“Fame means millions of people have the wrong idea of who you are.” Erica Jong
“Fame means millions of people have the wrong idea of who you are.” Erica Jong
This was originally posted on May 30, 2013, but there sadly is a need to get some things clear in our collective conscious!
Since Anthony Weiner is back (again!) in the news, I thought it good to reflect some on his undoing.
Let’s get things clear from the get go. I find Weiner’s behavior inexcusable and to employ a word I have not yet heard: sinful.
It is a good thing Weiner resigned from the Congress. The spectacle that preceded it was unfortunate. It only seemed to underscore the very problem that got Weiner into trouble to begin with, namely his narcissistic tendency toward self-promotion. As some preachers I’ve heard proclaim, “Sometimes we have got to repent of our repentance.”
It is interesting to hear the commentary by the media and members of Congress, but not so much for what has been said. Rather, it is what was left unsaid that has been striking.
For example, why are so many up in arms over what Weiner did? If there is no God, as Dostoyevsky famously declared, then all things are permissible. I imagine there are several in the media and in Congress who find the “fear of the Lord” a quaint maxim of a bygone era. Nevertheless they are quick to pronounce absolute judgment on Weiner. No one seems troubled by this inconsistency.
For those of us who do believe in the “fear of the Lord” it is crucial to do some honest soul-searching. Sure, our sins may not be public. They may also occur in more socially respectable areas of life: food instead of sex, gossip instead of hubris, and lying instead of lying. Wait a second. We are more like Weiner than we care to admit!
As a Christian, I believe God can redeem anyone. The death and resurrection of Jesus takes the hideousness of sin and the hope-filled reality of a changed life seriously. The Bible is loaded with unsavory characters who found redemption. King David was a murderer and adulterer. And yes, King David also lied. He outdid Weiner on many fronts.
One’s understanding of redemption in the Christian sense starts by recognizing our real problem: sin. Failure to appreciate our own sin results in simply casting stones at fellow human beings. Instead of seeing redemption as a real possibility we gladly cast the pariah to the margins of society. With the offending party gone from our midst we are freed from having to ponder our own compulsions, dysfunctions, hubris, self-satisfaction, arrogance, and what can be the umbrella term for all: sin.
When a society loses the language to depict the realities of sin, it has lost more than it can possibly know. When sin is gone from the scene, so is redemption. And when redemption is gone, where does that leave us?
Thomas More wore a “hair shirt” underneath his fancy garb. The discomfort of the shirt reminded him to not be enamored with all the fancy trappings of man.
Though Christ fully atoned for our sins and we hardly need a “hair shirt,” there are warnings in Scripture to not be enamored with the various ways the world seduces us.
Two passages in this regard which have meant a lot to me over the years are Isa. 2 and Prov. 23:1-3.
You may not have anything approximating a “hair shirt,” but what truths in Scripture help you keep your eyes on Christ and not the enticements of the world?
A.W. Tozer famously said, “So many are caught up in the work of the Lord that they have forgotten the Lord of the work.” The disciples of Jesus were amazed at the power God was giving them for ministry, but our Lord reminded them where their true joy should reside: having their “names recorded in heaven.”
Anthony Bradley has offered an important critique of a new type of zeal, especially among younger evangelicals, which at times can be misplaced.
It is unwise to assume any of us have the proper balance on this issue, but I do think Bradley makes some critical points…points that this middle-aged evangelical, who has done street preaching in places like Berkeley and Boulder, yet now lives in the suburbs trying to make sense of the Christian life appreciates.
I have lived both errors: “zeal with not enough knowledge” and “plenty of knowledge with flickering amounts of zeal.” I don’t have it figured out, but I do appreciate those who offer an alternative perspective to new trends within evangelicalism. And we evangelicals are prone to trends. This is not all bad as we want to be always open to “reforming the church” when those reforms are truly called for. The danger is to get enticed in a direction simply because it is novel and then becomes popular.
I am glad for the zeal and intensity of purpose among many younger evangelicals. But since every strength can also be a great liability, I do think Bradley’s words ought to be carefully considered. Much more needs to be said, but the conversation needs to take place.
So read Bradley and consider whether his push back on a new sort of “legalism” has any merit.
I would love to hear what you think!
We need to be discerning who we listen to and why. Too many assume that the one with the microphone is the expert. Americans have had a love affair with celebrity that goes back at least to the Jacksonian period. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about it in the 1830s.
Perhaps there are quieter voices who don’t have a microphone, but have loads of wisdom to impart…if we will just be less enamored with the dreadful din of celebrity.
