Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Ego (Page 2 of 3)

Whose is that face staring back at me?


“Anyone who needs 50,000 people a night to tell them they’re OK has to have a bit missing. And I do mean that in terms of your sense of self” – Bono

“Everybody’s famous here but nobody’s known.” – U2, Lucifer’s Hands

We live in a society where more and more people don’t know what it is to feel loved just for who they are. When people don’t feel loved unconditionally, they seek affirmation from external sources.

There is nothing wrong with this in itself, but when it becomes our primary way of feeling that we are ok, it becomes a serious problem and we become narcissistic.

Recently I visited my former workplace to see a few people and to do some writing. As I was sitting in the cafe typing away, a stream of people walked past over the next hour and stopped to chat and just ask how I’m going. I’ve never been so glad to be interrupted! It’s nice to feel that affirmation and warmth from old friends. Continue reading

Simon Moyle’s thoughts on leaving Facebook

Facebook_heart_c-thumb-200x154-94395_180A typically well-thought-out and humble post by Simon Moyle on his reasons for quitting Facebook. Some of his thoughts are exactly those I have wrestled with at times over the years. Here are some of his thoughts that resonate with me:

  • When it begins to feel like a burden and is liberating to stop…that’s a pretty good indication right there that something’s been wrong.
  • What does it mean when the new ‘marginalised’ means those not on Facebook?
  • We have more information than ever but I wonder if we are more informed?
  • Do we give information enough time to do its inward formation work on us or is it just washing over us because of the sheer volume? Or do we listen only to that which reinforces our existing beliefs?
  • What are the lines between information sharing, boasting, and straight out propaganda? Where’s the line between “letting your light shine before others” and not “practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them”? I’m not sure I know anymore. Does anyone even care?
  • it’s the question of whose desires ‘run’ me…I’m glad my posts have been valued, but I don’t think I should allow others’ desires to run mine. There’s only one Other whose desires I want to run me, and if I spend more time listening to the louder voices instead of the still small one I’m going to have a hard time being ‘run’ by the latter.
  • [Getting off Facebook is] less “efficient” in terms of reaching fewer people in a smaller geographical area, but then efficiency is not a gospel concept.

I agree with most of Simon’s post, though I’m not sure I agree with all of it. That is something I will have to think through. Or perhaps it’s something I don’t want to face. What I am sure about though is that I definitely agree with his points that I have quoted above.

I have written a number of posts (here, here and here) about the impact of Facebook on human identity and relationships, and challenged by someone like Simon who doesn’t just write about it, but as usual, puts it into action.

Lance Armstrong…and the rest of us

Lance ArmstrongExcellent piece here from my friend and colleague David Wilson on the fallout of the Lance Armstrong affair. Reminds me of what Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an un-uprooted small corner of evil.”

‘Expectation is the mother of resentment’

fork-in-the-roadThis is one of the truest statements I have heard over the years.
Last Thursday night I had a good evening planned but things just didn’t go my way. I arrived home from a meeting and got into bed early to listen to some more of an audiobook I have been really enjoying. As I was about to get into bed I realised there was something I hadn’t done, so I thought, ok, and got up and did what I needed to do. I then got back into bed, got comfortable and just found the spot on my iPod where my audiobook was up to, when my mobile rang. It was someone who I’ve been talking to for a while about some issues he has been going through. I knew I should take the call, so I did. We talked for about 20 minutes, by which time I really needed to get some sleep.

The writer’s self-promotion dilemma

I have an ego problem. I think it’s getting better but I still have many times when thoughts come into my mind about people telling me what a great writer I am and that they want me to speak at their major church or stuff like that. I can’t stop the thoughts coming into my mind, but it’s what I do with them when they get there that is the problem. Some years ago I even took this blog offline for a while to figure out what I should do about this issue. A couple of people told me independently that it was fine to put my blog back online and deal with the issue as it comes up. I think that was good advice.

