In the Hidden Brain Podcast Episodes Me, Myself, And Ikea host Shankar Vedantum explores the power and peril of being attracted to seeing ourselves in others. In Psychology this is called Implicit Egotism otherwise known as Narcissism. Now Narcissism generally isn’t thought of as a good thing. But we need a little bit of it. Jesus says we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Many marriage studies show that what makes for the best long lasting relationship is when two people share common values, when two people see themselves in each other. But Narcissism can have downsides when we are attracted to unhealthy characteristics of ourselves in others and be attracted to that. Or we might be attracted to things that have nothing to do with successful relationships. For example, there is a statistically significant trend of people getting married to other people who share the same day of birth, even though they may have been born a different months. There is a statistically significant trend of people moving two states that resemble their names. For example, there are more Virginia’s in Virginia, there are more Georgia’s in Georgia. There is also a statistical trend of people naturally gravitating to people who share the same name as them.
Narcissism is even demonstrated in shopping at IKEA, so much so that psychologist call it the IKEA effect . Now I know when you walk into the new IKEA store in Norfolk that you are not thinking that all these nice and affordably priced pieces of furniture are putting your spiritual and relational health at risk but hear me out. To Quote Vedantum, “The actress Amy Poehler once said, Ikea is Swedish for argument.
Why? Because research shows that we can fall in love with our own creation. Certainly, IKEA furniture is cheaper because you put it together yourself. But if you are not good at putting things together yourself the furniture can come out a little off. But the person who made it may not be willing to admit it because they have fallen in love with their own creation.
As I was listening to this research I thought to myself, “wow this is interesting I am glad that I am self aware and mature enough not to be attracted to people just because they have my name and not to become enamored with my own creations.” Then I realized that I had done exactly what this study said without even realizing at the time. My last year in College I roomed with a guy who’s first name is Will. I would have said at the time it was because I thought we would make good roommates. But though I certainly wish Will number 2 well I can’t say we became the best of friends because of the experience. I got to admit looking back on it that I found rooming with another guy named Will to be amusing and appealing and that was more of a reason for rooming with him than I was willing to admit at the time. Not only did I room with a guy with my same name but that very year I roomed with him I bought a put it together yourself futon. I am not sure it was from IKEA but the same idea. Will number 2 (because clearly I was Will number 1) was an English major and I was a Government and History Major, so as you can imagine, neither of us were mechanically inclined. I remember spending hours and hours putting that futon together with Will number 2. And we were so proud of our creation. And I took that futon with me from William & Mary to seminary. And from seminary to the first house I rented a room from after seminary in Richmond. I probably dragged that thing 120 miles from Williamsburg to Harrisonburg and then to Richmond. I dragged it across town to the nice town house I lived in after seminary. But my landlord and roommate was straight with me and said my futon was too crumby for his nice townhouse and it had to go. If I am honest it wasn’t event that comfortable. But I was in love with my own creation, my own competence, my own ability to do something right, my own righteousness. I couldn’t see that it didn’t fit where I was living. But I kept carrying it with me.
I think we all face that. My crumby futon is symbolic of crumby theology, of crumby spirituality. And crumby spirituality can lead us down the wrong path. It led Paul down the wrong path. But Paul tells us today he does not want to depend on his own rightness. He wants to know the power of the resurrection.
The Good News: When we repent of Crumby Spirituality we shall be revived by the power of the Resurrection.
- What is Crumby Spirituality ?
Peter Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, lays out ten criteria for what he calls unhealthy spirituality, what I am calling crumby spirituality.
First there is using God to run from God. Scazzero defines this as engaging in religious activities such as reading Christian books, Bible studies, volunteering at the church, spending lots of time in prayer, out of a desire to escape our emotional pain rather than out of a desire to serve God.
Second, is ignoring anger, sadness, and fear. This is when instead of making space for dealing with negative emotions in our spiritual communities we ban negative emotions from our spiritual communities. To quote Scazzero, “ To feel is to be human. To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers of God. To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well.”
Third, is dying to the wrong things. Scazzero points out that if we take Jesus command to die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, out of context, we can end up being pretty crumby to ourselves. We are called to die to our sinful nature such as defensiveness, detachment from others, arrogance, stubbornness, hypocrisy, judgmentalism, a lack of vulnerability, as well as the obvious sins laid out in the Ten Commandments. But to quote Scazzero, “ We are not called by God to die to the “good” parts of who we are. God never asked us to die to the healthy desires and pleasures of life- to friendships, joy, art music, beauty, recreation, laughter and nature. God plants desires in our hearts so we will nurture and enjoy them. Often these desires and passions are invitations from God, gifts from him. Yet somehow we feel guilty unwrapping these presents.”
Fourth is denying the impact of the past on the present. Paul tells us that we are a new creation in Christ Jesus. The Old has gone the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). But being born again means that we have to commit ourselves to growing up all over again. But that is hard to do when we have not addressed the negative aspects of growing up the first time around. To quote Scazzero, “ the work of growing in Christ (what theologians call sanctification) does not mean we don’t go back to the past as we press ahead to what God has for us. It actually demands we go back in order to break free from unhealthy and destructive patterns that prevent us from loving ourselves and others as God designed.”
Fifth is dividing life into the secular and sacred. To quote Scazzero, “Human beings have an uncanny ability to live compartmentalized, double lives. Frank attends church and sings about God’s love. On the way home he pronounces the death penalty over another driver. For frank, Sunday church is for God. Monday to Saturday is for work.
Jane yells at her husband, berating him for his lack of spiritual leadership with the children. He walks away deflated and crushed She walks away convinced she has fought valiantly in God’s name.
Ken has a disciplined devotional time with God each day before going to work but then does not think of God’s presence with him all through the day at work or when he returns home to be with his wife and children.
