Expressive Individualism: Western Culture 7
An epic song in the movie “The Greatest Showman” called “This Is Me” has received almost universal praise in declaring the worth of all people. The movie, set within circus life, shows various “misfits” who have been rejected by society, made fun of, called unlovable and assaulted verbally. The song says they feel like strangers in this world, they are made to feel ashamed of their broken parts, and they are bruised. Like James 3:3-12, people’s words were deeply hurting them. The song is a rallying call to fight against this abuse and to recognise their true worth – “we are glorious”.
This degradation of people created in the image of God is clearly appalling and so it is not surprising that the song has connected to the condition of many people who feel different. Reading the Christian commentary on the song reveals a very positive response to its message. There is something here that is very much indicative of the heart of God which explains this response. However, it is worth examining how the song suggests dealing with the condition of rejection and abuse. Rightly the song promotes rejecting the assaults from others, recognising the persons created uniqueness, worth and strength. But because there is just a generic basis of human worthiness underlying the song without any reference to their heavenly Father, the song is promoting an internal look, a buffering from the views of others and then a shouting to the world who they are. They will march to the beat of their own drum and will drown out any abuse by their bold and brave declaration of their uniqueness. By repeating to oneself we are worthy and by flooding any negativity by self-expression we are going to drown out what others are saying.
There are a number of positive messages in this song that Christians will wholeheartedly agree to. But we also should be aware that it is symptomatic of the “Expressive Individualism” that is so much a part of our culture. This culture will encourage us to look internally for who we really are, buffering ourselves from others and then this must be expressed to the world around us. As life throws its spears at us, we will be inclined to look internally and then, from a buffered position giving us distance from others, we will express our uniqueness to others. This is almost going to be a “natural” response for us Christians who have grown up in this culture. But if we leave it at that response then we will merely be reinforcing our cultural inclinations. Any internal examination should drive us to connect externally to Christ and to others because there we find our image and worth. The connection to others is not to impose our image on others but to connect more deeply into communities. We will reject the assaults of others by connecting with our Creator, hearing His voice, and by connecting with others where, through mutual love, rebuke and encouragement, we can become who we are in Christ. So, as we reflect on matters internally, we should use this to look outward to God and our communities to find the basis of addressing and expressing these matters.
There is much we can affirm in this song as it does express God’s heart for people but in its approach to addressing the issue it draws on Christ’s perspective but ignores it source and true foundation. Ultimately the songs positive vibe will leave people with an emptiness and is ultimately delusional cutting people off from their true source of identity (Jn 15).
May our hurt help us to see that God is our refuge for healing and our light for understanding:
Psalm 36:3, 7, 9
The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
they fail to act wisely or do good.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
Lord, help us to continue to direct people to Christ himself and to genuine community connections as they seek their identity and worth.