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It's the new anonymity


Both of my readers yawn when I reference Harvey Cox's book The Secular City (New York: Macmillan Company, 1965). Cox is a liberal theologian, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School until 2009, and lecturer, author, and National Book Award winner since then. Beyond that, there's usually as eye roll at the date, The Secular City being published in 1965. Behind the eye roll are question marks: why does such a distant theological cousin influence your thinking so much, and why are you so reliant on such a dated book? Both answers are layups. Cox predicted a secular world defined by mobility and anonymity. We're living in that world right now. The new anonymity is the way so many of us hide behind a public profile.

It's been a top news item on CNN and some of the other political rags the way Trump surrogate Mark Burns padded his personal resume. It's most likely an alteration made by a staffer not in the know, but there's been some dispute over Burn's service in the South Carolina National Guard and a listing about having served in the U.S. Army Reserves. That it is CNN makes me suspect more hatchet job than anything else. But, it does bring to mind this new anonymity, the world of social media, invented profiles, and the ease with which almost of any of us can hide in the netherworld underneath. Hardly a day passes without someone of note being outed from the pretenses of this new underworld. Even noted spiritual leaders often enhance their curriculum vitae with achievements and sterling performance accolades that, while possibly true, are more often the hyperbole of self-adoration. Where is the real "you" in this new anonymity?

Genuine self-awareness is a gem among spiritual leaders. It is a key note in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' earthly ministry and of the Apostle Paul's letters, even when he was forced to defend his apostolic credentials. Among all of these written sources, Paul's Epistle to the Philippians seems to summarize Christ's clarity of self best. Paul wrote---

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he

was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of

men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient

to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted

him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the

name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the

earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the

Father.

Philippians 2:5-11, ESV

Paul was urging the Philippians to "have this mind among yourselves", that is, to think like Jesus, who knew his equality with God but lowered himself to the position of servant, a humble obedient servant, as their example for life. it is a prime example of our Lord's personal self-awareness, God who became man. Paul finished this section of his letter with these words---

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my

presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear

and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his

good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13, ESV

Paul verbally demonstrated Jesus' humility and servant spirit up against his knowledge of his equality with God. it is a high moment of Christ's personal self-awareness. The last verses were a reminder that we should have that same mind as obedient followers of Christ, in order that we might also seek His will and work in our lives.

Then, again, there's the new anonymity, the way the real "you" (and let me emphasize "me") can be hidden underneath a glamorizing personal profile. Some people say it's just the polarities of who we wish to be as opposed to who we really are! Others admit that it's the allure of a pretend world where we can live beyond the boundaries life has imposed on us. The Bible teaches that personal self-awareness---you know, the honest appraisal of life---is the first step of Christian faith. Jesus said---

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily

and follow me.

Luke 9:23, ESV

Self denial is the starting place. Ego is shifted to a lower level. But, being aware of this change is another issue. Paul wrote it this way---

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself

more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each

according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Romans 12:3, ESV

Sober judgement is the deal, the way to think about ourselves. It will protect us from the glories associated with our public profile, and ground us with the real deal.

And, that's the question. Who is the real you, underneath the public profile?


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