Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven...

(Or, All of Our Demons Look Like Models and Salesman)

If I wasn't fully convinced before, I am fully convinced now of the fact that humanity is actually devolving. This blog is a response to the incessant amounts of narcissism that mass consumerism naturally gives birth to.

Walking through the mall, I was taken aback by how many of the store fronts were dedicated to the exaltation of the "autonomous self", that delusional expression of "individuality" that has no place in the Church. Let me get this clear. I do not believe that to be a Christian, one must look and act like every other believer. Rather, I am saying that the pursuit of individualism (self-expression for the sake of self-expression, defining beauty according to outward appearance) over and above the commitment to the ideals of the Church (equality, modesty, compassion, spiritual discipline) is fundamentally a sin and a total disregard of the purposes of Jesus Christ.

We, as a church, have deceived ourselves into believing that we have the "right" to find our identity in things other than Jesus Christ and a community of believers built for the purposes of edification and a total life of holiness, both internally and externally. One need only look at the ad's that are put forth for mass consumption. Society, by and large, defines beauty according to the prevailing fashions of the day. Slender woman not overweight are elevated to a status above those who were not blessed with thin figures or airbrushed faces. The tragedy of it all is that the Church has bought into the definitions of beauty given by the world instead of remaining a resolute voice of counter-culturalism that defines beauty according to the inner, spiritual self.

Sex, a holy and sacramental union given by God, is raped of its value and used as a tool for profit, and the Church has bought into this. Paul urges the Roman Christians to remain in the world but not to be conformed to it (Rom 12:2). Yet, it is beyond me to conceive of how this exhortation might be realized when Christians, by way of their consumption of the needless and trivial trappings of a consummeristic and narcissistic society, not only participate in such corrupt machines but actually give fuel to their growth. We give them our money, which allows them to lay claim over our lives, all the while shaking off the claims of the Word of God, which demand of us to use our finances for the benefit of others and not ourselves. (Acts 2:44-45; Luke 12:33)

Our society is in a state of devolution. We want to exalt to a state of divinity the notion of the "autonomous self" while simultaneously allowing corporate machines to dictate the definitions of fashion and beauty, thereby giving them control over our time, energy, and spending. The "autonomous self" is not dead. Rather, it has never existed. It is an illusion that we have created in our own minds to disguise the fact that we are slaves to fashion, slaves to beauty, slaves to sex, and slaves to a corrupt and decaying world.

It is only when the Church realizes that it is a culture of its own that the problem can begin to be corrected. We have the Gospel, that liberating Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, which can break all forms of bondage. Be it to fashion, be it to finance, be it to any form of self-gratification or a lifestyle committed to the ideal of individualism over and against a self-less love of our neighbor...the Gospel of Jesus Christ can break such forms of bondage.

I see nothing in Scripture encouraging us to find new and varied ways in which to celebrate our individualism. I only see, time and time again, the command (not a suggestion) to love our neighbor and all those around us, even if that means loving them to a point of death on a cross (Luke 6:27, 35; Matt 5:33-34; Romans 12:13-14, 19-21)

In Jesus Christ, we have a perfect example. In the Incarnation, Jesus Christ did not celebrate the uniqueness of His Incarnation to the exclusion, ridicule, and isolation of those who were not God in the flesh. Rather, He submitted Himself humbly to the limitations of humanity in order to break us from the curse of death. One need only read the Christ hymn of Philippians 2:1-11 to understand the type of cruciform, self-less life that the Church of Christ is called to live into.

1 Corinthians 9:20-23 is another example of the Scriptural exhortation to abandon who we are as individuals in order to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples. We have no identity, save that which elevates the Gospel of Christ to a place of exaltation. We are nobodies who have been radically saved and set free by Jesus Christ. Now, we are somebodies, but only according to the merit given to us by Christ. We have nothing to celebrate within ourselves save that which was given by Christ.

You may disagree with me, and I welcome any and all discussion. But, I would leave you with this. Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." If the one who loves us enough to give Himself up for our salvation is living inside of us, how do you think such a fact calls us to live? If your answer is anything other than "to live a life of self-less devotion to the benefit of other and not a celebration of myself", then I challenge you to see how much your life reflects the Word of God.

-Originally written March 9, 2008

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