I have a childhood memory of making “a party” with my Great Aunt, and as we were placing cookies on the tray to serve our Sunday afternoon guests, my Aunt G. whispered into my ear, “Remember, the Edmistons are better than everybody else.“
This confused me.
One, it was a random comment that had nothing to do with sugar cookies. And two, it seemed to be in direct conflict with what I’d learned in Sunday School (i.e. I am a miserable offender).
I believe that my children are exceptional. They are brilliant, kind, and creative. I might even say I have the Best Kids in the World. I call my extraordinary sister the BSE (Best Sister Ever) and my husband is simply The Best. I am profoundly grateful to be connected to these people.
Maybe you believe your kids/spouses/siblings are The Best as well. I hope so.
Another random whisper came from a parishioner years ago as she was lying in a hospital bed which happened to be in one of the Top Hospitals in the U.S. according to a recent news magazine article. We talked and prayed and considered her recovery. And then she leaned over and whispered into my ear, “The United States doesn’t have the best health care in the world.” She was originially from Asia and she went on to share how some of the care she’d received in that Top Hospital would be considered unacceptable in South Korea. And yet, especially during these political conventions, we often hear that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world, the U.S. has the best health care in the world. And the Olympics in London reminded us that our athletes are the world’s best. Remember the U.S. is better than everybody else.
There is a difference between cheerleading on behalf of our families, our communities, our nation – Nobody does it better! – and genuinely believing that we are better than other families, communities, and nations. Considering ourselves to be exceptional can mess with our heads.
Consider the church: A gifted pastor I know, serving an Important Church, was equipping his leaders to share their faith in more hands-on ways with their neighbors. One of the elders challenged this exercise saying, “We’re Big-Deal-Church-On-The-Hill. We don’t have to do this. People already know who we are and what we stand for.“
The pastor responded in a way that would eventually cost him his job: “Actually, nobody knows who we are and what we stand for. No one really cares that we are the Big-Deal-Church-On-The-Hill anymore.”
There is a fine line (or maybe a not-so-fine-line) between knowing we are exceptionally loved, fortunate, and graced and believing we are better, bigger, and more powerful. One evokes a response of gratitude in that we want to make it possible for others to be so blessed. Another evokes hierarchy and a superiority that Jesus never espoused. The unique thing about the Christian faith is this. Our blessings are not to be exploited; they are given that we might serve others.
Are we the best nation in the world? We should aspire to be.
Are our families the greatest? Yes. (I would love for everyone to be able to say this.)
Are we better than everyone else? Not only ‘no‘ but if we believe this, it’s – ironically – proof that we are not better; we are simply prideful and confused.