We have become the golden calf.
Gilded in likes, favorites, shares, and retweets. Periscoping our every moment while perched on a towering pedestal of selfies. All of it new-century building blocks of ego and validation.
By casting ourselves in this role of self-worship and competition with our neighbors, we have willingly jumped into a race where a tangible finish line is obliterated. The bright light at the end is not salvation white but rather a flashing neon strobe beckoning, "ME ME ME! MORE MORE MORE! KEEP UP KEEP UP KEEP UP!"
Likewise, the blinding glare of our fellow-golden calves ripples outward as far as the mortal eye can see. Together, we are a congregation of self-consumed, materialistic, fame-seeking, money-loving, crazy-busy, reality-avoiding, chaotic Judases-in-training.
Imagine the apostle Judas alive in our modern era. His greed and vantage point from within Jesus's shadow proving too great a temptation. Fame and fortune within his reach, closer than ever.
In no time he'd have his own entourage of disciples for hire--agent, manager, publicist, stylist, and personal assistant--to keep his life in the fast lane running smoothly. Along with dozens of selfies posted every week across multiple social media platforms to inflate his fan base, along with his pride.
Judas would surely try to coax his friend Jesus into signing a reality show deal, because he knows that kind of Savior star power would shepherd the faithful flock en masse to TV screens everywhere, but that's not the Lord's style. However, with cunning and ambition, Judas would eventually snag a deal of his own, entering through the pearly gates of Hollywood with the instant weekly must-see, Keeping Up With the Judases. Soon to be followed by a great flood of branded swag, available at a big-box store near you: Judas™ action figures, clothing, perfume, jewelry, fan gear, video games, calendars, wine, and books--Betrayal: a memoir; Cooking Up Last Suppers; The Iscariot Coloring Book; and Selfish: The Collected Selfies of Judas.
Society would idolize him, many seeking to emulate this latest model of success and celebrity. With each Judas™ purchase, our connection to life's darker side sealed with a kiss. As for this Iscariot dude himself, all the attention would provide him with enough distractions to ignore that noose of chaos and imminent reality dangling from the nearby Tree of Life for a little longer.
Be honest now, Dear Reader: This all sounds familiar, doesn't it? At the least, it hits home just a teensy-weensy bit, right?
Doesn't ring a bell, you insist. Ok. Try these on for size:
"I want a bigger house, just like them."
"I want a better job and more money, just like them."
"I want to be thinner and prettier and more popular, just like them."
"I want the latest designer clothes and gadgets and a brand new car, just like them."
"I WANT! I WANT! I WANT!" flashes the neon strobe on our horizon. Each one of us is in those Judas winks of desire and materialism somewhere--all "work of the flesh" against which Paul warns in Galatians 5:19-21. The Judas Effect, at its core, is a mindset, a byproduct of being human and fallible. It's the Devil whispering in our ear, "That thing will make you happier, prettier, richer, more popular. Just like them."
But even if we get that thing we most crave, then what? Especially when we realize we're not actually rich or famous, or as important as we think. And if we are, so what! It's all an illusion at best that evaporates the minute that door closes behind us and we're standing alone in an empty room. So, then what?
This race--to be and to keep up--with the Judases, which we all at times dip our egos into, is not sustainable. Not fruitful. It's fool's gold.
Sure, we all want to be loved. We all want attention, validation, success. A driving purpose as we pass this way all too briefly. To be living is to need nurturing and to feel wanted. This is our birthright.
Now, Dear Reader, look into a mirror. Really look into your eyes.
Authentic love and validation are gifts from you to you. Your true importance is bestowed from within. Meanwhile, trying to keep up with the Judases only sooner or later ends at that dangling noose of emptiness, guilt, insecurity, anxiety, pressure, self-consciousness, depression, deceit, destruction, and envy. Rottenness to the bones, of which Job 14:30 raises a red flag.
Take a step to the side. Hit PAUSE. Shed that identity that isn't yours. Don't be afraid to let the world pass you by for a moment. Don't be afraid to be invisible for a moment. To unplug.
Inhale deeply, then exhale. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound . . . of silence, of your own fleeting breaths.
For me, a three-week sabbatical from social media revolutionized my thinking and detoxified my soul. I'll admit, there was withdrawal--a quivering finger over the POST button for the first few days, but it was followed by peace. Taking the time to walk my spirit alone through wild fields, to throw myself into charity work, and to focus on exercising my mind and body, instead of sinking into the usual frenzy of my writing deadlines, public obligations, and the dramas of everyday existence, allowed me to hear my heart sing loudly again. I was reminded what it means to be flesh and blood, not a golden calf or consumed Judas.
To remain in a Judas frame of mind is to eventually betray yourself and to lead yourself to a crucifixion of identity.
But when you loosen up on that death grip of materialism, need for attention, and superficial ambitions, and take the time to learn who you really are, that's when you will finally begin to discover the gifts, the talents, and the uniqueness that are solely yours. That is the moment you step outside the shadows and become a brilliant light in this world.