I have been thinking recently about the seemingly growing mass of people who do things just to be noticed and known. The examples are so numerous that it is hard to decide which ones NOT to mention. Just think on some headlines over the last few months. Remember “Balloon Boy” and his parents scam to get attention by faking his accidental trip in a hot air balloon? How about “Baseball Taser Dude” who ran onto the field at a Phillies games after calling his dad and asking if it was a good idea? Then there was the copycat the next night. Add to that the countless people who still go on shows like Jerry Springer, or the whole Jon and Kate Plus Eight debacle. Then you have people who play to the paparazzi just to keep getting noticed; Lohan, Hilton, Kardashian, etc, etc. On the far more tragic side I was reminded recently that when Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon on a New York sidewalk the first thing he said was, “I shot John Lennon”. He wanted to be famous and the closest he could get was to be infamous.
So what is it about us that we have this growing need to be known, to the point that we do the ridiculous or even the tragic just to have our proverbial fifteen minutes of fame? I think at the heart of it all it goes back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve and our rebellion against God. Now before you get all distracted by the debate of whether or not Adam and Eve were real people, let’s skip past that to the lesson the story teaches regardless of the historicity of that couple. The point of the story is that human beings are in some sort of rebellion against God and this rebellion, known as sin, has had cosmos altering consequences. We have become alienated from God and from one another. That alienation has produced fear and insecurity, loneliness and shame.
You might be thinking, “Hey, we have always had alienation, fear, and insecurity. What’s different now?” What is different now is two-fold. First, there have always been other social institutions that helped us overcome our alienation and fulfill our need to belong and be known. Once upon a time the tribal group, or community, or family gave us a sense of security, identity, and purpose. We knew people and they knew us. Not simply in the informational sense of knowing, but in the deeper heart sense of knowing. It is more like the sense in Dutch and Afrikaans of “ken” as opposed to “weet”. Weet is informational knowledge, you know about something or someone. Ken is heart knowledge. It is what the Bible speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when it speaks of a longing for a new day “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” The more mobile we become, the more isolated we become behind our automatic garage doors that allow us to drive into our house without speaking to neighbors, the more we sit on the back porch and not the front stoop, the more we move from place to place and job to job, the more we run the risk of being isolated and alienated and yearning for connection.
The second factor is that on top of the human element there is the divine element. During the rise of the modern era and the commitment to science as having the answers to all our problems, we put God and spirituality on the shelf. We further isolated ourselves from the needs of our soul. Eventually people began to sense that modernism and science did not have all the answers and so an outbreak of being “spiritual” but not “religious” has been sweeping western culture. Why? Because we still have the deep inner need to be known and to know, especially by something or someone greater than ourselves.
In search of that need to be known, to be significant, those already mentioned and many others have taken a decidedly neurotic path. Others have taken a more reasonable and socially acceptable route. The rise in popularity of social media like Facebook or LinkedIn, is in part an attempt to stay connected or reconnect with people who are important to us. Such social media can be a great tool to keep and grow our relationships and give us a sense of place and belonging. Of course it can also fool us into thinking that we have deep and meaningful relationships just because people see our status updates and we have hundreds of friends, some of whom we have never met.
Ultimately all our efforts to connect with one another, to be known by one another, to feel like we are significant and that we matter, will fall woefully short if we do not address the root cause of that alienation. We are alienated from one another on a horizontal plane because we first became alienated on the vertical in our relationship with God. We can have all the human connections we want but until we are connected intimately with God, we will still be lacking and still looking for more. Blaise Pascal said it best; “We all have a God shaped vacuum in our soul that only He can fill”. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about being known, he was speaking of the longing to be known by and to know God in as intimate a way as possible. All our searching for meaning, fame, security, belonging, and connection is at its core the result of a need to know that we are loved by God and to experience that love in deeper and deeper ways.