We live in such an impossible society and culture today. Let me explain — I feel like just in the last twenty years we have developed as a whole this fascination with the seemingly impossible. Now, maybe this has always been, I am sure it has, but something feels like there is an even higher bar of expecting the unexpected. Movies seem to illustrate more and more extreme levels of impossible stunts, and Instagram and YouTube are full of influencers that have amazing gifts and capabilities that just leave many of us jaw-dropped and awestruck at the talent on display — from elaborate marble machines and domino displays to the most daring photo ops from impossible heights.
It all seems so surreal, so enchanting I just marvel at it!
I feel like there are other ways that records seem to be breaking in our society as well. We are seeing debt soar to all-time highs, real-estate prices reaching new records and, at the risk of sounding pun-y, we are even trying to reach new heights in creating another ecosystem on Mars.
These heights would have seemed downright impossible and even absurd to most of us in the ’80s. But, for some reason, we have become addicted to watching the seemingly impossible unfold before our very eyes.
Here we are in 2019, and achieving the impossible almost seems like a mandatory norm to gain followers or respect even in real-life social circles. It’s as if we are addicted to the highs and adrenaline rushes these new heights create.
I can’t help but wonder about the effects today’s society has endured as a result of expecting the impossible to become possible. I believe this phenomenon of the extreme has had an impact on what we expect even from our everyday relationships and contacts. I mean, let’s face it, the internet and especially social media have greatly influenced how we relate to one another in the form of following our favorite people and ideas.
Or has it?
I’ve read several articles on why people choose to pursue relationships with others, and they examine and analyze the personal gain people are seeking from many of these personal connections. It’s also interesting that numerous books and articles have been written lately addressing the rate of loneliness among certain generations. There even seem to be church doctrines currently popular in the pulpit that seem to cater to and uphold current societal norms of high expectations and expecting the impossible.
I think I have an idea of where this is leading us as a society, but my question is where is this leading us as the Body of Messiah?
If many of our relationships are based off of a “what can I get out of this?” mentality, how are we fulfilling the two greatest commandments of loving the Lord with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves?
It also begs the question of what we should be looking for most in others with whom we pursue relationships.
Has our primary foundation in seeking out new relationships and maintaining them become a self-serving form of caressing our ego and identity more than serving others and our King?
Why are we even keeping up with and following the people that we do today?
Lets roll back time to an earlier era in history and take a closer look at ourselves. In a wonderful article by Stephen Klugewicz, Requiem for Manners, he discusses Victorian manners and includes a famous quote by Emily Post that capture their essence. She wrote, “Manners is Personality, the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life.”
How did we go from talking about expecting the impossible in relating to each other and get to talking about manners? Because our manners are our personalities which are what dictate how we relate to and treat others. Our manners also help set the expectations we place upon others.
If our manners are what dictate our behavior toward others, then this is also what reveals to both ourselves and others who we really are on the inside and who we are actually serving.
Is it ourselves or is it truly others?
I dare say that we are ready for a change in expectations and norms in how we relate to one another. Even our clothing says something about what we are communicating to others about how we operate and function on the inside. To refer again back to Klugewicz’s article, he writes:
“Proof of the demise of manners is all around us: the open use of foul language on the public street, not simply by unkempt, uneducated youths but by middle-age, well-groomed businessmen; the in-your-ear blaring of something incorrectly deemed to be music by its devotees out car windows; the making of turns or changing of lanes by drivers without the courtesy of a turn signal; the routine violation of one’s personal space by passersby without the least expression of apology; and most obvious and appalling, the horrific decline in standards of dress everywhere. Indeed, T-shirts, jeans and sneakers have become standard attire for adults on “casual Friday” in the business world and, even more distressingly, at Sunday Mass. People venture out of their houses into public wearing their pajamas as they perform Saturday-morning errands. Today it is the lowest class of society that sets the standards of attire for everyone else; young people have adopted an exaggerated version of prison uniforms as their everyday attire, particularly excessively baggy pants, often worn so low that underpants and even one’s derriere is exposed for all to see.”
Just this week we in Oklahoma saw a court case in Colorado overturn laws in six states now making it legal for any woman to be bare-breasted in public. From policy to private business settings, it seems to be all about shock value, extremes and absurdity. The virtues of servanthood and self-respect and guarding the dignity of others appear all but lost.
To quote Klugewicz one more time,
“Thus the enemies of manners on both Left and Right together constituted modern-day Jacobins, determined not simply to bring down an unjust system of government but to obliterate the very fabric of society by destroying all standards of decorum. This parallel with the French Revolution brings us to the thinking of the great Anglo-Irish statesmen Edmund Burke, who believed that the Jacobins of France were, above all else, launching an assault on “manners.”
