PROLOGUE: ANCIENT GREECE, c. 410 BC
“Know thyself.”–Socrates [supposedly]
APPROXIMATELY 2,425 YEARS LATER
For those who might not know, I was a youth intern this summer at a church in Fairfax, VA.
We were playing mini golf at the park one fateful Saturday evening when I established a (kind of joke, kind of serious) rule system with the kids. It was very simple, as it was only two rules. But I told them that knowing these two rules and living by them would bring them far in life. These two rules were:
- Don’t be a jerk.
- Don’t be an idiot.
I’m happy to say that the rule system caught on, so throughout the rest of the summer, whenever someone was treating someone else unfairly, I simply had to say, “Remember rule number 1,” and they would (occasionally) calm down. Or when someone was lacking in common sense I would go up to them and ask, “Hey, remember my second rule?” and they would (sometimes) reconsider their actions.
The point of all this is, simply put, I wanted the teens to think about people and things outside of themselves. And to not be jerks or idiots.
One of the most fascinating things about this world we’re in is that the longer we live in it and the more we learn about it, the smaller we realize we are. Or that’s how it’s worked for me, at least. I’ve seen this a lot from studying the Bible these past 3 1/2 years, as well as some of my other classes in which we talked about culture, history, astronomy, psychology, (math,) environmental science…
It seems like it would be impossible to learn–really learn about anything of these things and not come out feeling truly humbled. We start to realize that we are specks, mere vapor in the earth’s long existence. We’re here for a short while and soon after we’re long forgotten. From dust we have come, and it is to dust again that we shall return.
But at the same time, we’re a part of something. Something that’s bigger than ourselves, but something of which we are an integral part. Our contribution to this something is essential and makes every difference.
We are simultaneously minuscule and yet of the utmost importance. We are the light of the world but our radiance is but a glimmer when laid against the mass of history and astronomy. We are here for only a short while, but we serve a God for whom a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.
Did you know that when you compare the size of the smallest known item in the universe and the size of the largest known item in the universe, scientists think that humans are just about right down the middle between those two? Not whales, not ants, not the sun. You, and I.
I say all this because I want to examine what this means in regards to theology, culture, and justice. For this post, I want us to ask, Who does God say we are? Who does God call us to be and what does God call us to do?
And later on, I want us to ask the same thing about the culture we live in. Who does it say we are and what does it call us to do?
I have some confessions to make. While my education on the Bible has certainly been beneficial, I’ve learned so much more about applying these lessons to other parts of life through my time living with a Biology major, an environmental science major, an art major, an English major, and even another Bible major.
And while I believe I’m receiving one of the best educations my parents’ hard-earned money can buy, I’ve learned some of the most important things about God not from my professors, but in conversations with my homeless friends Wayne, Michael, and O. T.
And while I’ve read about God’s bigness hundreds of times in the Bible and Bible commentaries, all the theology books in the world can’t give me a single lesson on that in the same way the Grand Canyon (or the 15 hour road trip to the Grand Canyon) can, or even in the same way a good look up at the stars in a clear night sky can.
So when I take my life and make it about something greater than my own self, it because something more genuine, more real, more aligned to what I feel like it’s supposed to be.
I believe I’m becoming someone important, but I’m realizing that I am nothing by myself. I’m learning so much, but I’m realizing how little I know.
So I’m learning more and more about who I am–who God and my environment say that I am, but it doesn’t stop there. It can’t stop there.
Because of my faith, I believe that I have a purpose, a reason to be where I am. As a follower of Christ, I believe that I am called to bring heaven down to earth, to reflect God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
Because this is my father’s world, and I am merely a citizen, I believe that I am called to help steward and protect it and allow it to continue to be a sustainable home for myself and literally everything else I know.
Because I call myself a Christian, I believe that I am called to feed Jesus’s sheep and to love my enemies and to share my material possessions with those who need them.
Being a self-aware Christian is somewhat ironic in that it means you know that life is not about you. We are laying down our lives for the sake of a bigger cause: the cause of Christ. It is humbling in the most beautiful and authentic sort of way.
What happens when we realize that this world is not about us? What becomes of us when we stop being jerks and idiots and realize our place in the world: at the foot of the cross? At the feet of our enemies, washcloths in hand? Not self-serving, but self-sacrificing.
I consider this particular post to be a sort of continuation of an introductory series to my new blog. I feel like self-awareness is such a huge part of human existence, and not just of being a Christian. To me, knowing who I am and what all that entails is among the utmost elements of life, of Christianity. It gives me–it gives us–purpose. God calls us sons and daughters, and that means we must treat each other like family. As a community. Serving God by serving one another.
So as we go about our daily lives, may we learn to understand who we are. May we place others above ourselves in humility. May we not be jerks or idiots, but know that our words and actions can hurt other people if taken advantage of. May we understand that we are an integral part of an intricate system. May we consider what humility means in our everyday lives and pursue to treat it and feed it like our most valued ally. May we, like John the Baptist, have the boldness and courage to say, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
Thanks for reading. Until next time.