The Paparazzi, Facebook, and Our Need to be Known

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.

Provocative Bible Verses: No One Lacked Anything They Needed

Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. The Book of Acts 2:45

If there was ever a passage that ran counter to our culture of accumulation then this is it. The first generation of followers of Jesus made sure that no one who was a part of their new found family of faith ever lacked the basic necessities of life. Nobody in that first church in Jerusalem ever went without a meal, or a roof over their head, or a cloak to ward off the cold. They did not have all of their wants and desires met but they did have all of their needs met. In essence what was taking place is that God was working through His people to fulfill the prayer that said, “Give us this day our daily bread”.

Anyone who had something extra turned that extra into a blessing for others. People who had some property, sold the property to buy food for people who were hungry. People sold furniture and bought clothing for people who had threadbare garments. Those who had homes opened those homes to others who had none and took them in, fed them and made them part of the family. The list of acts of kindness is a varied as the life situations people found themselves in.

Given that this is such a radical act we must ask the question, why did they do it? Why would people sacrifice their own comfort and security for the sake of others? Let’s be honest. Most of us are willing to give out of our excess to people in need. We are willing to give out of our comfort as long as it does not cause any real discomfort for us. Most of our “sacrificing” for the sake of others is really not much of a sacrifice. We give away that which we would never miss anyway. So what caused those first followers of Jesus to be so provocative?

Let me answer that question by first asking you a question. If your son or daughter was suddenly homeless and out of a job would you open your home to them, even if it meant their spouse and children moving in for a undetermined amount of time? I suspect the answer is yes and I know that some of you have done just that. If not that exactly you have done something similar for a family member. And that is the point. Those early followers of Jesus understood that they were ALL family. Calling one another brother or sister in Christ was not some religious platitude. They really meant it. If God was indeed their father and Jesus was their brother, then they were all family. That meant taking care of one another as family. You sacrifice for family. You go without so family can have their needs met. You do it because you love your family. Jesus said that the world will know that we are His family, His disciples, by the love we have for one another.

What a difference it would make if we lived out that example today. People in the first century became followers of Jesus because they saw the love the first Christians had for one another. It would be no different today. If we in the church showed that kind of love for each other you would see a revival unlike  any thing you could ever imagine. Not only that. You would see a smile on the face of Jesus because His brothers and sisters had finally figured out how to be family.

What Can Lord of the Rings Teach Christians about Community? Pt 1

The classic trilogy written by J.R.R. Tolkien has been dissected countless times as people have sought to plumb its philosophical and theological depths. There have been volumes written on the world view presented by Tolkien, on the nature of good and evil, on the place of sacrifice and honor, on courage and fear, and a host of other things. What strikes me is that I have never seen anything that deals with the nature of community or what the Bible calls fellowship. What surprises me about this is that the first book in the trilogy is called, “The Fellowship of the Ring”. So that got me thinking, “What can we learn about fellowship or community from the writings of Tolkien?”

One of the most striking things that I get from the book when it comes to community is that real community requires forgiveness. It requires forgiveness even in the face of the most painful of trespasses. There are two instances where this truth is revealed. One is in the betrayal and death of Boromir and the other is the friendship that develops over time between Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf.

Nine very diverse characters set out on a journey that will seal the fate of the world. They must take a magic ring to a distant volcano and throw it in so that it, and the evil that inhabits it, will be destroyed. Failure to do so will mean that evil will, in all likelihood, dominate the world and destroy all men. The evil of the ring is alive and it tempts people to make use of it. It deceives people into thinking that they can use the power of the ring for good when in fact the power of the ring will use them for evil. The warrior Boromir falls to this temptation. He thinks that if he can take the ring from Frodo, the bearer of the ring, then he can use its power to save his people.  His attempt to take the ring fractures the fellowship. When Boromir quickly realizes his error, his sin against the others, he repents to the point of his own death while protecting the two Halflings, Merry and Pippin. The surviving members of the fellowship could have easily remained bitter towards the dying Boromir. As a result of his attempt to take the ring it looks as if their mission will fail. But instead they give him compassion and forgiveness and honor him in death.

For Gimli and Legolas the issue runs far deeper. Their two races have been suspicious of one another for generations. Past clashes and betrayals and misunderstandings have built a huge wall of division between two peoples who once were allies. During the course of their journey and their life and death struggles together, these two mismatched characters become the closest of friends, willing and ready to die for one another. It is truly a demonstration of the words of Jesus, “greater love has no man than this, that he lays down his life for his friends”. Gimli and Legolas become that kind of friend to one another because they learn to forgive and to trust.

In both cases forgiveness does not come easy or cheap. In order to forgive Boromir the group had to recognize that they could have just as easily come under the tempting spell of the ring. They understood the truth of the proverb, “There but for the grace of God, go I”. Looking deep into your own soul and seeing your own short-comings and even brokenness is not a pleasant exercise. But it must be done if we are to have the strength and motivation to forgive others. In the case of Legolas and Gimli they both had to admit their own sin and repent of it. They both had to acknowledge that they were wrong about the other and that their actions and attitudes were wrong. They had to in some way reject generations of heritage that they were raised in, rejecting the things taught them by their own people. Any one of those things is a painful task. To have to do all of it seems nearly impossible.

There is a part of me that wonders if some measure of the popularity of Lord of the Rings isn’t to be found in our unexpressed longing for community and fellowship like that of Tolkien’s characters. Somehow there is a recognition that we are far too alone and isolated, our relationships are too shallow. We long for a world of relationships where people do forgive one another and they do sacrifice for one another and the do love one another to the point of ultimate sacrifice. Ever since Adam and Eve and the division that sin brought into human/divine relationships, we have had this ache in our souls for real community. How wonderful is it that Jesus promises to restore those relationships through the cross and by faith. The Cross opens the door for them, but we must be willing to do the hard work of forgiving others because we too have been forgiven. The Holy Spirit gives us the true power that we need in order to face our own sin and forgive the sin of others.