DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Unique

Written by: on February 23, 2018

I love being unique when finding a gift for birthdays or Christmas. Distinction in the midst of conformity is what calls to me. As an American, we fight to be individuals or fight to be recognized as someone special-more than an award for participation. We like to find our individualism believing we have overcome any conformity. Whatever one has done to show their “rebel” self to the world, we are all looking for acceptance within the uniqueness we created. This is true in outward expression-our hair, new tattoos, piercings or change in clothing styles even personal choices we make or products we buy. How ever we define the rebellious nature found and our fight in anti-conformity, we desire affirmation and comfort.

I find comfort when I travel. Traveling is a lot of fun. I have been on cruises and felt offended to have participated in feeling like I went and stayed in my big comfortable boat only to briefly visit another culture during the day. The cruise vacation, where one is never really immersed in a culture, has long offended me. I like the idea of being an adventurer, living in a culture and finding the hidden treasures. Although this is true, I have come to admit that I enjoy creature comforts as well.

I am currently in Thailand at a resort. As I stare out of our tenth floor air conditioned room, I can see neighboring properties. Those places would be more local then the beautifully manicured grass and swimming pooled conference center that I am in. I am better than those cruise ship people (in my mind) because at least I eat at local restaurants(I justify well). Have I sold out to comfort and pretended uniqueness? Thailand is a country that caters to vacationers and European snowbirds. It is a country that has what everyone wants. If you desire a resort with a daily massage and drinks with umbrellas in them by the pool, you can find it. If you want to rough it in a cheap hammock by the water, you can easily find it. Reading Heath and Potter’s Rebel Sell, I realized that there is a product here in this country that is offered and a culture that is created to promote just about all desires and all kinds of lifestyle (even averse ones). Those that rail against a particular aspect of society, really are unintentionally promoting that aspect, especially in terms of consumerism. “These critics have – sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not – provided modern capitalism with the fuel it runs on.”1

Reading Rebel Sell from my resort room -chosen to reflect my desire of the Thailand I enjoy- my thoughts kept returning to the American church and specifically denominations. Through our history of Christianity, there have been many denominations created (mine included) because of a desire to be distinctive and against… something we are against. We promote our uniqueness and even our anti-sameness as that distinction. As I even look within the Church of the Nazarene, I ask myself “how often have we created policy that is truly just us being a rebel against something we don’t like?” I remember that I went to a pastor’s office and on the shelf was a book title, Why I am a Nazarene and not a…” then listed every major denomination at the time of the book. In our anti-conformity, anti-evil, anti-consumeristic religion it is easy to become an entity that lives to just be against.

 

We could say that secularism is a reaction to Christianity, pluralism could be seen as a reaction to isolationist, anti-conformity a reaction to authority and our Christian unity a reaction to denominations. If as Heath and Potter suggest that our life is about the pleasures of the individual (hedonism)2, how does a Christian, that is in the world and not of it, be counter cultural? “The book’s most compelling argument is that the countercultural idea on which the critique of mass society rests—one that places conformity as the dominant marker of mass culture—is false. What the countercultural critics overlooked in their rejection of the dominant culture, and more importantly here, in their critique of consumerism, is the idea that distinction rather than conformity drives the consumer economy.”3 We long to be unique, to be remembered for something great. Our causes and many of our passions are truly a desire to be heard and remembered. We see this in the extreme behaviors of suicide bombers or even the parent that works excessive hours to provide material goods but doesn’t spend anytime with their kids. The belief that one’s actions will be seen and remembered as good often motivates those individuals to continue what we might call foolish actions.

Critics have said that “when Heath and Potter are not in attack mode, they describe their own political beliefs in orthodox left-leaning terms. They favour the welfare state and aiding the poor. They dislike unfettered business. The book’s assumptions are sometimes too North American. “4. While this might be true about certain concepts of individualism, I believe inherently within our core there is a desire to believe in something greater than oneself. As Americans we might be more inclined to be individualistic in how we see and view the world, but a desire to be seen is universal. Not seen in that we are noticed or called out-Chinese love to say the tallest nail gets hammered- rather accepted and loved.

Our causes, passions, and even our faith in Christ can be viewed as serving our own comfort. Even in our pursuit of individuality and identity, we are drawn to things that are give us accolades, justify our own lives, or rally against something that makes us feel better about ourselves. God people are not immune to this type of personal delusion. If Christ is truly our “rebel” leader calling us out of our world and into His, our comfort and conformity need to be founded on those things that glorify Him. With that is the understanding that the pursuit and strength will also be directed by Him as well. As Christ illuminates one step at a time, let us not rally around personal agendas nor false piety.

 

2Heath, Joseph & Andrew Potter. The Rebel Sell, Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed.” Harper Collins Publishing. Toronto, Canada.(2004) 6

3Reilly, I. The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed. Journal of Popular Culture, 40(1), (2007) 187-188.

About the Author

Greg

Greg has a wife and 3 children. He has lived and work in Asia for over 12 years. He is currently the Asia Director of Imanna Laboratories, which tests and inspects marine products seeking US Coast Guard certification. His company Is also involved in teaching and leadership development.

15 responses to “Unique”

  1. Greg,

    Did I mention to you yet that both of my grandfathers were Nazarene ministers? The book you reference was typical of that generation of Nazarenes (not as much today, though, thankfully).

