Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Gospel and "Look at Me!" Culture

Last Sunday our Bible study class was discussing the revelation that Mother Theresa went through a terrible "dark night of the soul" that lasted for years. I thought about how we didn't even know this about her until after she died, until after her once private journals were reviewed. While suffering from deep bouts of depression and feeling as though God's presence had left her, she nevertheless carried on her service to the diseased in Calcutta.

This made me think of how there's almost nothing we do today that isn't blogged, Facebooked, or tweeted. When someone in our culture is having a rough time, they tell us online. When they are serving others, they tell us online. And when they are serving others despite having a rough time, they tell us online. There is almost no thought, feeling, inclination, impulse, or attitude we don't share with everyone who will listen.

On the one hand, such transparency can be very valuable. It certainly is more honest than holding everything in or acting like we're fine when we're not. On the other hand, though, there is a fine line between transparency and vanity. Authenticity is great. Except when it's not.

I think my generation has spun the older Me Generation into a sort of "Look at Me" Generation, and now of course the generations after Gen-X are progressively perfecting "Look at me!" into a science. Or an art. I'm not sure why we seem constantly puzzled that someone like Paris Hilton or Spencer and Heidi can be famous for doing nothing when nearly everyone these days thinks everything they do is something, something worthy of comment or props or Likes.

But this isn't new. These words of Jesus from roundabout 2000 years ago are just as applicable today as then:
"To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.'"

-- Luke 7:31-32

"Look at us!" we cry. Laugh when we make jokes. Cry when we feel bad. Dance when we play. Clap when we sing. Watch us, because we are worthy of being watched.

I watched a rap video by somebody I've never heard of today that was apparently written for high school graduates. In typical "You got what it takes"/"Seize the day" un-inventive inspirational schmaltziness, the performer tells his listeners, "You are worthy."

What an odd choice of words, I thought. "You are worthy." Really?

I can totally understand how this would be a pick-me-up to anyone worried, doubtful, fearful, or un-esteemed. But in "Look at me!" culture, self-worthiness is a recipe for disaster. It creates more and more appetite for attention, validation, and affirmation while simultaneously satisfying less and less.

We only have what it takes if we have what Jesus has. He is worthy. And what I think my generation needs (and what the ones after and before it need, of course) is a fixation on Christ, in whom we find the proper proportions for our feelings and our expression of them. We learn that not every thought or opinion we have is a must-read for the entire universe. We see that the scandalous validation of grace for the unworthy creates healthy honesty and thoughtfulness.

Only this fixation will make the cry of our generation, "Look at him!"


Pete said...

Good stuff Jared, reminds me of the conversation we were having yesterday morning at Clem's. The Kingdom is a funny thing; treasure in a field, leaven in dough, baseball-sized sapphires kicking around in a box of junk at the flea market (I remember that story back in the 80's, the guy paid like six bucks for it...crazy) and lost dimes. Most things that seem worthy of Heaven's notice tend to be hidden from earth's view.
Proverbs 25:2 says that it's the glory of God to conceal a matter. Sister Theresa's service and suffering was likely so precious in the sight of God that he was jealous of it and frankly didn't feel like sharing with anyone.
I have a strange feeling that in our day of unprecedented visibility, much of the big kingdom stuff still flies under the radar. Men and women unknown to the world, whose names are revered before the angels of God, will take the highest seats in heaven's court.
I wonder also if such ready access to the global audience tends to rob us of a critical piece in the process of personal transformation. Not only did Jesus describe such treasures as rare, but qualified them by the peculiar response they incited in the hearts of their discoverers. See because there's treasure... then there's TREASURE. One’s reaction to true kingdom treasure is less like the contestant on Wheel of Fortune and more like Gollum in Lord of the Rings. The contestant hollers and jumps up and down at the shiny new truck she was just handed the keys for. Gollum murders anyone who would dare touch his Precious and disappears into the mountains with it. Jesus said the man who found the treasure in the field hid it again. Then he went and sold everything he owned and bought the field. Kingdom discoveries tend to incite rather strange behavior.

When God began to reveal to Paul the 'mystery of Christ' that he later wrote so much about; he didn’t turn around and post it on Facebook. He took it, disappeared into Arabia and remained there for three years cut off from the world so he could fully lay hold of what he had been given. He took it in. He allowed it to cut him. He internalized the kingdom, became a product of the kingdom and a living testimony to the power of the kingdom. Later would this mystery be proclaimed to the global community; but not until Paul became the embodiment of it; on the tablet of his heart, to be known and read by all men.

So... as I hit the 'submit' button and launch this into the outer reaches of the blogosphere... one question haunts me. Where in my body are the scars to validate that the words I publish are worthy of God?


prin said...

It goes the other way too- you can pour your heart out and it will just blend in with the masses.

Mother Teresa's journals might have been kept away from others, but now, we express everything openly and nobody cares to read it anyway.

Roberta said...

You are right. I made the decision to delete myself from Facebook yesterday. It is a time waster. My friends may not e-mail me back with regular e-mail but then are they really my friends? I have one that will "stick closer than a brother."

Chanda said...

I love that last line...powerful message, this one. It's true.

In fact, disregard this comment entirely...and I'm ignoring the rest of these from now on...and also your "look at me" sidebar :p

Ajay said...

So are you saying don't post anything?

Jared said...

Ajay, is that a serious question, or are you just joking?

Ajay said...

No I'm just trying to grasp your point

Jared said...

Okay, thanks for clarifying. Just wanted to make sure it was a serious question so I didn't end up answering a joke. :-)

My concluding points are in the last couple of paragraphs. To sum them up, I'd say:

a) We should be more discerning in what we post
b) We should focus on the gospel
c) Focusing on the gospel will influence the way we post.

If was saying we shouldn't post anything, this post itself would be ironic and hypocritical, don't you think? ;-)

Jared said...

But I'm also not saying we should only post explicitly "spiritual" things.

I'm just saying there's a fine line between transparency and vanity, and we need to be honest that social media is perfectly designed for self-worship.

Ajay said...

OK, I'm apologize if I appear stupid, so basically its a call to examine our heart when posting stuff. I get that I was just trying to understand.


Jared ... I have become a huge fan of your blog and have now linked to two of mine LIFE MATTERS and HOLY SPIRIT INCUBATOR. This post in particular spoke volumes to me as I try to lead my congregation to rise above the consumer and "me" mentality that afflicts so much of the church. I have posted a piece and invited them by link to your blog to read the rest. _ Steve Dunn