Saturday, July 17, 2010

Would They Listen?

John Meunier was at it again with another great post. This time he was bouncing off of David Brooks' column in The New York Times about Mel Gibson's latest tirade. Brooks was thinking about narcissism and the feeling of self importance. So I went to take a look at Mr. Brooks' work myself. I did feel like I needed a bath after reading about Gibson and his girl friend, but I was looking at the same money paragraph:
In their book, “The Narcissism Epidemic,” Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite data to suggest that at least since the 1970s, we have suffered from national self-esteem inflation. They cite my favorite piece of sociological data: In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an “important person.” Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes.That doesn’t make them narcissists in the Gibson mold, but it does suggest that we’ve entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline.
So, the part of accepting the Gospel of Christ that the younger set is going to find most difficult is admitting that they cannot do it themselves. In other words, that they are not God. I think of the first step of the recovery program: "Realize I'm not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing, and that my life is unmanageable." Or as Pastor Meunier himself put it: "Setting aside our own effort, merit, and work is the primary purpose repenting. Coming to understand that we cannot do what only God can do for us is to repent. Or, as Wesley said, we cannot rely on the merits of Christ until we learn to set aside reliance on our own merits." What could be the somewhat unfortunate result of this is that people will have to "come to the end of themselves" to use an old time phrase. Borrowing from the recovery movement people will have to "hit bottom." So people may end up opening up to Christ when they are sin scarred and living with the results of the bad decisions of the past. That has implications for the church as community, since people will come with more baggage. They will be pricklier and harder to love as parts of the body. They will need healing. They will need extra teaching and maybe even some discipline. And they will need love--not the love of the codependent but the sometimes tough love of Jesus. So the narcissistic tendencies of today will have not just implications for preaching but for discipleship and church community.

So, the answer to the question of "Will they listen?" is a two fold answer: Some will never listen or truly hear--they will never understand that they are not God. Others will listen and hear--eventually after they come to realize, with the help of God's grace, that they are not so "in charge" and "important" as they thought they were.

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