Dorothee Soelle has a beautiful phrase, ‘the ego is a concretization of God-forgetfulness.’ Not only that the ego is a concretization of other-forgetfulness, of creation-forgetfulness. We live in an ego-dominated world.
Whether it is what Manfred Kets de Vries calls the destructive egotism of narcissism characterized by ‘self-centredness, grandiosity, lack of empathy, exploitation, exaggerated self-love, and failure to acknowledge boundaries.’ (The Leader On The Couch, p. 25)
Or whether it is the ego-driven quest of the empty consumer self, seeking to fill its emptiness with ever more possessions that are completely unnecessary, and serve only to feed the ego.
About seven years ago when I was stressed and anxious a little book called ‘The Jesus Prayer’ by Simon Barrington Ward lept off the shelf at me. The Jesus Prayer, Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner helps us learn to sustain and switch our capacity for attention, as well as become aware of the presence of God.
At the same time as practicing this prayer I was doing some counselling and psychotherapy training at Roehampton and came across mindfulness within psychology. I felt these two different strands were related.
I then started researching one of the pioneers of the Jesus Prayer, a 5th century Bishop Diadochus of Photike – and came across an idea of his about ‘mindfulness of God.’ That phrase range me like a bell and I have been fascinated with researching it ever since.
The Greek phrase Diadochus uses which was translated mindfulness of God was mneme theou, literally the memory of God, or the remembrance of God – a living memory. This of course is the antidote to the ego as concretisation of God-forgetfulness, other-forgetfulness and creation-forgetfulness.
The practice of the memory of God helps us to remember God, remember others, remember creation, and remember our true self – made in the image and likeness of God. It releases us from the prison of the ego into a new freedom.
A NERVE got hit metaphorically speaking as I was reading a book about creeds like the Caesarean creed, and the Jerusalem creed which influenced the Nicene creed.
I felt the nerve tingle because I had just been reading the psychologist Erich Fromm about the marketing creed of western society.
The marketing society’s creed says all that is good exists outside of one’s self, and one’s self is defined by what we possess, not by who we are. It is only when people believe this creed and live it out by becoming ‘homo consumens’, a total consumer, that the marketing society can continue to survive. Everything then becomes narcissistic, and so the #narcissist’s creed is born.
In much of the Western church we have become consumers of worship, rather than people consumed by worship, even though we hide that unpalatable truth behind biblical sounding words.
I am always fascinated by stories of fragments of ancient documents that are found. Some years ago in the Egyptian desert a fragment of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed was found, and some scholars believe it may have been used as a sort of ecclesiastical charm bracelet.
In our consumer world God has become a sort of ecclesiastical charm bracelet, who will give us health, wealth, prosperity, and ensure that nothing bad will happen to us, who are of course, ultimately good people.
I wondered if maybe in a thousand years time fragments of the new creed of the church would be found, buried beneath the remains of a shopping mall cathedral, perhaps to be called, the Blue Water fragment of the Niceme creed.
I call it the NiceMe creed because it sounds almost authentic. Also it summarizes the main tenets of Niceme Christianity. I am ‘nice me’ not sinful me. God exists to be ‘nice to me.’ God being nice to me involves me never suffering or having pain, having the right house, car, clothes, children etc. God is nice to me by allowing me to take and not to give, and to walk away from relationships and churches if they fail to meet my total consumer demands. This is the creed of the narcissist.
As this creed is implicit and ought to be recorded for prosperity, I took the liberty of beginning to write it down. The Niceme creed:
I believe in One God, the Father of niceMe, who has made heaven and earth for niceMe, and all things visible and invisible for niceMe. I believe in one servant Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father, before all worlds to serve niceMe in the marketing world.God for niceMe, light for niceMe, very God of very God for niceMe, beholden to niceMe. Who for niceMe and my happiness came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man solely to meet all my niceMe needs and wants. He was crucified also for niceMe under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried that niceMe might never suffer pain; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, that I might be transformed into homo consumens. And he shall come again, with glory, to judge those who haven’t met my wants and needs, so that my niceMe kingdom might have no end.
This is just a fragment and it may be that there may be other versions of it in each of the great consumer centres of this marketing world that need to be made explicit.
Of course, this creed is something that the marketing society does not want made explicit. And it may be that copies of it will be seized and burnt, and that it becomes an offence to publicize the Niceme creed.
I understand that in the early church during times of persecution the Scripture would be seized and burnt, and that ministers who surrendered the Bible to the authorities were stripped of the right to be ministers by the church.
I hope the same spirit of resistance can be found somewhere in the church!
Erich Fromm wrote about this in 1955, and his words are prophetic and should have sparked a reformation of the church to avoid becoming homo consumens within church culture.
I wonder if we went even further back to the early Church fathers and their reflections on Scripture which took creedal form, we might be able to see the Niceme creed more clearly as it works its influence in our worship services and ‘just the minimum requirement’ and ‘just looking the part’ discipleship.
If Fromm’s analysis is correct, which I believe it is, then the big danger for pastors as Eugene Petersen puts it, is that ministers become shopkeepers.
As the only safe way to transform the church is to begin by transforming me, I am going to look and see if over the last 15 years I have been more a shopkeeper promoting the Niceme creed, or somone who by attentively reading the Nicene creed becomes someone for others not someone for me. And maybe Someone else will get the followers if we follow the right creed.