Today's mixture of individualism and consumerism is, if you ask me, pretty toxic to our conception of self. We are told we must be the best, have the best and do the best.
Self-improvement, self-sufficiency, self-hatred. We are constantly affronted by media which tells us to both self-improve and look at everyone else with suspicion. We are told to compare and compete with those around us, all the while being independent.
Culture tells us we 'are' something and that identity is something to be possessed. But what if there were another way of looking at it?
As Christians, we have a pretty good role model to look to when we want to know how to be human: Jesus.
He was the Son of God: fully human, fully divine – the second Adam who came to redeem us from sin through his life, death and resurrection. The problem is that individualism and consumerism are so pervasive in our society that they have even managed to warp our understanding of Christ.
Bear with me.
Jesus' humanity and divinity is one of the key tenets of our faith, and remains one of the major stumbling blocks for many people. It is, and I imagine always will be, a total mystery this side of the pearly gates.
We can unpick it a bit, though. We often view Jesus as being both human and divine as an entity by himself. He is the son of God. The chosen one. The word made flesh. But I've found this idea unhelpful. It can lead to a static image of an independent Jesus as one entirely self-sufficient. We lose any sense of him being dependent on his father.
What if, instead of this radically independent Jesus, he was radically dependent? After all, he did admit that "by myself I can do nothing." (John 5.30)
Instead of getting caught up with spiritual speculation, let's take a look at with the narrative portrayed in scripture, in which Jesus is in constant communion with the Father. The Cappadocian church fathers held that Jesus' identity was grounded in relationship.
The Trinity, according to the Cappadocians, is united by relationships: the Trinity is grounded in the relational unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are each radically dependent on the other.
With this relational model, Jesus' identity is no longer seen through the lens of individualism but in terms of his relationship as the Son to the Father held together by the Spirit.
Likewise, his significance as a person is not because of his status in his own right but because of his status in relation to others. It is not just about what he does on his own but how it affects all of us with his life, death and resurrection. His identity is entwined with his relationship with others; his community with the Father and Spirit and his community with us.
This view of Jesus can have massive implications for how we view ourselves and how we seek to mirror him.
The world might tell us that we are independent, self-defining individuals, but the example of Jesus suggests something different. He was defined by relationships, and so should we. He was both dependent on the father and gave himself to the world.
Rather than looking inwards – self-analysing, self-promoting or self-deprecating – maybe it would be more Christ-like to focus on the other. If we are radically dependent on the Father, we might radically give to our neighbour out of His strength not our own.
By living in relation to others, we could liberate ourselves to enjoy the beauty of community. Rather than seeking constant competition, we are then able enjoy collaboration.
Defined not by our own achievements, nor looking to the other as the competition, we might be free to serve and be served.