Know Thyself

Today’s post comes from my friend Jake Kampe, whom I’ve never met but have enjoyed writerly conversations with. I like his take on identity, and it fits well at the beginning. More than tackling what identity means to him personally, Jake paints with a broader brush. Take a gander and leave him some comment love. You can find his blog here, and on twitter here. Thanks, you guys!

Culture has an identity.  A conglomerate of different values, thoughts, beliefs and lifestyles; culture lives and breathes with a complex body of sub-cultures.  Almost like watching a child grow, is the observance of American culture.  It’s amazing what we learn from the various developments, trends and changes that occur almost on a daily basis.  We turn on the news, listen to music, watch our favorite TV shows and we see that American culture actually has something of an identity.  Sure, we see various deviations of identity in different sub-cultures.  And I imagine that’s what makes our society so varied and eclectic.  However, there is one common factor that seems to remain constant throughout all of our culture:  The perception of the self.

When you really think about it, the way in which American’s view themselves is somewhat the same, no matter what sub-culture you might delve into.  Typical of most Western societies, we place an incredible amount of emphasis on the self, rather than on factors outside the self.  In fact, all external factors seem to be geared toward redirecting any outward thought back to the self, and the cycle continues.  This way of thinking can be dangerous in the long run, can’t it?  It can cause a culture to be skewed inward to the point where it begins to implode in on itself.  Remember the Roman Empire?

Consequently, American Christianity seems to have fallen victim to this same mentality as well.  And to a large extent, the Church has done a good job of enabling this trend.  With the rise of the mega-church in American Christendom, the seeker sensitive mentality was born.  Focus suddenly shifted from God to the individual.  The worshipper became the worshipped, and with needs placed on the individual, church simply became another outlet to fuel the American need to exalt the self.  The body of Christ became dismembered, with the Head placed in suspended animation.

The problem we face is that this way of thinking is antithetical of what it means to follow Christ.  Jesus told His followers that they if they wanted to be His disciples, they had to deny themselves, pick up a cross and follow Him. (Luke 9:23)  If this is true, and the Church continues to perceive the self as the center of all that is, it will continue to become more distorted from what it was created to be.  Rather than becoming more counter-cultural, which is the essence of the Gospel, it will become more absorbed into common culture to the extent that the two are indistinguishable.

“Know thyself” is an ancient Greek saying that has been attributed to several philosophers, including Socrates. Although no one knows exactly who penned the phrase, the significance of this simple statement is extremely relevant for today’s society.  Think about that for a moment.  What does that phrase really mean?  Is culture’s problem with self-absorption the same as really knowing ourselves?  Conversely, does denying ourselves mean that we are to become mindless robots with no identity?  It’s vital that we actively and constantly seek who we really are, because God created us as individuals.  As characters in a great cosmic story, we each play a role and have scripts written for us individually, based on our specific identities.  Only we can play the role created for us.  If not, we end up portraying another character, or worse, we end up creating a character that was never meant to exist in the first place.  And in the end, we become a character in a story that is desperately trying to get out of the book.

“Know thyself”. Maybe it’s not so much “being”, rather than “accepting”.  Maybe finding the purposes of one’s life is simply allowing God to guide us and be who He created us to be. If not, it’s kind of like allowing the reader to direct where the story goes and who the characters are. How will that end? Or will it ever?

“Know thyself”