Judith cries during songs about the love and grace of God at her church. But she regularly complains and blames others for the difficulties and trials in her life.”
Sixth, is doing for God instead of Being with God. To quote Scazzero, “ work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval of and from others, and buying into the wrong ideas of success and the mistaken belief that we can’t fail. When we work for God because of these things, our experience of the gospel often falls off center. We become “human doings” not “human beings” .
Seventh, is spiritualizing Away Conflict. To Scazzero, “ Nobody likes conflict. Yet conflict is everywhere-from law courts to workplaces to classrooms to neighborhoods to marriages to parenting our children to close friendships to when someone has spoken or acted toward you inappropriately. But perhaps one of the most destructive myths alive in the Christian community today is the belief that smoothing over our disagreements or “sweeping them under the rug” is part of what it means to follow Jesus. For this reason, churches, small groups, ministry teams, denominations, and communities continue to experience pain and unresolved conflicts.”
Eighth is covering over Brokenness, Weakness, and failure. To quote Scazzero, “ The pressure to present an image of ourselves as strong and spiritually “together” hovers over most of us. We feel guilty for not measuring up, for not making the grade. We forget that not one of us is perfect and that we are all sinners. We forget that David one of God’s most beloved friends, committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband. Talk about a scandal! How many of us would not have erased that from the history books forever lest the name of God be disgraced?
David did not. Instead, he used his absolute power as king to ensure the details of his colossal failure were published in the history books for all future generations! In fact, David wrote a song about his failure to be sung in Israel’s worship service and to be published in their worship manual, the psalms.”
Ninth, is living without limits. To quote Scazzero, “ The core spiritual issue here relates to our limits and our humanity. We are not God. We cannot serve everyone in need. We are human. When Paul said, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13), the context was that of learning to be content in all circumstances. The strength he received from Christ was not the strength to change, deny, or defy his circumstances; it was the strength to be content in the midst of them. To surrender to God’s loving will for him (Philippians 4:11-13).”
Tenth is Judging other People’s spiritual journey. To quote Scazzero, “ By failing to let others be themselves before God and move at their own pace, we inevitably project onto them our own discomfort with their choice to live life differently than we do. We end up eliminating them in our minds, trying to make others like us, abandoning them altogether or falling into a “Who Cares?” indifference toward them. In some ways the silence of unconcern can be more deadly than hate. Like Jesus said, unless I first take the log out of my own eye, knowing that I have huge blind spots, I am dangerous. I must see the extensive damage sin has done to every part of who I am- emotion, intellect, body, will, and spirit-before I can attempt to remove the speck from the eye of another (Matthew 7:1-5).”
In our passage today we see what a profound change meeting the Resurrected Christ had on Paul’s spiritual growth. He admits here and elsewhere that he had pretty crumby spirituality that was putting others in danger, so much so that he was helping Christians be stoned to death, and rounding them up for execution. Yet, after Christ he considers all his accomplishments as rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ.
It seems like Paul is experiencing the power of Christ resurrection that he has overcome crumby spirituality. All except for number ten, judging other people’s spiritual journeys. He calls his opponents, those who argue that circumcision is still necessary for non-Jewish people dogs. The term Dog was derogatory and racial slur that Jews would use against anyone who wasn’t Jewish. Dogs in Jesus day, and in many countries today, were not considered to be house pets. They were considered to be unsophisticated, Ferrell, pests, that feasted on dead bodies. Paul certainly would have called many members of the church at Philippi, the very church he planted, Dogs before he met Christ. But even after his miraculous transformation, even after meeting the Risen Lord on the Road to Damascus, he doesn’t see he is doing the very same thing he did before he met Jesus, only now with Jews instead of Gentiles. Paul has hit a wall in his spiritual growth. Studying this passage I simply couldn’t escape Paul calling people dogs and how poorly that reflects on him. I couldn’t get passed how poorly it reflects on us as believers when we use harsh, dehumanizing, and demeaning language, to attack our opponents. Jesus would never do something like that many of us would assume. But in fact Jesus did call someone a dog as well. In one particular story in Mark 7:24-30, Jesus apparently calls a woman from modern day Syria a dog.
As Mark tells us Jesus was in a region that would be the South of the modern nation of Lebanon. Mark tells us that he entered a house there and he didn’t want anyone to know where he was. Jesus often retreated from ministry when he was exhausted to be with his heavenly Father alone in prayer. He was apparently so exhausted by ministering in his own nation that he had to leave Israel and enter a neighboring nation to find some peace and quiet. Yet, even in a nation where most of his own people wouldn’t dare set foot, Jesus could not find any rest. This woman from Syria, had a little daughter who was being oppressed by a demon. She asked Jesus to cast the demon out. Jesus replied, “ Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” The woman replies to him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Because of this response Jesus grants
This is one of the most difficult verses in scripture. And scholars have many complicated explanations for why Jesus did this. But perhaps the complicated explanation reflect our own crumby spirituality. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that Jesus said this because he was tired. And we can’t accept this because we don’t think Jesus had limitations and we don’t think Jesus should express negative feelings. But Jesus limited himself when he took on our flesh. And he would have sinned if he had sent that woman away after insulting her. But Jesus had a broken and contrite heart from his birth. He saw his mistake, which not all mistakes are sins, and he corrected it. The time of the nations had not come yet. But Jesus knew that it would come. And he would not treat this woman like a dog.
As Psalm 23 declares the Lord is our shepherd. He has prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies. And that table is big enough for our enemies for God’s grace is big enough even for our enemies. But to eat of that feast we have to stop accepting crumbs from others and we have to stop being crumby to others. We must repent of our crumby spirituality.