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Our “Look at Me” Culture

May 21, 2010

Jared Wilson, blogger at The Gospel-Driven Church, insightfully writes about an aspect of our 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!”

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