Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 12.24.11
We live in a world that tells us to take ours first and let everybody else fend for himself. Just this week, I was chatting with a couple of co-workers when one of them said, “You have to grab what you want and hang onto it; that’s what life’s all about.”
I was so stunned that, before I thought, I blurted, “No it’s not.” To which the reply was, “You have to take care of yourself, nobody else is going to.”
And I should have replied that Jesus takes care of us…but I’m afraid I just stood there with my mouth mentally hanging open.
Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m free of the whole “me first” way of thinking, I’m totally not. I was just shocked to hear it said out loud as a life philosophy. Where my co-worker embraces that way of looking at life, I bury it under layers of self-delusion and guilt. Whether it’s obvious to the people around us or not, everyone has some “me first” tucked away somewhere.
You think not? Check this out:
“A 2011 paper by a team of psychologists at UCLA analyzed the values of characters in popular television shows for the past four decades. They evaluated TV shows that were popular among a preteen audience—Andy Griffith and The Lucy Show (from the 1960s); Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days (from the 1970s); and American Idol and Hannah Montana (from the past decade).
“The researchers observed the following shifts in values:
“The number one value of recent popular TV shows for preteens was "fame." In contrast, from 1967-1997, the number one value was ‘community feeling, or being part of a group.’
“In 2007, ‘community feeling’ had dropped to eleventh place.
“In 2007, the number two value from 1997—‘benevolence or being kind to others and helping them’—had fallen from second to thirteenth.
“The value of ‘tradition,’ which was ranked fourth in 1997, had dropped to fifteenth place in the 2007 study.
“One of the researchers said, ‘I was shocked, especially by the dramatic changes in the last 10 years. I thought fame would be important but did not expect this drastic an increase or such a dramatic decrease in other values, such as community feeling. If you believe that television reflects the culture, as I do, then American culture has changed drastically.’
“Although Disney shows like Hannah Montana and Jonas L.A. may be fun and entertaining, the not-so-subtle message is clear: if you want your life to count, then find ways to be famous. As another member of the research team said, ‘The rise of fame in preteen television may be one influence in the documented rise of narcissism in our culture …. Preteens are at an age when they want to be popular, just like the famous teenagers they see on TV and the Internet.’”
The drive to be first, though, can ultimately lead to frightening levels of indifference: what I want takes precedence over everything and everybody else.
“The following is a dialogue from the once-popular sitcom, Seinfield, between Elaine and her boyfriend.
“Elaine asks, ‘Do you believe in God?’
“‘Yes,’ her boyfriend replies.
“Elaine asks, ‘Is it a problem that I'm not religious?’
“‘Not for me,’ her boyfriend answers.
“‘How's that?’ she asks.
“Her boyfriend says, ‘I'm not the one going to hell.’”
And then we hear the laugh track: “Ha, ha, ha.” Does it bother anyone that even someone who claims to “believe in God,” has a philosophy that says, “As long as I’m okay, who cares about you?”
Isn’t that the same kind of spiritual trap that the Pharisees fell into? God wanted them to share the truth with the world, but they hoarded it instead.
“On April 12, 1999, Elie Wiesel … world-renowned humanitarian and author spoke about ‘The Perils of Indifference’:
“‘What is indifference? … Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one's sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?
“‘Of course, indifference can be tempting—more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are [sic] of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. …
“‘Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. …
“‘Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—never his victim, … The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees—not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.’”
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:2-10
If I truly believe that I am saved by grace (and I do), what must my “philosophy of life” be? Do I have any excuse to exclude anyone from the saving love of Jesus Christ? Is anyone less worthy than I am to receive His salvation?
 Stuart Wolpert, "Popular TV Shows Teach Children Fame Is Most Important Value, UCLA Psychologists Report," UCLA Newsroom (7-11-11); submitted by Jared E. Alcantara, Princeton, New Jersey
 John Fehlen, Stanwood, Washington
Elie Wiesel, "The Perils of Indifference," www.americanrhetoric.com; submitted by Jerry Deluca, Montreal West, Quebec, Canada