Manners and civilization itself, Burke held, depended on two things: religion and “the spirit of a gentleman.”
I agree with this. Our manners and how we operate in the company of others go hand in glove. Take the virtues of providing for our families and hospitality for example. There are a several scriptures on it, but we’ll look at one in particular.
I Timothy 5:8-10, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.”
What does it mean to provide for our relatives? I know many times we use this verse to tell men to go out and get job. While that’s certainly true, I believe we wind up missing out on an even greater lesson. I don’t think this is entirely about getting a paycheck and putting food on the table.
Material things only go so far, placing human dignity and respect as the actual foundation of relating to others their value, and we do that through our manners. Should we not convey the most basic form of respect which is listening and then go on from there?
In fact, isn’t that even at the basis of our Declaration of Independence as a nation?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Historically, that word for happiness was understood as virtues. It was supposed to be understood as the pursuit of Virtue: of good works, hospitality, care for the poor, maintaining the virtues of one marriage and many of these mentioned in I Timothy 5.
Oh, how far we have come — Or shall I say fallen! But all these virtues require one common denominator in order to meet them, and it isn’t money or power.
They all require listening.
How can we provide for the needs of others if we don’t first listen to what the needs are? You see, manners are not a show-y display for self-serving, egotistical purposes. If that’s the root and foundation of such behaviors, then we have moved into the realm of charming people which is deception, manipulation and control.
True manners and virtues come from a place of genuine love and care for another person and their existence. True care means that we listen, not to gain accolades or because of how it makes us look, but because we intend on providing for the other person’s needs, whether it’s physical, emotional or even spiritual. We listen because we have respect, and we respect others because we respect our King.
Romans 10:21 quotes Isaiah 65:2 when he states. “All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and back-talking people.” In Isaiah it’s succinctly put, “I have held out My hands all day long to a stubborn people, who walk in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts;”
Followed after their own thoughts? That means they follow their own vain imaginations of themselves and stroke their own egos before genuinely responding to the needs of others, principally meeting the needs of God.
What does He need from us? Well, a lot, yet actually so little. It’s the ultimate riddle!
He needs our humility so that He will not oppose us. He needs our love and our love of His perfect Justice and Mercy to be pleased with us and have a functional, healthy relationship with us (Micah 6:8).
As a parent of more than one child, one of the markers of a wonderful day in our home is when there is harmony and no conflict. As a parent, this is one of the most pleasant things I can experience — watching my children love each other and treat each other with genuine care and concern for their sibling’s needs. I believe this is no different as a Father. One of the most rewarding and powerful forces for the Kingdom of Light is when His children show genuine love and concern for the personhood and needs of the other person.
So, back to the original question on this post. Why are we following others in real life, or even on Instagram, Twitter or in updates on websites? Perhaps the key to fixing our society is fixing the very reason we follow people. Maybe we should be following people to follow how Jesus is manifest in their behaviors, that those we follow should make us look more like Him.
And Jesus did gain quite the following for making the impossible happen. I mean he healed people, made coins appear in fishes’ mouths and fed thousands of people with only a few loaves of bread and some fish! He was the master at making the impossible unfold before our eyes. But He did it as an act of servitude. He even marveled at a few of His followers for their faith! He did all this to serve others. He provided for their needs. He didn’t do magic shows!
He wound up suffering greatly for it, too. His love was dangerous to the ways of man, to the establishments of men, because it was filled with power. Yeshua even said this about healing through casting out demons:
"And יהושע said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My Name is able to readily speak evil of Me."
That was the problem that the establishments of men saw. They knew his miracles were going to mean people accepted Him as the “I AM.” And the problem with that was that His very foundation, the motivations for which He did such things, was to glorify the Father and not himself even though He would be glorified through them.
It was all about the motivations. Those motivations were different. He did what looked like magic to many, I’m sure, but it wasn’t. They all wound up leading Him to the greatest glorification of all: The laying down of His life for His friends.
Motivations are the foundation of any relationship.
And those motivations are manifested through our behavior in the company of others. We know we look like Him when our outward manifestations of our innermost parts look more like caring manners and loving virtues rather than our vain imaginations for our own honor and legacy. And perhaps as leaders, we should be more concerned with letting Jesus shine through us rather than us through Jesus.
Following others, love, virtues and manners are not independent concepts, but are all tightly intertwined. Our virtues become outward manifestations of inward beliefs and values in the company of others.
I believe Jesus put it most plainly when He said, “By this shall all know that you are My taught ones [Followers], if you have love for one another.”