I love language. I know that may sound different, but I truly love the written word as well as listening to good speakers, and understanding language and language history. It is fascinating to watch trends and understand how words shape our thinking and how we view the world around us. I remember when first learning grammar learning the proper use if pronouns it is important when using your personal pronoun alongside others to make sure that the personal pronouns of I and me would be the last listed, i.e. my wife and I went out to dinner or when I was little there were three in my home – my mom, my dad, and me. This was the proper use.
As I was growing up I noticed a trend in which the use of me in lists started to more commonly placed first. In this trend, the language of people also began to change. The idea of political correctness began to grow. In this trend words began to change and have meaning that at one time was not known. Offense began to dictated as an objective reality instead of subjective. The “me” became of utmost importance. How it makes me feel was of utmost important and to have people understand how the reality of me should be a part of their reality also. Unfortunately, with this the tolerance of ideas started to be challenged. Most recently I have noticed a new trend, the use of me is being moved to myself.
I guess one could argue that it is a part of the new “selfie” movement. Selfies are everywhere. They even entered a funeral service for a major dignitary as our President Barack Obama did it during the funeral of Nelson Mandela. This is not a commentary of the appropriateness of that action, but about how prevalent it is in our society. Selfies and selfie-sticks have had to be banned at various places because of how many people have not been thoughtful of where they are and have had issues because of insensitivity in the use of selfie-sticks and the inappropriate timing of taking a selfie. Now selfies aren’t all bad, so don’t believe that that is necessarily what I am criticizing. It is nice to have pictures for posterity, for the memories. It is good to show the high points in life.
The issue isn’t selfies, but the elevation of self above all else. It is an unfortunate reality that we face and we struggle against in our world. It is in direct relation to how we have stepped away in society from being grounded in the faith of Christ our Lord and how far the Word of God has moved from being the guiding force in our lives. The problem of this elevation of self is that often times we elevate ourselves into the place of God and our neighbors are kicked to the wayside. Language shapes how we act, how we think, and how we worship. As we have moved from the me-first to myself we have seen how worship has changed from an upward focus to a focus on how it makes me or myself feel. If someone says something that offends me or myself I no longer seek to understand, but focus on the offense. God gave us commandments,
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. “You shall not murder. “You shall not commit adultery. “You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Exodus 20:1–21, ESV
When we fail at the first, “You shall have no other gods before me,” all the others easily fall like dominoes. Worship is no longer seen as a worshiping of God it is about self-betterment, feeling valued, and a focus on future success. If it feels good, it must be OK, and I will listen and follow those that tell me what I want to hear is true. As these things fall away and our treatment and honoring of God is no longer in the center next fall relationships. Honoring father and mother, the first figures of authority, becomes less of a way of life. As the respect for parents have declined and the families structures falter, life holds less value, the concept of fidelity in marriage is no longer important and the institution of marriage is lessened, why not take what you want, talk about people not worrying if it is true or false or how it may damage them, and then comes the looking at what people have in their homes, property, and relationships quickly fall behind. The idea, “I should have that,” is a reality and the next thing you know the thought of breaking into a home is no longer an issue.
Now I’m not a social scientist, just a theologian, but I look at the correlation between our ever evolving language and our treatment of God seems to affect our treatment of our neighbor. Offense is easily found by those who seek it and it increases division. When we put limitations on the exchange of ideas because it might offend limits our opportunities to gain understanding and share the truth that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord. Quite honestly, the Gospel is offensive. It is meant to offend because it shines a light on all that is off and all that is wrong within us. It is offensive to think that for us to be redeemed would require that God would enter his own creation in his Son, Jesus Christ, and allow for his crucifixion and death in order that he would take on himself all that is wrong in us, in order to be resurrected and further lead us into the righteousness. It is offensive to submit to something outside of yourself and be called to serve the neighbor and look out for the other. It is offensive to place those that are looked down upon in society above us and serve them. That is the reality of our faith. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, are not first. I would argue against the “I am Second” campaign that was well-intentioned but missed a vital Scriptural truth. We are to see ourselves last in the reality that our call is to serve as Christ came to serve. We are not to just put Christ as the number one in our life, but in putting him first we are placing our neighbor ahead and seeking to serve all of creation. As Jesus told the disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35, ESV) We are free in Christ and in that great freedom we have been given the gift and the opportunity to serve.