Ministry, Individualism and the Image of God: What Fleet Foxes Made Me Think

“I was raised up believer I was somehow unique.  Like a snowflake, distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see. And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be, a functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me.”~ Helplessness Blues– Fleet Foxes


I love the opening verse of this song by Fleet Foxes (hipster alert!).  I think it perfectly captures the place many of today’s college students are at.  Look, I love America the way Ron Swanson loves breakfast buffets, but certain aspects of our culture drive me crazy.  Take for instance, the virtue of individualism.  In some respects, the whole notion each one of us is unique is very Biblical and true.  God knows each of us intimately and has created us in a distinct way.  He knows the number of hairs on our head, ect, ect.  I get that, I believe that.  But unfortunately, today’s culture takes that truth and runs with it and we are taught from a young age it is our own individual existence which is most important.  Essentially we are told we are each the center of our own universes.

What I have seen both when I was in college and here in SF among students is a cultural shift away from the completely “me” centered existence to the idea, however fuzzy or vague, that actually we are meant to be in community with others and to live for something bigger than ourselves.  This is what college students are searching for, a greater purpose existing outside of themselves. 
The next line in the song quoted above is “But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be.  I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see.”  This longing to be a part of something bigger than one’s self is, I think, a reflection of the image of God in each one of us.  The idea of being made in the image of God goes far beyond some quasi-spiritual soul but means something far deeper and more relational.  In Genesis we see Adam and Eve made ‘in the image of God’ and they reflect it in 4 distinct relationships (full disclosure: I am stealing these 4 relationships from a Scot Mcknight talk on being made in God’s image):  1)  their relationship with God  2)  their relationship with each other  3)  their relationship with themselves  4)  their relationship with Creation.  When they sinned, it wasn’t just their relationship with God which was broken, it was all four. 

Part of what it means to surrender yourself to Jesus is, of course, our relationship to God is reconciled by the Cross of Christ but so should our relationships with others, ourselves and the world/creation.  Jesus being the center, changes the way we relate to all 4.  Of course it takes time and the Holy Spirit working within us for those relationships to heal but the fact remains we are ‘new creations’ and as new creations those relationships should now revolve around Jesus.
For many of today’s college students, constant doses of “me” centered thinking from parents, culture and authority has stirred up something inside them, a mysterious sense that perhaps this self-centered individualism is not the way we were made to live.  After all, what has that sort of worldview gotten our parents generation?  Sure, money, knowledge and power but also an obvious selfishness and consumerist mentality which sees the world and everything in it, from sex to marriage to friendship to material things, even love as a commodity that it their right.  This mentality has even lodged itself into the Western church and our view of God himself.  ‘What can God give me?’  ‘What can Jesus do for you’?

           Today’s college students (and of course I’m speaking in generalities) are beginning to realize what Jesus said 2000 years ago, if “they lose their life, they will find it’.  We are made and designed to live for something outside ourselves.  Part of our job as staff and as followers of Jesus in general is to come alongside students and affirm their sneaking suspicions they are not the center of the universe and were created to be ‘a functioning cog’ in something much larger, the Kingdom of God.  That is the challenge of college ministry, to present the truth that it is in Jesus and His story we find our true selves.  Of course there are a multitude of competing worldviews fighting for student’s minds and hearts, worldviews which would even affirm that living self-centeredly is not how we were made to live.  But ultimately without Jesus, most of those worldviews are all about you in the end: how good you are; how loving and generous you are; how just you are; and they eventually lead a person to worship themselves and their own goodness/morality.

It is our job as Spirit-led, holistic disciples of Christ to model a Jesus centered life, to model reconciliation in all of our relationships, to reflect what it means to truly be made in the image of God.  It is a tall order indeed, one which would be impossible without Jesus giving us the Holy Spirit to guide and sustain us.  So the question is, am I reflecting Jesus and showing the world what it means to be made in the image of God?  Are we actually living for something much grander than ourselves or using Jesus to serve our own purposes?  Chances are all of us reflect God’s image well in some areas of our lives and poorly in other areas.  The reality remains, without more of Jesus and  the Holy Spirit and way less of us it will always be an uphill battle.  But thankfully we serve and love a God who never forsakes us, who is infinitely patient with us, and uses even our mistakes for His glory.  

2 comments:

blessedwithsons said...

so gooooood! praying that many will be drawn to the light you guys are shining!

Leah said...

So very encouraged and privileged to be in this work with you guys!