Self or Others? Success or Significance? Greed or Generosity?

Perhaps the most terrible and tragic malady of this time in our history as a nation is the obsession with the self – self-identity, self-realization, self-advancement, self-fulfillment, etc. Many have defined this malaise of our age as “narcissism,” self-centeredness, living for ourselves, answering to no one but ourselves, the frenetic and frantic quest for what so many consider success, climbing the ladder of progress and promotion in the vocations of our common life, until you reach the very “top of the heap.”  

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Think about it! Take a long hard look at yourself. What do you depend upon for your own sense of worth, your self-esteem? Is it your position in your workplace, your title, your awards, your authority? That may not be true of you, but it is true of so many in our society, both men and women, who depend upon their degrees, their honors, their position, their power, and their portfolio for their personal sense of value. How sad! How tragic! Anyone can lose his or her job and experience financial reverses, and if that is what they depend upon for their self-esteem they can then feel worthless. They may see themselves as failures, and someone who cares needs to share this important truth with them: the fact that you have failed does not mean that you are a failure! It has been said that failure is often the “back door to success.”

Of course, that depends on how you describe or define “success.” Many believe they are successful simply because they have climbed that ladder to the top rung, are exercising power and authority over others, are in the upper income group, and have invested their money wisely (i.e. enlarged their portfolio). Once again, they are in the crowd that answers to themselves and no one else. This describes so many politicians who were elected to serve the people, but they essentially serve themselves and their own selfish interests. We have a President who answers to himself, hires and fires others at will, is unconcerned with the needs and rights of others, and is willing to use his power and whatever means is available to him to achieve his own ambitions and objectives. He doesn’t seem to care who he hurts or whose careers and retirements he damages. 

It is interesting to study the word “president,” for that will give you some insight into what a president does, or should do at different times, whether he or she is serving in the political, business, or educational arena. If you do this, you will find the words “preside,” “reside,” and simply “side.”  Presidents preside over business and board meetings. There are times when they need to simply reside, sit back or take a back seat, listen and learn, be willing to accept counsel and even criticism without feeling diminished or threatened. They need to ask themselves, or they may need to be asked, whose side they are on – only their own? Or are they on the side of all those they have been chosen or elected to represent and serve? What kind of leadership are they modeling, positional leadership or servant leadership?  

We have too many people in positions of power and privilege who dominate, subjugate, and humiliate (especially men who have little or no respect for women who work for them, or with them). There are too many elected officials who are self-serving, swayed by power-brokers and lobbyists, not listening and answering to their own constituencies – bound to those who have contributed money to their campaigns, rather then to the Constitution, which should guide them in their deliberations and decisions in Washington, D.C. Wall Street bankers and financial consultants who answer to themselves, not to the people who entrust their money to them. Television preachers and evangelists who also answer to themselves, rather than to the Lord they proclaim, false shepherds who feed themselves rather than the sheep of God’s pasture, false prophets who are guilty of “deluding” the people of God “…speaking visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord…who selfishly follow their own stubborn hearts…who prophesy lying dreams…who lead God’s people astray by their lies and recklessness…who pervert the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts…” (Jeremiah 23 and 24).   

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When we get to the bottom line, when we look beneath the attitudes, actions, and antics of so many in positions of power and leadership, including Christ’s Church, what do we find? Arrogance rather than humility, greed rather than generosity, love of power rather than love of people, a selfish spirit rather than a servant spirit, the abuse of authority rather than the use of authority to serve for the common good, to improve the quality of life for others, especially the poor and powerless, no sense of belonging, no sense of need for community, for meaningful relationships, which is going to be the theme of future posts for several weeks during this Season of Pentecost: AN UNCOMMON COMMUNITY, A FELLOWSHIP LIKE NO OTHER – the Body of Christ, a fellowship of caring, sharing, and burden-bearing, where there should be no room for self-centeredness, for feelings of superiority and inferiority, no place for the abuse of power and authority, but God’s design for our shared life, for “righteousness” (i.e. right relationships, with God, with ourselves, and with one another).

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