The Narcissistic face of Contemporary Christianity

My brothers and sisters in Christ,

Where do you meet the risen presence of the Lord Jesus?

Today’s gospel, a favorite story of mine is the familiar one of the two disciples along the road to Emmaus. They are overcome with a sense of immediacy of the events of the crucifixion. Overcome with grief, they are headed out of town with a purpose. That purpose is to distance themselves from the events of the past several days. I suppose that their intent was to distance themselves in two ways: The first was physical distance. They knew that they might be in a certain amount of danger—guilt by association—and they did not want to be answering questions about their relationship with Jesus. When the going gets tough, the tough get going—and in this case they were going out of town. We all saw the same phenomenon this week on the news with the story about the comments made by the owner of the LA Clippers. Suddenly no one really wanted to be overly associated with Donald Sterling. If he had friends, they all left town, distancing themselves as quickly as possible.

But these two disciples were also were distancing themselves emotionally. They were caught up in grief. And, while they were caught up in their grief over the loss of a friend and teacher, there is a certain element to their behavior that transcends grief. It goes into the direction self-pity. And, as is the case with all instances of self-pity, there is a heavy dose of narcissism in it. You can hear it in the bitterness of their comments: “We hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

Theirs is a tale of disappointed expectation. And, so, a component of their grief is how they had had great hope and confidence set on One who did not do what they supposed that He was supposed to do. So they were focused on themselves. There seems to be a warning there which would be good for us to heed. It is not likely that you are going to find the presence of Jesus in the midst of self absorption, even when Jesus is standing there right next to you. Yet, so much of the contemporary face of Christianity has this element of narcissism about it.

Consider these often heard statements about the Christian Faith with the emphasis on the personal pronoun MY:

  • Jesus died for MY sins
  • Jesus is MY personal Lord and Savior
  • Jesus is MY Good Shepherd, who will seek and understand ME no matter how far I stray.
  • Jesus understands MY every need

Now, I am not saying that these statements are untrue.

  • Jesus in fact did die for your sins, but not for yours only.
  • I earnestly hope that you know Jesus personally
  • And I truly hope that you know first hand the compassion of our Lord.

But there is an unhealthy way in which Christianity is popularly presented and understood. It emphasizes the personal relationship between ME and MY LORD that is coming dangerously close to the worship and glorification of the self. And we need to be reminded that narcissism is the worship of the self. It is not the worship of God. Eventually if our relationship with Jesus becomes too narcissistic, we will lose sight of him just as did those disciples on the Road to Emmaus.

In your prayer lives, the corrective to narcissism comes through the practice of praise and adoration. If, in your prayer life all you do is dwell on your problems, what you will find are your problems. But if you turn your attention toward praise and adoration your attention turns n from the self and turns your attention towards God.

In your practical application of Christianity, turning your attention to seeing Christ in others persons, and being concerned with mission and outreach again turns your attention from self towards serving others as Christ would have us serve.

If you would see Jesus, in short, the challenge is this: try looking for Him.

Faithfully,

Canon Greg+

 

 

 

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About canongreg

I have been Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wellsboro, PA since 1994.
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