LIVING AS APPRENTICES
Mike Rowe has been the host of a TV show called Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel for eight seasons. That experience has profoundly changed his attitudes about success. Recently he compared our perceptions of someone who doesn’t achieve the American dream to the way “unsuccessful” people were described hundreds of years ago.
In the Middle Ages (500 – 1500 AD), people were divided into three social groupings based on what each did for society: the clergy- those who prayed; the nobility – those who fought; and the peasants and townspeople (called serfs and merchants)- those who worked. Mike notes that if an individual was not successful within that structure, he was called “unfortunate” That is, good fortune had passed him or her by. The blame was not put on the person.
Today, Mike says, we have a different term for people who don’t fit into our idea of success or into our class structure. We call them losers. We even call ourselves losers sometimes if we don’t feel that we measure up.
Our narratives of success (perfectionism, power and influence, approval, rising above others, etc. )sometimes keep us from basking in the delight God has for each of us. In The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith says that because of Christ’s death we may call ourselves, and each other, saints. We have been redeemed! However,many Christians strenuously object to being called a saint. “I’m not a saint,” they say, “I’m a sinner.” When I ask them why they prefer being called a sinner, they give answers about not wanting to seem prideful or about wanting to be honest about how sinful they still are.
I’ve thought a lot about this because I have seen the changes in people who have jumped with both feet into God’s grace and God’s acceptance though they are not perfect. I think that when we refuse to look at ourselves as saints, it is a sign that we are still living in a false narrative; we still think that if we just keep trying harder to better we may eventually be able to be good enough to call ourselves saints.
How different our lives would be if we could accept the label of saint. Yes, we still sin because we still bear the remnants of our human nature. But after we surrender to Jesus, God doesn’t see our sin; God sees Jesus. Thinking of ourselves as sinners (losers) is not only inaccurate, it also keeps us from living freely in the Spirit. Instead of being empowered, we remain encumbered. Instead of dancing joyfully through our days, we remain bent over from the weight of the baggage we insist on hauling around with us.
“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” (Ps. 107:2).