Dr. Phil was in Philly yesterday. The show was broadcast live from Independence Mall and featured a lineup of guests – including our Governor – who had gathered to process and debate the signing of convicted criminal Michael Vick by the Philadelphia Eagles, along with the rash of recent and highly publicized meltdowns by celebrities and political figures (Serena Williams, Kanye West, Joe Wilson, etc.). I tuned in to see what the good Doctor was going to say and do while in my hometown.
Without ever saying the word, Dr. Phil kept pointing the conversation back to “narcissism” and the behaviors that are rooted in a sense of privilege and entitlement that has not only swept through celebrity culture, but our culture-at-large as well. I found this to be interesting and timely as earlier in the day I had finally put wraps on the rough draft of the seminar on narcissism in youth culture that I’ll be sharing for the first time next week at the National Youthworkers Convention in Los Angeles.
The process of reading, studying, and prepping to talk about what just might be the most pressing issue in youth culture today has been both eye-opening and somewhat difficult. It’s been eye-opening in the sense that what we’ve known has been there for years is far more pervasive than once imagined. Once you understand the dynamics of narcissism you start to see where and how it rears its ugly head in all the little nooks and crannies of popular culture. It’s been difficult because once you understand the dynamics of narcissism you also begin to see it rear its ugly head – ironically – in your own mirror.
Part of the seminar takes a look at the causes of narcissism in our culture. These are the things that are feeding the fast-spreading epidemic. As I worked through the issues I quickly realized that one factor supersedes all others, that is . . . our human depravity. When we truly understand the Biblical drama that’s unfolding all around and within us, we quickly see that what began in chapter 1 with Creation and came undone in chapter 3 with the Fall is the place where we’re stuck. Yes, even those who have experienced the wonder and joy of being invited and brought into Redemption in chapter 3 still live life on this earth with the gnawing knowledge that the full effects of the Fall are not yet totally undone. In fact, the further along your life moves in chapter 3, the greater your awareness of the ghosts of chapter 2 in your own life. Ultimately, it’s all about narcissism and idolatry, as we created beings do anything and everything we can to put ourselves in the place of the Creator, relegating Him to a place where he conveniently waits in the wings to serve me, myself, and I whenever I might benefit from His services.
My paper this morning reported on when and where the H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine would be available for those who want to avoid the coming epidemic of the illness. That got me thinking about what the antidote is for the narcissistic ugliness we see in our own mirrors. Ultimately, what I need is to be put in my place. I need to understand and constantly be reminded of the fact that I don’t exist at the center of the universe, but that my role is to follow, honor, serve, and glorify the One who not only made me, but made me over by bringing me into chapter 3. But how can I be sure that’s going to happen? Just like millions of people will stand in line for a shot of H1N1, each of us must get in line and stay in line for daily shots of truth and reality that remind us of who we are, why we’re here, and the place we belong while the Biblical drama unfolds without and within. Regular reading of God’s revelation of Himself and His drama are the key.
For those of you who struggle to make this happen, I’d like to offer a suggestion. My own personal and lifelong struggle with this has led me try all sorts of approaches and to enlist all kinds of tools. Several years ago I stumbled upon something that has been very, very helpful. Scripture Union is an old organization that’s been promoting Bible reading for a long, long time. But don’t let our tendency to equate “old” with “irrelevant” shape your opinion and keep you from checking Scripture Union out. I have found their Encounter With God daily Bible reading guide to be especially helpful in my quest to get to know my Creator, His story, and my place in His world. If you’re looking to understand and experience the liberating freedom of being put in your place, check out the Scripture Union website.