Celebrate Who?

July30_JT_JNBy Jim Tune

Most popular treatments of faith say it doesn’t matter what you believe. Just believe something—whatever you want—and you’ll find the sheer act of believing will propel you to greatness. The parades and musical numbers at Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom encourage visitors to believe in themselves and celebrate their dreams, whatever they are.

As I left the theme park after a recent visit, the loudspeakers played a positively giddy song with the chorus, “In everything you do, celebrate you!” But life’s not an amusement park, and this endlessly narcissistic message will eat you alive if you attempt to live it. Imagine the hapless fellow who follows the advice, “In everything you do, celebrate you!” I bet that guy’s gonna lose a few jobs and spouses!

Former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges has become a prolific advocate for revolutionary change in America’s political and financial systems. In his book Empire of Illusion Hedges reflects on the gilded cult of “us”:

Popular expressions of religious belief, personal empowerment, corporatism, political participation, and self-definition argue that all of us are special, entitled, and unique. All of us, by tapping into our inner reserves of personal will and undiscovered talent . . . can achieve, and deserve to achieve, happiness, fame and success. . . . This mantra has seeped into every aspect of our lives. We are all entitled to everything.

I grew up watching Robin Leach’s TV program called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Today, hedonism and wealth are openly worshipped on shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and The Real Housewives of (fill in the blank). These shows focus on an unattainable and deplorable America, where 1 percent control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.

We envy their lives, beach houses, and riches. They marry rappers and professional athletes and are chauffeured in stretch limos to exclusive boutiques and expensive spas.

Of course, the average American is shut out of television’s gated community. Most of us will never attain these lives of wealth and power, and our failure to experience these impossible lifestyles convinces us of our own inferiority and worthlessness.

The best the average person can achieve is pseudo-celebrity. Our phones and mobile devices enable us to post our fabulous “selfies” and claim our 15 seconds of fame. In this culture of narcissism, we are all, as journalist Neal Gablerput it, “becoming at once performance artists in and audiences for a grand, ongoing show.”

Sadly, Evangelical culture embraces much of the current pop psychology and self-help thinking, along with countless other fantasies peddled by the “celebrate you” marketing machine. Perhaps this is why I distance myself from the gates of the American Evangelical ghetto with its obsessions with so-called Christian art, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian merchandise, and Christian T-shirts and trinkets, along with other political and social false boundary markers that have nothing to do with Jesus’ teachings.

The cult of “celebrate you” is cluttering our churches with empty and fatuous pursuits. Christ’s kingdom is not a magic one.

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6 Comments

  1. Nancy Hoffman
    July 30, 2014 at 10:39 am

    I love the phrase “the gates of the American Evangelical ghetto”. We, who think we are so rich, are actually very poor. We fail to understand servanthood and discipleship.

  2. Michelle
    July 30, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Wow, another hard hitting, thought provoking article! At times, I find I am guilty of living the – What can I do next to entertain me? -lifestyle.
    Our culture thrives when we believe in our own entitlement to a good time. …all the time!
    I know this is far from the selfless message of Jesus.
    Thanks for this, Jim. Always great to read your perspective. Time for a little self-reflection!

  3. Mike
    July 31, 2014 at 7:45 am

    I think you are a little harsh/off-base lumping Christian music with T-shirts and trinkets. There are many gifted artists using their God-given talents to spread the gospel and lead in worship. I agree that there is far too much celebrity status among some Christian artists. Still, I would sooner fill my mind with positive lyrics that honor God than condemn Christian music and turn to the alternative messages offered by popular culture/music – Garbage In = Garbage Out.

  4. Victor Knowles
    July 31, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Good, powerful, and necessary words, Jim!

  5. August 1, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    Jesus calls us to deny SELF and take up a CROSS and to live FOR HIM. Is that message broadcast in our church services? Are we called to sacrifice our desires in order to win the world for Jesus?

  6. Darren
    August 2, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    The world does a great job of convincing us that “everything is awesome” – Just like the “Lego” movie, when you are caught up in the way of the world singing its song, brainwashed by its media and the false message of perpetual joy. You miss the reality everything is not awesome. This world is fading fast, A.D.D culture is over entertained and apathetic, we are being handed over to poverty and slavery to debt. When “everything is awesome” we miss out on the truth of awesome… the ‘One True Awesome’ Jesus the Christ who is our Lord and Savior. The promise of salvation through grace and eternity with the Creator of everything.

    Sadly, those of us who know Christ do often get sucked into the split of culture where “we have ours and they have theirs.” If we continue to live in that “ghetto” only preaching to the saved, it will not be long before the salt loses its saltiness, and the light of the world goes dark. There is a time and a place for self improvement and may God bless those who give us the words to sing his praise in a pleasing melody. May he also bless the works of those who honestly and humbly find ways to preach and reach the lost… But we were not called to only improve ourselves… We are called to make disciples. We are called to cast off the “self” and be humbled.
    The kingdom of God is not a fan club.

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