The following is a parable, from Soren Kierkegaard:
“A peasant came barefooted to the Capital, and had made so much money that he could buy himself a pair of shoes and stockings and still had enough left over to get drunk on – it is related that as he was trying in his drunken state to find his way home, he lay down in the middle of the highway and fell asleep. Them, along came a wagon, and the driver shouted down to him to move, or he would run over his legs. Then the drunken peasant awoke, looked at his legs, and since he had new shoes and stockings, he didn’t recognize them and said to the driver, ‘Drive on, they are not my legs.”
This parable is about self-awareness. The man in the story does not realize that his legs are his self. Abraham Maslow (of the heirarchy of needs fame) has a four-step framework of self-awareness. On the road to self-awareness, we begin at unconscious incompetence- we don’t know what we don’t know. There is a whole world out there foreign to us; or, there is a world inside us of which we are unaware. I think of Christians who chose to seek out religion later in their lives as beginning with unconscious incompetence – they were unaware, in the beginning, that there was anything missing from their lives.
The next step is conscious incompetence. This is the impetus that sets them to seeking. For some people, this is reaching rock bottom in their life, for others, it’s an intellectual endeavor. Whatever it is, they become aware of what was previously unknown. They start to investigate, search, learn.
The third step in Maslow’s framework is conscious competence. We know ourselves, but it is by a conscious effort that we explore the depths of our personalities and spirituality. This is the “baby Christian” phase of conversion. New Chrisitans often rely on others to teach them to act according to the Scriptures and help them discern the Holy Spirit moving in their lives. In this stage, going to Church is an learning experience. We learn the Word, the basic teachings of the Church, how to behave in different congregational settings and what is expected of us out in the world, as Christians.
The fourth step is unconscious competence – we don’t know THAT we know. Eventually, unless the new Christian decides to leave the Church, he or she will completely replace the old habits, customs and neorological pathways with the Christian way. We become so used to our new selves, that playing the part of the Christian, participating in worship, etc., becomes second nature to us.
So, for those of us who are operating in the Unconscious Competence of mature Christianity, is it possible that we may be so drunk with our own success, that we no longer recognize the Church as “US?” Is it possible that because we don’t have that consciousness, that we’ll allow ourselves to be maimed in the process of lavishing in our holiness? Maybe it’s that the Church has changed here and there, they put in Audio/Visual Equipment; they’ve changed the policy on calling ministers; they have a Contemporary Worship service, and since those changes and because of our presumed self-awareness as a Church, we are willing to let the wagon driver run over our legs because we don’t recognize them as ours anymore?
We are the body of Christ. Some are the hands, some the feet. If we cannot recognize those legs as “ours,” then we are no longer going to be the whole body of Christ. As a Church, how self-aware are we? How responsible are we to the rest of the congregation? What happens when we move from having to TRY to be Christians to being Unconscious Christians? What happens when we put on new shoes?