In many places, people think they can mind their own business. As long as they do their own thing, and leave others alone, things will be fine. The mentality of "You happy, I happy" is pervasive. In this book, we are reminded that such a mentality is far from the truth. We are more bounded together than we think. Just remember how one silly act of playing with fire in one apartment, burns down the whole building. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on May 24th, 2013.
TITLE: Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices
AUTHOR: Chris Brauns
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (208 pages).
Is it true that we can mind our own business all the time? Is it true that as long as we don't do things that hurt people, we are fine? Is it also true that what we do is nobody's business? No! We are more connected than we think. We are more bounded together than we can ever imagine. The sooner we realize this, the better. In this book, Chris Brauns has masterfully expressed this through the principle of the rope. That is the key to understanding this book. With the rope, we are bounded together as one. Without the rope, our relationships easily unravel. With the rope, we live in solidarity through thick and thin, in both good times as well as bad. Without the rope, we come together in happy times, but disperse during unhappy moments. The trouble with human nature is that people tend to come together in good times, but when the bad times come, they flee. They go away. They leave one another alone, disconnected, isolated, and lonely.
Beginning with an observation of an individualistic modern culture, Brauns shows us how the movie characters like the "Lone Ranger," "Shane," "Pale Rider," and more recently, "Jack Reacher" glorify the individual hero. The trouble is, it entices us to be lone rangers or individual rambos in our various contexts. Brauns notes that our modern culture "idolizes the free-floating, unhindered, and isolated hero cut off from any formal responsibilities." Such people eventually live for themselves, care for their own world, and die a lonely death. In contrast, "biblical individualism" has a healthy sense of self-identity within a participative spirit of living in community.
A) The Principle of the Rope
The first two chapters of the book is a grim reminder that we are more connected than we think we are. Take Stevie for instance, whose personal decision to become an alcoholic is a result of his whole family being alcoholics themselves. While the family members may not have taught Stevie explicitly, by their actions, they have influenced Stevie absolutely. Or the story of Achan, where the foolish actions on one man, brought condemnation on himself as well as his clan. The principles of the rope is this: "the decisions and choices made by God's representative leaders have consequences for their people."
There are both negative as well as positive examples of the rope principle. Brauns first deals with the negative part. Like the actions of Adam and Eve that lead to the downfall of man, so are our actions, that while we may like to think that they only apply to ourselves, the truth is it affects us all. Just like the Talmudic story of a group of travelers seated on a boat. When one passenger stands up, and starts to drill holes on the base of his bolted seat, everyone gets affected as water gushes in from one hole and fills the entire boat. The actions of one individual invariably affect the rest. We are not as autonomous as we think. Our individual actions affect more people than one. Brauns then goes on to share about the biblical understanding of original sin, to explain how mankind becomes more twisted as time goes by.
There is also the positive part, where the gospel through the life and death of one man, saves the world through grace. In disentangling us from sin, we are free to be re-bounded to the Eternal God, our Lord of Heaven and Earth. Theologians have long expressed this as "Union with Christ." When we are bounded in Christ, we learn to see more from God's perspective. For example, we are more aware that God does not simply treat us as individuals, but more as people of God, his children. Solidarity in the truth is also key to life.
Brauns also touches on the objection of the rope principle, addressing the concern why we get blamed for the faults of others. Is that an unfair thing in the first place? How can my rebellion bring about negative consequences for others far away? Why should we be victimized just because of the foolish act of Adam and Eve? The second part of the book addresses this in detail.
B) Applying not Denying, the Principle Constructively
Denying the principle does not necessarily mean it will go away. For we are bounded in ways that we may not even comprehend the fullness of it all. Since we are already bounded, why not live it well? Apply this principle to joy unspeakable, where the joy of one will spread joy to others. Apply that to marriage, where the union of two persons lead to something more beautiful, and how the marriage metaphor helps us understand the relationship of the Church as the bride to Christ. Applying the rope to the roles of husbands and wives will help us appreciate the solidarity that marriage can lead to. When one hurts, the rest of the body hurts. When one rejoices, the rest of the body rejoices. There is also the wider consequences of the rope principle when applied to country and culture. The Church is a vital organ to bring about unity and solidarity, when the people live in unity and solidarity in the Church. Share our abundance of natural resources. Grow a virtuous society of sharing and caring. Avoid radical individualism or the enthronement of the self over all others. The greatest act of love remains this: when one willingly lays down his life for others. Just like Christ.
We are bounded together far more intimately than we even know. One act can lead to multiple consequences. Just like one accident on a freeway can lead to heavy congestion, missed appointments, and frustrations all around, we are to be constantly reminded of two things. First, no man is an island. Second, everyone lives in places where there are multiple points of connection and consequences. We badly need an antidote to counter the rising disease of individualism and selfishness. Such individualistic tendencies are only pathetic attempts to hide what is essential for us as human people. We are made to connect with one another. We are meant to be in touch with people, and to be considerate toward one another. If there is one message to take home from this book, it is this: We are connected to one another, whether we admit it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we realize it or not.
Brauns has given us a valuable book to show us that we are bounded together as human beings, and that we need one another. We need each other to work together and live together. We need one another in order to build a community for all. The musketeers's famous words still ring through: "One for all, and all for one!" Just like one bad act like Adam/Eve can lead to the downfall of mankind, one great sacrifice of love, through Jesus Christ gives the whole world life and eternal salvation. Even though some of us can be critical about the idea of original sin, we must similarly grapple with the truth of the gospel. We cannot criticize God just on the basis of sin. We need to acknowledge the God of love, who despite his greatness, chooses willingly to humble himself, to take up the Cross, to be humiliated, executed, and finally raised from the death. Why must God go through all the trouble? It is simply this. Love binds us together. God is not one who is distant far away. He is now near, and he is always here.
Some people may choose to deny the principle of the rope, and carry on a mind their own business model. The truth is, sooner or later, they will come to the crossroads of human connection and communities of people. The sooner we accept the reality of relationships, we better we can become more human. We are indeed made for each other. We are bounded together.
Rating: 5 stars of 5.
This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.