The purpose of this website is to show how Jesus is relevant to all of life and that he is the only one through whom we will ever find the peace we all want, both inside us and in the world around. I have been told by quite a few people that I have a gift in writing. I appreciate their sentiments. I used to think that saying I have a gift was arrogant and equivalent to telling people how good I was. But having a gift has nothing to do with anything I’ve done. If it was, it wouldn’t be a gift. John Smith said once that there is nothing in our lives which has not been given to us. So if God has given me a gift, he has given it for a purpose which is to do my part in bringing in his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And if it is a gift from God for this purpose, then I have a responsibility to use it to the best of my ability and for God’s glory. To use it for my own ends, to try to get people to think how wonderful I am, then I am abusing it.

Continue reading

Richard Rohr on the separate self

Source: read a long time ago that you can’t give away what you haven’t got. Here Richard Rohr says something similar: what you don’t transform you transmit. Bryant Myers also says that we always witness to something. He meant that in terms of our Christian witness in working with poor communities, but it also applies to our own lives. Along these lines, check out the piece by Richard Rohr below:

The separate self is the problem, whereas most religion and most people make the “shadow self” the problem. This leads to denial, pretending, and projecting instead of real transformation into the Divine.

It is really shocking how little Jesus is shocked by human failure and sin. In fact, it never appears that he is upset at sinners. He is only and consistently upset at people who do not think they are sinners. This momentous insight puts him centuries ahead of modern psychology and right at the center of rare but authentic religion. So much so, that most Christianity itself never notices or addresses this pattern. It is an “inconvenient truth.”

Early-stage religion is largely driven by ego needs: the need to be right, the need to feel morally superior, the need to be safe, and the need to project a positive image to others. At that point, religion has little to do with any real search for God; it is almost entirely a search for oneself, which is necessary—and which God surely understands. But we do this by trying to repress and deny our actual motivations and goals. These are pushed into the unconscious and called the shadow self. The shadow is not the bad self, but simply the denied self, which is totally operative but allowed to work in secret—and never called to accountability from that hidden place.

In my 42 years as a priest, it is clear to me that most people (not just religious people) focus on their shadow self—to keep “feeling good about themselves”—and their ego enjoys a perpetual holiday. It is a massive misplacement of spiritual attention. You can be a prelate or priest in the church with a totally inflated ego, while all your energy goes into denying and covering up your shadow—which then gets projected everywhere else. What you don’t transform, you will transmit.

More on gifts

In the previous post we saw that God has given us gifts to use for the furthering of his kingdom, but that we can easily use them for the furthering of our ego instead.

St Paul also warns against the ego, that part of our nature that wants to be first, that wants to be better than, that wants the glory. He then goes on to talk about a more excellent way, the way of love, in that most famous of passages, 1 Corinthians 13. The early church was like this. They used their gifts for the building up of the new Christian community. The story of this is told in Acts where we read how the new movement shared their possessions and appointed deacons.

As far as recognising each others’ gifts goes, Rikk Watts makes the point that people should be chosen for service in the church because of their gifts, not because of their gender or status or anything else that is not biblical. We are to be a counter-cultural community. We are not to be hierarchical or to live by the values of the world system around us.

Is your gift your idol? Leslie Phillips sang a song in the late 1980s called The Turning in which she talked about the turning from admiration to obsession. She was apparently talking about how we see people we look up to. However the same applies to the gifts we have been given by God. If we use them for ourselves we have crossed the line from it being an offering back to God to it being an idol. And the one thing idols do to us is that they destroy us. As someone once said, we became that which we worship.

It’s sort of about you

A few years ago John Ortberg wrote a book called The Me I Want To Be. At first thought, the title sounds like another one of those ‘you need to believe that you’re number 1’ books that so many Christian authors trot out. But this is not about that at all. This book is about being the person God made you to be, and that is something we have a responsibility to do.

The problem with heretical doctrine is that there is always a grain of truth in it. The fact is that God has made each one of us unique. As Psalm 139 says, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. But then we get the prosperity and success preachers coming out and saying that God wants you to be fabulously beautiful and wealthy because after all, you are you, and you deserve the best. Do you see the (not so) subtle twist on a biblical truth? We need to be very very careful that we don’t cross the line from biblical truth into something that ultimately destroys us. Sometimes that line is very thin.

