To borrow a good line from Paul, writing to early Christians who struggled with their identity and relationships, “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should” (Romans 12:3).
Modern psychologists did not invent the idea of decentering oneself; it is the central theme and sacrificial perspective Jesus offered his followers by word and example.
It comes not as a suggestion, but a command to “love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
So, why do Americanized Christians struggle so much to understand and apply this basic teaching and guiding principle?
Even advancing the common good gets treated as an inconvenience if not an offense to many modern believers.
Tiringly, we keep hearing about so-called “Christian rights” that reflect nothing of Christ. These self-serving values misuse religious freedom to excuse hatred and discrimination and to demand preferential societal treatment over others.
As a fan of singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, I cringed when learning he assisted Marijohn Wilkin (who had written some good stuff like Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil”) in composing the song, “One Day at a Time.”
Singer Marilyn Sellars charted the song in 1974 before Christy Lane did so a few years later. For decades it seems, television ads aplenty featured this latter version.
I overheard a young adult, who had just seen the ad, describe the song as “dreadful.” She was likely responding to the sad warbling of, “I’m only human; I’m just a woman.”
The song’s primary message seems good, however. Many who experience trials and troubles find it helpful simply to take life a day at a time while seeking God’s help.
But one verse, directed at Jesus, stood out to me upon closer examination:
Oh, do you remember
When You walked among men
Well, Jesus, You know
If You’re looking below
That it’s worse now than then
Oh, there’s pushing and shoving
And it’s crowding my mind
I wanted to write an “answer song” – like Kitty Wells, Skeeter Davis and Dottie West used to sing – that would include this response from Jesus:
“Well, of course, I remember when I was down (though it’s not literally down) there. You mean it’s worse now than then? People are pushing and shoving? Wow, that’s a lot worse than having your hands and side pierced and being tortured to death for expressing love beyond the religious and cultural norms of the day. Thanks for letting me know.”
I’m not picking on the songwriters or singers (well, maybe a little bit) as much as pointing out the larger perspective that is so prevalent in Americanized Christianity – the belief that we are at the center of the universe and the most victimized believers in history.
Recently, I wrote a column about how obsessions with end-times theorizing tend to reflect self-focus.
Biblical writings and historical events are viewed through one’s own lifetime and experiences only. And it can’t be imagined that God would do something big – even climactic – that didn’t involve us.
Similar self-interest is present in the young earth creationism, which is still promoted among many Christians today despite scientific evidence to the contrary. To believe that the earth is just six millennia old makes one’s own four scores numerically more significant.
Yet, the wisp of life we actually experience – lived out on a billions-years-old, rounded, rotating planet (that some still deny) within a massive universe that keeps getting discovered – makes us less central to the history of the world than many like to pretend.
For those truly pursuing a biblical perspective, however, there is no need to seek significance by pushing ourselves onto the center stage of history. We can revel in the good news that God is personal, but not exclusive, and larger than our imagination.
The psalmist (Psalm 8:5) – echoed by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 2:7) – describes humanity as “a little lower than the angels.” The larger biblical revelation is full of expressing the grandness of the Creator who cares for each and every aspect of creation.
Indeed, God’s comfort, companionship and compassion are often needed for daily living. Yet, none of that is lost when acknowledging that God loves all others as much as we are loved – and that the challenges we face are not greater than others have known.
Americanized Christianity suffers deeply from a false sense of entitlement and defensiveness rather than sacrifice and service. This myopic view is on “my rights,” “my freedom” and anything else that begins with “my” – although Jesus constantly turned the attention of his followers to others.
The fantasized narrative of American exceptionalism contributes to this self-focus by positioning us in a favored position while ignoring the realities of our own individual and corporate sins.
This unbiblical and undeserved sense of favoritism excuses the ways we have others treated as being less in the eyes of God because we look upon them as being lesser humans.
Our loving Creator hears our pleas and prayers. But whining about how we have it worse than anyone else – now or historically – is an unintended confession of self-absorption.
It would be better to ask God to forgive us of the same bigotries, legalism, fears and self-serving ideologies that put Jesus on the cross and are still present today and often advanced by those who bear his name.
In doing so, we might become more like Jesus, one day at a time.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.