My friend Lindsey Scholl got us started and Pastor Pete Scazzero offers his own take with “Solitude: The Pathway to Your True Self.” And how about that picture Pastor Pete adds to his post!
Pause a few moments and let Scazzero’s meditation become your own:
When I asked my PhD friend to reflect, after over 30 years of therapy with high-powered executives and pastors, why leaders have such a difficult time stopping and being still. He laughed. “Pete,” he replied with a smile, “They are terrified. They can’t stop. Their self is so tied into achievement, into their doing and work, they are afraid they will die if they stop.”
This Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Grünewald sometime between 1512 and 1516 captures the intense struggle to die to the false self. We see ugly demons trying to torment Anthony of Athanasius to leave the place of solitude with Jesus.
Each of us needs to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw and allow the gentle touch of Jesus free us. The shape of the discipline of solitude will look different for each of us. But one thing is sure — a fruitful life can only flow out of a direct and intimate encounter with Jesus.
Solitude is its own end. It is the place where Christ frees us from the addictions of the world. While it is the place of great struggle, as Henri Nouwen says, it is also the place of purification and transformation.
Anthony of Athanasius spent twenty years in solitude. When he emerged, he had become so Christlike, so filled with the love of Jesus, that his entire being was a gift to the world. People flocked from around the known world to be with this free, transformed man.
May the same be true for us.
Or as my friend Lindsey says, “The Glorious Person You Don’t Have to Be.”
Lindsey may be correct about the international acclaim stuff (see her guest post below), but I would not bet against her!
Here then are Lindsey’s wise and life-giving words:
Who is the person you don’t have to be?
For me, I always believed that my destiny was to be an internationally acclaimed speaker and writer. This delusion likely dates back to the first time I was ever complimented on my writing. Certainly it pre-dates my junior year in high school. By then, the idea was firmly entrenched, along with the conviction that I was already behind.
A hard truth hit me a few days ago, but it was followed by a flood of relief. The truth was this: God may not want me to be an international anything. If that is the case, I should not torture myself by viewing every popular speaker and every successful writer as a potential ‘me.’ Perhaps it is okay to be one of the ‘masses’ and just absorb (instead of dream).
I shudder when I think of the last time I read a good book separated from any concept of marketing or success. Or the last time I viewed a magnificent state building without figuring out how I could get a back-stage pass. Or how often I have blamed God for withholding my destiny.
But what is my destiny? As a believer in Christ, it is already written out for me in plain Greek: “I have died, and my life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ–who is my life– is revealed, I too will be revealed in glory.” That’s from the third chapter of the book of Colossians. So when is my glory coming? Not in this life. Rather, I must put all my eggs in the basket of the afterlife. If I am to believe the Bible at all, I have to believe that my real glory will not be revealed after I die. In fact, it will not be made known until the end of days. By then, I will also have the wisdom not to care about it.
That truth is a relief to me. Since I am incapable of bringing about any glory other than a) false and selfish glory or b) the glory produced by obedience, I am not in any way responsible for glorifying myself. I am grateful for that, and not only because I’ve been making such a hash of the job. You should be grateful, too: self-aggrandizement is never pretty to watch.
Is there a glory that you are seeking and not finding? Perhaps it is the glory of being a parent when parenthood has been denied you. Perhaps it is the glory of a job worthy of your education when all you can manage is stacking shelves at a library. Perhaps it is the glory of a lifelong relationship.
What is the glory that will finally allow you to hold your head high?
Chances are, you have not answered that you want to glory in your weakness, or in the cross of Christ, or in suffering. Heaven knows that I have never answered like that. I want my glory to be in how Christ has accomplished marvelous and noteworthy things through the skills and interests he has given me. I want my glory to be in strength, not in weakness.
But that is not the biblical way. I don’t know how exactly I can glory in weakness over strength, but I do know one thing: I am free from planning my own path of glory. Nor do I have to make myself a celebrity. God forbid that I should do so.
I want to finish with a quote from Thomas Aquinas. In speaking about vainglory, he asserts that
“It is requisite for man’s perfection that he should know himself; but not that he should be known by others.” Summa Theologica, Question 132, Article 1
The world does not have to know or glorify you. It is far better that you know yourself through the eyes of God.
My thought from reading the Psalms today:
We take note of people who we think are impressive. God takes note of us even though we are truly unimpressive!
“O Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?
Or the son of man, that You think of him?
Man is like a mere breath;
His days are like a passing shadow.”