The biblical truth is that there will not, never has been, and never will be, anyone else like you. You really are unique. Just look at your fingerprints. No one else who has ever lived or who will ever live has or will have the same fingerprints as you. This is just one of the wonderful and fascinating aspects of a God who gives us such inherent dignity that we cannot comprehend it.

God has given each of us gifts, and we have a responsibility to use them. Most of my life I have tried to be someone else because subconsciously (and even consciously at times) I have been frightened to show my true self for fear that people wouldn’t like what they saw. For instance, I used to try to walk and talk like my elder brother, and I still try to sing like my favourite singers and sometimes make my mannerisms like my favourite people. But that is not honouring to the God who gave me unique gifts to use for the bringing in of his kingdom. Don’t try to be someone else; it is not honouring God and it is not doing justice to the gifts God gave you to give to the world.

As a child of the ’80s in terms of much of my musical influence, I have recently been getting back into The Pretenders. One of their most beautiful ballads, Hymn to Her has as its opening line, “Let me inside you, into your room. I hear it’s lined with the things you don’t show.” Many people are so driven by fear that we don’t allow others to see the image of God in us, or we don’t want to show it to others. That’s why it’s so serious, tragic and evil when children are abused in any form. The innocence and wonder of a child is taken away and they hide in their shell, possibly for the rest of their lives, trying to protect themselves from more hurt. That’s why Jesus gave such a serious and solemn warning that whoever treats these little ones like this, it would be better for a millstone to be tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea.

In his inauguration speech in 1994, Nelson Mandela quoted Marianne Williamson in saying that,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

When Jesus said to his followers, “you are the light of the world,” he said it in the sense that we are to live as the people God made us to be, so people could glorify God and see how good God is. The Scriptures are full of affirmations about our inherent worth and dignity. It is right and good to rest in that. It is also right and good though that we don’t stay in that place. That is why Jesus said “let your light shone before others, so that…“. God’s affirmations of us are always ‘so that’. We are saved to serve, created for “good works in Christ.”

In their song, Breathe, U2 sing “We are people born of sound, the songs are in our eyes. Gonna wear them like a crown.” Such words can be easily misunderstood. It’s a thin line between using our gifts for God and using them for our own glorification, for our own egos. Another common refrain throughout the Scriptures is simply ‘do not be afraid.’ Jesus said it often, and in saying it he echoes the many times God says it in the Old Testament. Let’s let our light so shine before others that they are drawn to God and the kingdom, and not our gifts for their own sake.

Plugging into life

In a day when everyone is connected, there is more evidence that we are actually more disconnected than ever. Our greatest human need is for a different kind of connection – connection with the other, but most importantly, connection with the Other. Star-struck lovers gaze into each other’s eyes, longing to be one with each other; in our Western culture, when we engage in conversation, we know when someone is listening when they are looking into our eyes; and when you want someone’s attention, you try to find eye contact. Richard Rohr also talks about a connection with animals. It is not for nothing that we call a dog our best friend. Many elderly people live much healthier lives for having a dog as a companion in their lives. Rohr talks about looking into the eyes of an animal like a dog and sensing a connection with another creature of the universe.

Much of our behaviour, in fact I would probably argue all of it, is a symptom of our desire for connection. Whether our behaviour be good or evil, it is all about our desire to find life, to transcend the purely physical part of our existence. Years ago, John Smith emphasised that the Rolling Stones song Satisfaction was not about sex and trying to ‘get some girly action’ at all, but about a frustration at not finding something deeper. U2 sang about not having found what they were looking for – in their own lives and in the injustice in the world – despite ‘believing in the kingdom come’. Believers in God or not, we long for something more. Our lives are about trying to find a connection with something higher, something greater than ourselves. And the fact is we will never find it fully until that day when all things are renewed and there will be no more striving after futile things. We look through a glass darkly; now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known (1 Cor 13:12).

