One day, when his daughter Karen was still a young girl, writer Chris de Vinck, popped an Enlgish muffin in the toaster and went out the kitchen to check on a couple of things. He left Karen in the kitchen. A few moments later, he heard her cry out in pain, and he rushed to the kitchen to find out what had happened. He found Karen
. . . curled up on the kitchen floor sobbing. “Ow! Ow! It hurts. Daddy, it hurts so much.” I quickly knelt on the floor and embraced Karen. “Karen, what happened?” I asked between her weeping. All she managed to do was hold her mouth and weep. Just above my head I saw the toaster on the counter’s edge, and I saw two distinct lip prints. Karen had kissed the toaster, the still burning toaster. . . .she saw her reflection in the toaster and kissed her own image. I have seen her do this often while dancing before her bedroom mirror (Christopher de Vinck, Only the Heart Knows Where to Find Them, p. 111).
When children, like Karen, innocently admire their reflection in a mirror or even painfully kiss their image on a toaster, we can overlook, maybe even celebrate, their growing awareness and love of themselves. But, as the old myth of Narcissus warns us, healthy self-love can quickly become dangerous self-obsession. Narcissus turned aside from the love offered to him by Echo, the wood nymph, and instead fell in love with his own image, reflected back to him by a pool of water. Narcissus leaned over to embrace himself, fell in the pool, and drowned.
We live in a culture that has many of us drowning in ourselves. We live now, according to Christine Rosen, in “The Age of Egocasting,” (See The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, Fall/Winter, 2005), an age in which technologies like TiVo and the I-pod make it possible to have the images and sounds we want, and only the images and sounds we want, whenever we want them—without commercials, without annoying disc jockeys, without having to see or hear anything we don’t already like. Egocasting is all me all the time: my tastes, my preferences, and my viewpoints.
The phenomenon of egocasting is simply the latest illustration of how nearly everything in our culture gets tailored and marketed to our hungry egos. The old McDonald’s ad was blatantly honest about it: “You deserve a break today,” and it wasn’t long before Burger King chimed in with “Have it your way.” Baseline political rhetoric, for both parties, has moved from John F. Kennedy’s lofty idealism: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country” to “Ask yourself: ‘Am I better off than I was four years ago?’” Sometimes it seems that we have become a nation of two-year olds: our inner child wants everyone and everything around us to figure out what we want even if we don’t know what it is and give it to us as soon as we want it. Then, if it—whatever it is—isn’t as tasty or interesting or fun or exciting as we hoped or as they promised, our inner two-year old throws a tantrum and sulks in the corner.
This egocasting, ego feeding, ego inflating, and ego-pampering culture of ours makes genuine worship nearly impossible; because, when we worship, we say, in essence, “It’s not all about me. It’s all about God, all about Jesus, and all about the world God loves.” Real worship is oriented to God, and moves us beyond ourselves. In worship, we humble ourselves in thanksgiving and surrender, and we lose ourselves in wonder, love, and praise.
There’s something about gathering around the dinner on Thanksgiving Day that makes me feel like a child again, so much so that, when it comes time for the blessing, the words that will leap to mind (I won’t say them out loud; I will try to sound more like an adult!) will be the first table prayer I learned. It began: “God is great, God is good,” and those two simple affirmations capture the essence of worship. God is great, wondrously so; and God is good, marvelously so. That childlike prayer, taken deeply to heart, cuts the nerve of silly, impatient, and childish self-centeredness. Maybe that prayer for children holds the secret to growing up.