are you, trusted one?” thus asked the friend.
He answered: “I!” The friend said: “Go away,
Here is no place for people raw and crude!”
What, then, could cook the raw and rescue him
But separation’s fire and exile’s flame?
The poor man went to travel a whole year
And burned in separation from his friend,
And he matured, was cooked and burnt, returned
And carefully approached the friend’s abode.
He walked around it now in cautious fear
Lest from his lips unfitting words appear.
His friend called out: “Who is there at my door?”
The answer: “You, dear you are at the door!”
He said: “Come in, now, that you are all I—
There is no room in this house for two ‘I’s!”
Reflecting on this poem, Mr. Bates writes:
I am struck by the misery of living in separation. Dylan [sic] Roof and the Isis bomber were rawer and cruder than most, but all who shut themselves against divine love experience suffering….
It is worth adding that people like Dylann and other people prone to inflicting great harm are often isolated.
But Mr. Bates goes on with more hope than he leaves us in those two sentences:
The sectarian hatreds in the Muslim world and the racial hatreds in our own country block entry into the presence of God. Sometimes it seems like we will be always be lost inside our individual fears. In the face of that despair, however, the president assured us that, with grace, “anything is possible.” Or to borrow from another president speaking at an even darker time, we will enter the house of the beloved once we stop warring against “the better angels of our nature.”
Grace. True enough: it does take grace to live interdependently.
Buber would say that it is grace to live so as well.
And here, just when I thought I was such an independent thinker to come up with the pithy blog title, “Happy Interdependence Day,” I discover that I am hardly the first. Here’s a great site with more or less the same title, with great ideas to do just that, to live with grace by celebrating our interdependence.
I will put money and (sinful, I’m sure) pride, however, on me being the only one ever to weave together Rudolph, Buber, Rumi, and Paul, with a cameo from Beowulf.
Happy Fourth, all.