    As I read I thought of how the North American aim is to be distinctive and special – which Heath and Potter claim drives consumerism. But what of China? If being unique in China is to be a nail sticking up and needing to be hit down, then is there this same pattern of uniqueness driving consumerism? I sense there is a different driver in Chinese culture, and would like your perspective on what that would be. Thanks!

    • GA says:

      Mark, I felt I have talked about china consumerism for a couple of weeks and was thinking you all were tired of it ( maybe it was just me that was tired of it). I do think with a population this large there is a fight to rise above others in an attempt to elevate ones community. This is even at the expense of anyone you don’t know.

  2. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Yes, I, too, am curious about what drives consummerism in collective Asian cultures. I was noticing during the Olympics how many Asian cultures putthe family name first, followed by the given name. To me, this was just another indication of which cultures where collective and which were individualistic. When stating names, collective cultures emphasize the family and the individualistic countries emphasize the individual. So how do the observations of the last few books we read apply (or not apply) to the Asian culture in which you live?

    • GA says:

      Good observation of the names. Asian philosophy is always bigger to smaller. Family name first, then the individual. Mailing address are written in reverse of American. Country-province-city-area-apartment-then ones name. Western culture has influenced China but usually the pursuit of wealth is for the benefit of the family. Rebellion might be at the cost of family rejection or the state.

  3. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Greg,
    “If Christ is truly our “rebel” leader calling us out of our world and into His, our comfort and conformity need to be founded on those things that glorify Him.” This is my favorite sentence of your blog, because I think we are prone to be self-serving, even in our theology.

    I have a sign in my office that reads, “To God be the Glory” and I think it is a good mission to remember. Thanks for the reminder!

    Loved your first picture, by the way….

  4. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Greg, Thanks for your perspective from Thailand. As I was reading I thought of Heath and Potter’s writing on Hong Kong (pages 180 or so, I believe). I wonder if you read that part as it was so interesting to me. They talk about how you can get anything from the malls in Hong Kong and how an overproduction of cheap knock off items is purposeful but causes so much waste. I wonder what types of comparisons there are between Hong Kong and the consumerism of the rest of China, in particular your area of China? I guess I am curious like Mark and Jenn.

    • GA says:

      I hate to admit with the craziness of the week I didn’t read that section…although I have seen it. Hong Kong is a city where anything can found. Authentic to knock off items are sold pretty openly. They are having to fill in bays to make room for the trash that is generated on this little island. They are hugely influenced by the west being a British colony until 1999. In my part of the world they are fighting to be seen as having worth. We live in a province with many minorities that tend to be seen as lower. often they are poorer, less educated and darker skinned-a sign in Asia you have to work outside and this a lower status.

  5. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Greg,
    One of the classes I had to take was a class called Baptist Distinctives. To be honest I hated the class. It was generally a bunch were not this and were not that…
    From what I see being counter cultural now is being a Christian. It is what the culture doesn’t like right?

    • GA says:

      It does appear as though most denominations have moved a little away from marking out their “holy ground “ as they see the slow and steady March of society away from Christian beliefs

  6. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    GA,

    Great post! You brought around the understanding of the book, its shortcomings and recognized in your own faith experience and denominational biases how we all strive for uniqueness but that in and of itself is not countercultural. Recognizing the ‘rebelliousness’ in the life of Jesus, his call to be in but not of the world should be the one dimension that sets faithful followers apart. I think it should be more evident that we are different, motivated by different, more transcendent purposes, but I see in myself that this is frequently not the case. The battle is constant but I think working diligently to conform to Christ’s world is the best ground we have to stand upon.

    • GA says:

      I agree Dan that we have not arrived at the place that our fish-bowl lives truly impact. I was getting on a plane 2 days ago and a foreign women was ahead of me in the check in process. She got very angry at what I would called typical Chinese lines and I was embarrassed for the example she gave as an American. I don’t know if she was a believer but suspected she was.

  7. Shawn Hart says:

    I used to share your intrigue for the “real experience”…until now. This last trip was the first one they were kind enough to share illness with me. LOL. I’ve been sick for two weeks and still not better. Give me room service and a swimming pool next time. Great post! I could not help but agree that perhaps our desire to be unique has also become an obstacle to our ability to minister. Scripture tells us we are a unique and special people; however it does not tell us that we should rub that fact into everyone else’s noses. We have to be careful to not allow anti-sin turn us into anti-Christ by methods..

  8. Dave Watermulder says:

    Greg,
    What a thought! That all of the things we believe are distinct or unique about us are really just “market segments” that we fit into or find ourselves in. Why are you trying to depress me, Greg! 🙂
    I think your post really points toward the purpose of this book. To get people thinking and questioning, not “mass consumer culture” per se, but really, the idea of counterculture or any of the informed choices that we try to make. Some of the criticism of this book points to the way that it seems to undermine the possibility that we can really make free choices at all, or that our consumer decisions really matter for anything. That’s a bummer to think about. But, I think the point is well taken if it helps shake us again– even you, with your visions of how you’d like to experience Thailand, and the implicit judgment of cruise people (which I also share!). So, maybe it is humbling or helpful, but I don’t want it to be hopeless!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *