Shelfies

My little brother texted me the other day (after 5 minutes of struggling to single-finger peck it into his phone), “What’s the big deal about ‘shelfies’” (and sent a picture of a bookshelf)? He and I share an ignorance of technology; and a warped sense of humor, I suppose.

Narcissism has been defined as “excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.” Psychology has fine-tuned the definition to fit their discipline as an “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.” The word originates with a myth about a young, good-looking Greek fellow by the name of Narcissus, who gazed upon his image in a clear pool of water and fell in love with himself. For a long while, the idea of being grossly self-centered was associated with hubris, i.e., the “hubris of youth” (surprise: most selfies originate with the younger generation).

However, we should not jump to the conclusion that this obsession with one’s appearance or person is purely a youth perspective (e.g. former congressman Anthony Weiner), particularly in our culture of “selfies” (I frankly don’t understand all this taking pictures of one’s self in various contexts; it used to be an anomaly among avant-garde artists but has become the “norm” with those some claim are both self-absorbed and evidently bright enough to figure out a phone camera). Further, the fixation upon one’s self is not a new condition but neither is it the case that it has not been Divinely addressed.

Scripture shares many gems about the mistakes of a “me-first” mentality. The psalmist would connect the sin of pride with self-adulation, stating All the workers of iniquity boast in themselves” (Psalm 94:4). Even the pattern for biblical teaching is set forth by Paul and is void of self: “For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me” (2 Corinthians 12:6). Always, truth is more important than “me.”

It seems clear that a balanced and honest view of our self is not only wise but godly. “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2). Maybe “U.S. government-inspected horse meat” Ken-L Ration dog food sold well to Tom Paxton’s jingle “My dog’s better than your dog” but no one likes a braggart. It has been rightly observed that the fellow that toots his own horn usually blows sharp notes (being ½-step higher). The Christian will let God do all the talking; “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).

Jeff Sweeten