Get over your selfie! The countercultural nature of service.

Core Value Five: Service

One of the fun things I enjoy doing when I’m with a group of friends is to ask them to name their favorite movies. It’s fascinating to learn not only what their favorite movies are but why those movies are so interesting to them. You can actually learn a lot about a person by what captures their attention, makes them laugh, or moves their heart.

For example, if I ask my wife, April, what her favorite movie is she will tell me that if she wants to laugh she would choose the movie Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion because she likes to have fun in life like the characters in the movie and believes we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. If she wants to be inspired she would choose West Side Story because of the love story between Tony and Maria and the incredible dance choreography in the movie. Heck, even I like the choreography in West Side Story and I can’t dance a lick!

If I asked my son Elijah what his favorite movie is he will tell me 127 Hours with James Franco. If I ask my son Bret what his favorite movie is he will tell me Star Wars (and I can verify that because we got our tickets for the new release within hours of the tickets going on sale). If I ask my third son Trey what his favorite movie is he will say Spider Man 2 and if I ask my daughter Mia what her favorite movie is she will tell me Confessions of a Shopaholic. Probably going to need to keep my eye on that one as she grows up! If you asked me my favorite movie, I would tell you Shawshank Redemption because of the incredible story of redemption it tells as well as the amazing twist at the end. You really never see the end coming.

In the last year the one movie that really fascinated me was Gone Girl starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. I know what you are probably thinking, what does the movie Gone Girl have to do with a core value of service? Great question. Hang with me for the next several minutes and I hope to answer that question convincingly.

From the moment I saw the previews of Gone Girl I was captured with the storyline and ended up reading several “spoiler alerts” online to find out what happens in the end, even before it came out in theaters. If you are unfamiliar with the plot, the story revolves around a man named Nick Dunne (Affleck) who returns home on his fifth wedding anniversary to discover that his wife Amy is missing. Her disappearance receives heavy press coverage because Amy is a household name and was the inspiration for her parents’ popular “Amazing Amy” children’s books. Nick becomes the primary suspect in her disappearance but over time it is revealed that Amy has planned her own disappearance and framed Nick hoping he will go to prison. The question that perplexed me was “why would this beautiful, successful, popular, intelligent woman do this? What was broken in her? What can we learn from this?” I asked everyone I knew to give me their take on the story which led to some very long and interesting conversations. The answer, to the best of my knowledge, is three-fold:

  1. Amy had a hard time living up to the fictional “Amazing Amy” books her parents wrote that were supposed to be based on her life. As Nick says in the movie, “She needed to be amazing Amy, all the time.” She was special. There was no one like her. As an only child, the world revolved around Amy. Sound familiar to anything in our culture today? Sound familiar to some of the challenges of our generation where we have overemphasized “how special” everyone is and the “it’s all about you” message? In real life Amy wasn’t as amazing as the books made her out to be. She was flawed just like everyone else and this caused a fatal flaw in her character. What this dynamic caused in her was a consuming pre-occupation with self where she always had to be the center of attention. In other words, she was self-absorbed. It’s all about me!
  1. Secondly, Amy had a deep narcissism at the foundation of her personality which led to an attitude of “I deserve to be happy, I deserve to be fulfilled…at any cost.”
  1. Lastly, Amy always had to get her way—no matter what. People were just commodities in her world to be used, controlled, and manipulated. They existed for her happiness and not the other way around.

This is an incredible story with profound implications for our own lives and culture. You see, the culture we currently live in is constantly telling us that we are the most important people in the world and we can control our own destiny. “We need to take care of ourselves,” the world tells us. “We need to focus on ourselves. We need to master self-expression.” There’s a reason they now do parodies on television about our culture’s obsession with taking selfies. There’s also a reason that headline making psychologist and author Dr. Jean Twenge wrote the book Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before (http://www.generationme.org). Dr. Twenge points out we are the most self-absorbed, individualistic, and self-centered generation than at any time in history. The entire character of our country has shifted from an emphasis on community and the common good toward serving self at all costs and let me tell you…it’s an endless cycle.

 So what’s wrong with caring about yourself? Aren’t we supposed to care about ourselves and have a healthy self-esteem? Yes, and no, I guess. True, we are called to love ourselves, but we aren’t called to be self-absorbed and narcissistic. Big difference.

I think the reason so many people are disillusioned and empty today is that we were never supposed to be the center of attention and exclusively focused on ourselves anyway. This is what was so radical (and freeing) about the life Jesus’ modeled and his message. Jesus showed a better way. Jesus said things like, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Proverbs 21:17 also says, “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.” I know, it’s a crazy proposition Jesus offers and so counterintuitive to what we think is right. Seriously, if I humble myself…I’ll be exalted? If I give…I’ll receive? If I serve…I’ll lead? If I die to myself…I’ll find life? If I hold on…I’ll lose, but if I let go…I’ll receive? That’s crazy talk!

Yet it really isn’t! It’s actually incredibly freeing. It’s freeing to know that God created us uniquely and loves us just for who we are. We don’t have to be “Amazing Dave” or “Amazing Billy” or “Amazing Sarah” all the time. It’s freeing to know that we don’t have to control everything. It’s freeing to not always have to chase more…more things, more experiences, more success—that we can be fulfilled in God. And it’s freeing to be able to put others needs above our own and not be a taker all the time but a giver. At the end of the day, isn’t this what the central theme of the gospel is?

So in answer to the question what does Gone Girl have to do with service? Quite a bit. Just like in the movie all of us have the propensity to be selfish, self-centered, self-focused, and takers, yet God, in his nature, is a giver. Christ came as a giver to set us free from our pre-occupation with self and taking. It’s a pretty simple picture. We are either self-focused or we are God and other focused. One leads to life and freedom, the other leads to futility and bondage.

In conclusion, I love what Tim Keller says about the radical nature of the gospel. “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Appreciate you!

Dave and April