Thursday, February 20, 2014

destroy the pedestals

I had known her for exactly 7 minutes. She sat in the plastic lawn chair that doubled as an office chair in the room at the far end of the house.

"So, I have not had had relations with my husband in fifteen years", she said.

Uh. Whaaaa?? I turned to glance over my shoulder and see if her best friend was standing directly behind me. Why is she looking at me  - and saying that?

"Hold your face normal, hold your face normal", I screamed at my face.

To this day, I do not know if my face listened.

The story continued and I wondered what I'd done to be given this information.

It turns out that one night she denied him his marital privileges (headache) and after she denied him he never asked her again, for fifteen years.

She sat in front of me in Haiti and told me all of this even though we had never met and she was old enough to be a much older mother than the lovely mother I have.

This was my introduction to how some people view missionaries.  It is frequently (not always, thank goodness!) assumed that missionaries are brilliant psychologists and special holy rollers ready to give advice and wise counsel at the drop of a hat. It is also assumed that we have our shit together and don't have anything left to figure out. We have all the answers and everything has a place and there is a place for everything.  Tidy. Little. Boxed. Up. Life.

This is not so.  

"Missionaries" are an amalgam of everything you find in your day to day life and therefore they struggle with depression, and they sometimes have huge struggles with their faith. Some have affairs, have trauma and unresolved issues, use substances to numb their pain. They work hard to not feel things, run away to not feel things, and are pretty much the same as you and the people you know. The title sometimes offers them unmerited status as a big deal.  I speak for many of us (hopefully most) when I say, we don't want to be uncritically admired. We don't want to be propped up or placed on a pedestal. 

I read these words (entire post is here - please read) written by Tsh Oxenreider recently. 

We are witnessing a powerful cultural trend of celebrity worship—and I’m not referring to the folks adorning the US Weekly covers. As a member of the Christian subset, I’m referring mostly to us in the Body here, and the pedestal-putting of pastors, writers, bloggers, and speakers. 
I’ve had a post rattling in my head for months now, about why this isn’t a good idea, but I felt like I had nothing to say that hadn’t already been said 18,494 times. But then I remembered my own advice that I give people when they tell me they don’t want to blog because everything’s already been said—yes, but we haven’t heard you say it, and if you feel called to write it, the world needs you to have said it (both because you’ll say it differently than what we’ve yet heard, and because it’ll change you for the better). So? Pot, kettle, etc. etc. 
I’ll cut to the chase here—when we worship fellow human beings, no one wins. Neither the worshiper nor the worshiped is put in a good place. Here’s what I mean: The worshiped 
The blogger, pastor, writer, speaker, dog-whisperer, whoever—the one you idolize—does not win when you put them on a pedestal, even if they want to be there. 
If they want to be on a pedestal, you’re only exacerbating the problem in their soul, the lie they believe that says they’re better than those around them, that they’re a Special Snowflake, that because they’re unique, they’re exempt from certain rules of life. And when a colleague of theirs is elevated on an even higher pedestal, jealousy ensues; they can’t congratulate another person’s success. Their soul blackens. 
If they don’t want to be on a pedestal, you’re relegating them to a really lonely place in life. Their successes become a burden (even if they’re gifts from God). They’re in a place where they’re not able to freely share their struggles, lest they sound ungrateful. They start questioning the motive of everybody, feeling like people only want to be their friend because of what they could get out of the relationship. And friends are sometimes reticent to continue approaching them as real friends, because they either feel like they can no longer identify with them, or they grow bitter because they think their once-friend actually wants to be elevated.
 ~          ~           ~
I wrote the following, along those same lines in 2012 ...

Talent is God given. Be humble. 
Fame is man-given. Be grateful. 
Conceit is self-given. Be careful. 
-John Wooden

Internet marketing & social media, they are the way of the world. Ten years ago Facebook hadn't yet been launched and 'tweet' was a sound that birds made outside of our windows. Today Facebook has over one billion active users and Twitter is one of the ten most visited websites on the Internet. Multitudes care a lot about it and pay attention to who is following and who is being followed.

I understand sharing our visions, dreams, day to day lives, and stories of those that need and deserve justice. I do. I love connecting to new like-minded friends via social media. Even so, I question: Where does God fit in to our habits? How much of my trust is placed in His ability to provide for our family and for the work of Heartline and how much of my trust is placed in my ability to promote it. I bristle a bit as I force myself to honestly examine what part of this might be self-promotion. Was I more trusting in His provision before the dawn of social networking? Before all of this became a part of our every day communication, was I more at peace? Can I see and distinguish the line between healthy and unhealthy promotion? Is there one?

This dialogue isn't meant to put anyone on the defensive. Hear this first: It's not about judging anyone but myself. That's what I'm doing here. I don't want to fall into the trap of self importance and loving the idol of self or the idol of social media. Does social media create false gods and false celebrity and are we, as Christians, considering who we want to make famous? Should any one of us be concerned with our "Klout" score. Doesn't that idea smack of something really icky?

Social media has a place and a purpose. I know this. Sharing the work of Heartline has sometimes meant financial support from folks and has meant continued ability to work here. I want to keep the baby from flying across the room as I throw out this bathwater.

I am cognizant that it must be used with caution. For myself, I'd like it to be about bringing honor to the One that gifted us in the first place. I'd like my words to reflectHis love and my respect for the Haitian people and I'd like to keep myself in check. I recognize how much I need to look to Jesus and His example and avoid the easy trap of elevating one another and/or ourselves.

It seems to me like Christian culture just mimics regular culture but re-labels it and calls it holy and acceptable. I expect there is already a  repackaged 'Klout for Jesus' scoring system in development with which to legitimize our narcissism as unto the Lord.

We're all excited about various Christian figures that we admire or respect. In and of itself it's not all bad  -- but we're taking it to new levels. Thanking or recognizing someone for the way God has used them to speak to our hearts and souls is one thing, swooning over someone and deciding they are better, more important, deserving of fame and even glory is quite another. We're labeling people as "A list" Christians and "most influential" and we're categorizing people according to their on-line influence. That makes me uncomfortable. While we are building up the influential, we are trampling on the faceless faithful that daily go about their life and work without pining for recognition. Worse than that though, I feel like we're getting tripped up and sucked in and often times forgetting that Jesus is the Famous One. 

photo credit: dks systems