Small Unit Cohesion: Reflections on Albert Hung’s Sermon “Shoulder to Shoulder”

by Juan Zung

In the (almost) beginning, a farmer named Cain killed his brother, a shepherd named Abel. [1] Joseph Campbell says we’ve never been the same since. [2] In short, we kinda used to be communists, but then we kinda all became capitalists.

In the old, old days, we didn’t yet have the concept of private property. [3] People didn’t have the idea (yet) that a person could own a piece of the earth. Because we just all lived on the earth together, going where ever there happened to be shelter and water and food. And, it’s very likely, everyone had to share everything to survive for the simple reason that no one could predict when anybody would have a lot of food or none.

Of course, when we invented farming, suddenly it became important to know who owned what piece of earth. And the owners became powerful. And the non-owners became less powerful.

The upside to this is that we got really efficient at making food, which made us really efficient at staying alive, which made us really efficient at inventing things and procreating. All of which leads us to today, 7 billion people and counting.

But we gave something up too.

Even though the old hunter-gatherer life was full of danger and starvation, it was also full of something precious: Small Unit Cohesion. [4]

Photo by Lance Cpl. Bridget M. Keane

Photo by Lance Cpl. Bridget M. Keane

See, in that kind of society, it is really: all for one and one for all. Everyone relies on everyone else. Everyone is expected to share in the work. There are no spectators. Everyone is expected to suffer when the group suffers. There are no freeloaders.

An interesting example of this is the TV show Out of the Wild. [5] Me and the kids been watching it. It’s about a group of people getting dropped off in the middle of the wilderness with simple instructions to get back to civilization. There’s no prizes. There’s no contest. It’s just about the brutally hard effort of surviving alone in nature.


Out of the Wild: the Alaska Experiment

Except one interesting thing: They are not alone. They have each other. And, without the contrived capitalistic incentives of competition that other shows, like Survivor, inject, these former strangers engage in a strange process: they become a tightly knit small community. They learn quickly that everything must be shared. When one person finds food, it feeds everyone. When one person builds shelter, it shelters everyone. When one person is weak, everyone is weak. And when one person is strong, everyone is strong.

All for one. One for all.


It is, of course naïve thinking that somehow we can go back to a time when we were truly communal, a time before private ownership, a time before the tree of knowledge.

But I do think it’s possible that we are entering a new age where we are going forward into a new kind of communal life. I’m not some kind of nutty futurist. But it’s obvious to me that human connection via technology is, if not deeper, definitely becoming much much wider.

In a way we are getting closer and closer to being connected to every other person on the planet.

Which is awesome.

But, as Pastor Albert preached in his sermon “Shoulder to Shoulder,” we’re suffering from an “epidemic of loneliness.” Quite possibly because, even though we have this amazing Big Group connection, we are losing the Small Unit Cohesion. The very thing that makes us humans so formidable.

Albert’s sermon implores us to embrace four simple elements of connection: Sharing, Serving, Studying and Suffering. [6] Interesting. Kinda like how primitive man had to do back in the day. Except, back then, they had no choice. It was the only way to survive. Maybe a big question for us today is: can we choose to live this way even if we don’t have to?


[0] This post is a response to Albert Hung’s sermon: “Shoulder To Shoulder” from January 26, 2014.

[1] Genesis 4

[2] See: Joseph Campbell on Cain and Abel at (not)apastor

[3] We could go so far as to say humans didn’t have the concept of differentiating much of anything. Another famous part of the Genesis story is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In some traditions this refers to humans becoming separate from God and nature. This separateness infects every part of the human experience, logically leading to the ideas of owning land, property, people and ideas, and also the inventions of money and marriage (which, prior to modern times, was mostly a trade contract where one man traded a woman to another man for financial, social and/or political considerations).

[4] Small Unit Cohesion is a military concept that Pastor Albert preached on. It refers to the will of soldiers to fight in the face of fear and adversity. Research demonstrated that all other reasons for fighting are relatively quickly abandoned (patriotism, leadership, pride, self-preservation). However, if a small unit of soldiers bonds, they will fight on for the sake of the other members of their unit.

[5] Out of the Wild aired for three seasons on the Discovery Channel.

[6] These “elements of connection” are concepts originally shared by Rick Warren of Saddleback Church


3 thoughts on “Small Unit Cohesion: Reflections on Albert Hung’s Sermon “Shoulder to Shoulder”

  1. Thanks for your insightful commentary, Juan. I’m always impressed by your ability to find common ground between Christianity, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, and pop culture. It is a rare gift and provides for a very rich conversation. One of the recurring themes of the Scriptures is the long and arduous process of recovering the image of God, which includes a capacity for sacred and loving relationships. I am really enjoying your reflections on the weekly sermons. They turn a monologue into a dialogue, which I believe is much closer to the spirit of the early church and rabbinical tradition.

    • “The long and arduous process of recovering the image of God”

      I’ve heard it said that the gospel is not about some prize or reward for worshipping in the right way at the right time and place, but is really the gift of becoming more and more like God. Salvation is not so much being rescued by Christ, but being transformed into something more Christ-like.

      I hope that’s true. It just sounds and feels so much better than some golden mansion in the clouds.

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