Our problem with our desire for connection though is that we often do it by trying to find our self in someone else. We get married believing that our spouse is there to fulfill all our emotional needs, and when he or she doesn’t, we get disillusioned and look elsewhere. The next relationship is sure to fail as well until we come to realise that it is not about finding the right person but being the right person. I am so thankful for an older male pointing this out to me back in my 20s. In our desire for love and connection, we go too far and use other people. Jonathan Burnside says ‘the essence of a perverted relationship is getting information about someone else, and then working out what I want to do, so I get what I want’. I am getting better at not doing this but I still do it way too often.

We are inherently selfish people. We live as if it is my way or the highway. We actually believe at times that if everyone would just do things my way the world would be a much better place. But this only leads to more disillusionment. It has been said that you only get disillusioned if you have illusions to begin with. How true is that? What disillusionment then gives birth to is resentment. Someone else has said that ‘expectation is the mother of resentment’. We expect someone else to behave in a certain way, and when they inevitably don’t, we get resentful at them. Who do we think we are? I have found that to be true time and time again in my life. You would think I would have learnt it enough by now that it would have sunk in. But no, when I have my own expectations of what I want to do on a particular weekend at home and my wife tells me her thoughts, that old feeling of resentment kicks in yet again.

The word ‘resent’ actually means to re-experience pain. A friend of mine has said that resentment is the poison I drink to kill someone else. When you think of what is going on when we are feeling resentment towards someone, it’s maddening isn’t it? We are actually choosing to go back and feel the pain of the anger again and again. Often the person we are feeling the resentment towards doesn’t even know about it. Yet we still have the attitude of ‘I’ll show them!’. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The human desire for connection is a curious thing. We desire more than anything to be close to someone but at the same time we so often choose to lock ourselves away in isolation and separateness from the ones closest to us. Resentment is a classic way of doing this. The old saying that it is the ones we love the most who we hurt the most is as true as anything that has ever been uttered. The irony is that in trying to connect, we actually willingly disconnect, depriving the other person of ourselves. It is then that we are often tempted to misconnect with another in an inappropriate and destructive way. I talked about this in my previous post on affairs.

Our desire to connect is often masked as a desire to find happiness. Our society is built around the individual’s desire or even demand to be happy. Our advertising is specifically designed to create artificial desires in us to make us consume products we believe we actually need. How often do we wonder how we ever got by without mobile phones or without email. But the fact is we did, and quite nicely (don’t get me wrong; I am not knocking mobile phones or email. They are wonderful inventions, but, like anything, if relied upon inappropriately, they will inevitably disappoint). In trying to find happiness in life, we often seek connection in a misconnection. That which we think will solve all our problems actually turns out to make us feel more apart from and more isolated.

I wonder what all this says about what we really believe about life? When we choose a direction that is so clearly not constructive for our relationships, I wonder if the truth has ever made that longest of journeys from our head to our heart. It is possible to believe something intellectually, to ‘know’ it in your head, but not have a deep conviction about it. It is only when a truth is lodged deeply in our heart that we really know it. Deep down we all have a longing for relationship, ultimately a relationship with God. It is the essence of who we are. We are made by a God who is in his very being, relationship. That’s why coming to faith in Christ often feels like a coming home. When I had an experience of this in my late teens, my overriding sense was that this is what I’ve been looking for all my life. Not that I had often even been consciously aware of it. But when I found it, it was like one of those ‘a-ha’ moments when I had a realisation of something I had always known. It was a bit like the scene in Return of the Jedi when Luke Skywalker tells Leia that she is his sister, and she looks into the distance and quietly exclaims “I know. Somehow…I’ve always known.”

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does our soul. We simply cannot survive with our souls unplugged, just hanging out in the nothingness of a seemingly empty universe. Our human desire is to be plugged into life and love. When we love we have a clearer sense of what life is all about. It is then that we find what our souls have been looking for all our lives. It is then that we know joy, in humility and submission. It is about surrendering our ego, our arrogance, and our self-sufficiency. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Jesus bid those who are weary and heavy-laden to come to him and find rest for their souls. This is where we find life, in resting in him and finding out how to live right. When Martin Luther King asked a colleague on one of their freedom marches if she was tired, this old lady said calmly, “my feets is tired but my soul is rested.” She was plugged into life. She had found her true connection, and she was living the dream. God help me to do the same each day.

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