Three summer reads, up here in the Washington wilderness, have given me a better sense of where our culture is today—
–The Second Mountain, David Books
–How to Survive the Apocalypse, Robert Joustra
–Suicide of the West, Jonah Goldberg
None have been easy reads, but then, a steady diet of daily news and social media leave one thin. No wonder Goldberg observes, “We drown in information but we starve for knowledge.” It’s one of the advantages of getting away from the daily toxicity and grifterism that seek to have me in their grip.
Each book has its own message, but all three circle around this one core theme—our self-centeredness. Ours is a world of rampant individualism—individual success, self-fulfillment, individual freedom, and self-actualization. We’ve heard it all before. Frank Sinatra put all of this to music back in 1969—
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
More than ever, our age reflects what Joustra refers to as “an anthropocentric shift,” a turn toward putting the human person at the center of the universe as the creator of meaning. Goldberg adds, “We are becoming what we worship, and what we worship is ourselves.” Our feelings have become an end in themselves. And all of this, according to Brooks, is “a catastrophe.”
Self-indulgence and self-worship might feel good, but they “strip men of their chests.” They leave us ill-equipped to defend some sense of meaning. Making ourselves and our feelings the ultimate authority not only leave us confused and polarized—they do not have a good end. As Joustra puts it, “Ironically, though we live in in a universe where we are in charge, all we see on the horizon is our end. This is dystopia.”
All of this is inevitable when we stop looking up to God.
Which brings me to a wonderful moment kayaking on the Pend Oreille early this morning. I was drawn to look up, as well as look into Psalm 139 and reflect on its centering words. Here, to use the paraphrase of Eugene Peterson, we are reminded that—
-we are an open book to God—he knows what we are thinking, what we are going to say, and where we are going. He even sees us in the dark, where no one else can see
-God knows us inside out—every bone in our bodies, and how we were sculpted by him. He has watched us grow from conception to birth—all of our stages of life are spread out before him
-before we have lived one day, God has prepared them all.
How could we ever think that all of this life is about us and our plans? How could we ever imagine we set the lines, determine what is right, and control our destinies? We are here to simply honor our Maker and Lord and do his will.
These are the lyrics we should sing, ones that define reality—
For what is a person, what has one got?
If not God, then one has naught
To say the things one truly feels
Must be the words of one who kneels