When the Oxford Dictionaries named “selfie” as the word of the year for 2013 they were not providing commentary as to whether it was a good or a bad thing for our culture. Instead, they presented the word as one that had grown in popularity to the point where its use was now ingrained in our culture.
I’ve read a lot of op-ed pieces on the subject, including this New York Times piece from actor James Franco, and everyone seems to have an opinion. What I wonder is what we can learn about this culture where selfies are the norm, and where God meets us in that.
Here’s a few brief observations about what we learn from the growth of selfies:
- We all have phones
- We have access to each other via the internet
- We are focused on ourselves
- We want to be liked/loved/called beautiful
- We are vulnerable
- We are comfortable in our own skin
- We present ourselves on our own terms
- We like to document events relationally
The overwhelming questions being posed by this selfie culture (not all selfies, just a generalized observation) are: Do you like me? Am I worth something to you? Will you notice me?
And before you start agreeing just because you’ve never taken a selfie, let me remind you these are human questions. Selfies didn’t create the question, they gave a public forum for human frailty.
This cultural movement reminds me a lot of Peter’s situation in John 21, shortly after the resurrection. Just days prior to this conversation with Jesus, Peter had denied being a follower of Jesus. No question, Peter is a guy with questions such as, “Jesus, do you love me?” and “Jesus, do you still want me to help build your church?”
And Jesus takes the questions Peter has and flips them on their head, by instead asking Peter, “do you love me?” Not only does Jesus question Peter, but He questions Peter 3 times. In clearly trying to replay the whole scene of Peter’s denial, Jesus builds a fire, much like the one Peter warmed himself by during his infamous denial.
Finally, Jesus calls Peter by his old name, Simon, as if to question whether Peter would choose to be the renewed man, or would instead choose to live by his old flesh.
The whole situation seems quite rude. Jesus, the God-man, the ultimate sign of God’s love for mankind, taking a beloved disciple back to his greatest mistake and replaying the events.
Why would Jesus do this?
Jesus knew Peter needed to see the mission.
What selfies vividly portray is the idolatry of self that has become so commonplace—beyond acceptable, it’s expected. Look at me. Notice me. See how great, how beautiful I am. More than a statement of individuality, it’s a cry for love in a lonely world.
Lost in his idolatry of self, Peter could not see the vision Jesus had for the beginning of the church, and the vital role Peter would play in it. In John 21, Jesus is drawing Peter away from this idol, toward the mission of being a disciple of Jesus.
To serve and care for a selfie culture, you must first lay down the idol of self.
What we see from Jesus’ interaction with Peter is that His love is more than just an atonement for sins, it’s more than a secure blanket to wrap ourselves in, His love moves us out toward a life of purpose, where we extend our hands out, sacrificing our lives, by loving the flock of sheep all around.
If you’d like to dive into this subject more, check out my talk titled “The Year of the Selfie”