Saturday, July 28, 2012

"We" Or "Me"?

23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. — 1 Corinthians 10:23–24 (NASB95)

According to new research, over the past 50 years Americans have increasingly emphasized "me" over "we"—or individualism over community. That's based on a heavy-duty analysis of words and phrases that have appeared in American books published in the past 50 years. Researchers used Google Books to scan 750,000 books, comparing the frequency of "me" words and phrases (such as "all about me," "I am the greatest," "I love me," "my needs," etc.) with "we" words (such as "community goals," "we are one," "work as a team," "common good," etc.). Researchers concluded that the results showed an increasing focus on the solitary self. Psychologist Jean Twenge added, "These trends reflect a sea change in American culture toward more individualism." –

Some believe we’re a society bordering on narcissism. Maybe. What we can say is that we’re losing a sense of community. Individualism is today’s trump card. If it’s not of interest to “me”, if it’s not good for “me”, if it’s not what “I” like, then the chances that “I” or “we” will support it or participate in it are slim.

You’d think this would not be true about the church, but sadly, this same mindset has taken over even among Christians. Schedule events for the church? It only works as long as it fits into “my” schedule. Enlist volunteers for much needed service to the church? OK, as long as it’s what “I” would enjoy doing. Promote fellowship among church members? Sure, as long as “I” like the people to start with.

Even church assemblies and other events suffer. Preachers, elders, educators, and others have long wondered why it’s so hard to get people to turn out consistently and regularly for church events. Everybody knows that attendance on Sunday morning is one thing, and attendance on Sunday night is another. It’s been that way for ages. Is it that Sunday night just doesn’t provide what people need? That’s a possibility, but in most places, the quality of the assembly is the same as on Sunday morning. These are just examples. The question has always been, “Why do people participate or do not participate?”

The answer to that question is key. Listen to the answers carefully. I’m afraid you’ll find that it involves more “I” and “me” than you might think. The church, however, is a “we” thing. Until we get that down, it will continue to suffer.

Caring For Others

3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. — Philippians 2:3–4 (NASB95)

Yvette Vickers, a former [model] and B-movie star, best known for her role in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, would have been 83 in August 2011, but nobody knows exactly how old she was when she died. According to the Los Angeles coroner's report, she lay dead for the better part of a year before a neighbor and fellow actress, a woman named Susan Savage, noticed cobwebs and yellowing letters in her mailbox, reached through a broken window to unlock the door, and pushed her way through the piles of junk mail and mounds of clothing that barricaded the house. Upstairs, she found Vickers's body, mummified, near a heater that was still running. Her computer was on too, its glow permeating the empty space. – Steven Marche, "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" The Atlantic (May 2012)

Yvette Vickers isn’t the only person, surrounded by neighbors, and yet died without anyone knowing about it. Actually, something similar happened to me. We lived in an Atlanta, Georgia suburb and were next door neighbors to a couple who were very difficult to get to know. They were seldom seen, and when they were, they seldom even spoke. The husband was ill, and occasionally a hearse would come and load him up to take him somewhere for treatments of some kind. Once, after having not seen either of them for a while, another neighbor told me, “I think the man over there died.” It seems there was a time when the hearse took him away and never brought him back. Nobody in the neighborhood knew about it until after a few months. Needless to say, it was a little shocking.

That kind of thing will make you think. Maybe I should have been more proactive as a neighbor, maybe I should have gone over to check on him, maybe I should have offered to help. Maybe, maybe, maybe. So whenever I read blurbs like the one about Yvette Vickers, I think I understand how it happens. Sad, but it happens. The truth is I can’t take care of everybody. It does little good to go on a guilt trip. What’s better is to take a more active role among the people we already know. That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t stretch beyond that, but if we all could just care for the people we know, it would do a world of good.

I’m pretty good at looking out for my own personal interests. I need to do better at looking out for yours. And you? Hey! I’m over here!