Photo Courtesy of Stock Photo
By JONATHAN MCREYNOLDS
There was a time when only Hollywood actors, famous musicians, popular athletes and politicians had to deal with it. They were the only ones that had to experience the hot lights and the paparazzi. They were the only people that had to be extra careful with their words, incredibly concerned with their image and their audience. They were the only people that had to deal with the stress of public consumption and public distribution. And they often died quickly because of it.
That time has passed though and now everybody glories in their own lights and cameras Everyone is calculated in their words, their “sets” and their images. Now everyone desires public consumption and distribution. Seems like everyone, not driven by the NBA, or Hollywood, or a presidential campaign, has driven THEMSELVES into the spotlight–their own spotlight. We make our own movies, rumors, and campaigns now. We now distribute a piece of us, whether we truly have something to offer, to the masses every time we get a chance. No longer content with family and friends knowing our name, good people around the world are preoccupied with framing their goodness just right for a public ministry to which we called ourselves.
I watched a BuzzFeed video of a man and his son as the man began to “publicly empower” his discouraged son to be different and proud of his uniqueness. It’s heartwarming until you think, “wait, why on earth would you, when your son opens up to you about his school yard troubles, do you sit him down and put a camera in front of his face before you guys can talk it out?!” The little guy obliges and is now telling the world about a private insecurity, so he and his dad can become temporary internet stars. Now I’m not judging the guy. He seems like a great father. But it just seemed odd that even parenting is not a private, single minded occupation anymore. Parenting is now part of some people’s “brand” and we will willingly subject our own kids to scrutiny and celebration from millions of folks who ultimately shouldn’t matter.
As much as I inhale and exhale this culture, both spectating and participating in it, I am just a little concerned about the motivation and the effect of our excessive self promotion. The motivation is easy. We all want to be praised. Some deep folks would say that we all desire to be worshipped like God. That’s a lot, but we definitely want “likes.” We want validation. We want celebration. Our birthdays now last for a week and we throw parties for feats less profitable than the cost of the party.
This need for, and expectation of, attention, fame and virality is clearly toxic. Our culture bases worth on applause. This is particularly problematic for the Christian for two reasons: (1) our perspective, our beliefs are not consistent with the world at large. The gospel–the tough, beautiful, Jesus-centered truth–is being replaced by “positivity,” some universal variant of “love” and ever-so-ambiguous “tolerance.” All those things are great and necessary, but if applause is your real pursuit, those very humanistic values will replace spiritual ones. And regardless of how noble our protests are, we know that our humanity ultimately condemns us while our SPIRITUALITY is all that can save us. (2) In Matthew 6, Jesus warned not to practice righteousness to be seen by people. In other words, don’t act “all holy and stuff” for likes and shares.
Our generation has proven that there is a fine line between evangelism and fan base building, ministry and branding, private revelation and public declaration. Coming from an artist who’s packaging is only getting more intentional, more polished, and more thoughtful by the minute, it is very important we, I, wrestle with that line EVERYDAY with honesty, humility and fervor.
As we move forward daily, post by post, we must check our hearts. Not for our audience’s sake but for our own. And make sure that you do some things, MORE things, in secret. “Pictures or it didn’t happen” is a pop culture idea, but we know we have a witness and rewarder in heaven. Your likeless deeds may be the only truly good ones you’ll ever do. Remember God doesn’t look at your hands, God looks at your heart.
Jonathan McReynolds can be reached at liferoomtalk.com.