So for those of you that don’t here much about my personal life, I am a youth director at a Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) here in my town where I attend seminary. The curriculum that we use for the youth group’s Sunday morning classes comes from the United Methodist Church and is called LinC (Living in Christ). I use some of the topic ideas for discussion on Sunday nights and am planning on using them for jumping off points for blogs for a bit. The lesson’s are usually extremely culturally relevant and I’m hoping to use this as an opportunity to write with a bit of a more pastoral bent.
* DISCLAIMER: though I am basing these off of my Sunday night lessons, I am planning to delve a bit deeper than I do there. Don’t write these off just because they begin as lessons for middle- and high-schoolers.
I don’t feel like I have to explain this but I’m going to anyway: for those who have been living under a rock/avoiding social-media since last winter there has been a new phenomenon sweeping social media and culture, it is called YOLO. Commonly used as a tag on social-networking services like twitter, YOLO (or #YOLO as it would appear in a tweet) is simply an acronym meaning “you only live once.” For older readers, think carpe diem, same basic concept. Evidence of its popularity can be seen in that while an acronym used primarily within social-media it has crept into everyday conversation and has become a part of the vernacular. While seemingly harmless I think #YOLO proves to be more problematic as one begins to critically engage it and the philosophy behind it.
Let’s start off with tackling the origin of #YOLO. #YOLO burst onto the culture stage late last October when it appeared in Drake’s song “The Motto.” As much as I would love to go through the song line-by-line, I’ll spare you and just give a brief synopsis. If you really want to, look of the song, read the lyrics, and be amazed. First off, “The Motto” is extremely chauvinistic. Women are referred to as objects and called things/spoken of in ways that should never be used to talk about a human being. The song is about sleeping with whoever you want, partying like there’s no tomorrow, and chasing pleasures one wants; all under the mantra of “you only live once.” To be clear, this is not an admonition against “secular” music. I’ve never liked the Christian/secular spectrum when it comes to music. There’s simply good music and bad music; “The Motto” stands as an example of bad music.
As easy as it seems to be for many Christians to attack ideas like #YOLO because of things like the sexual nature of some of the lyrics or their glorification of violence and objectification. While I think these are problems, they’re definitely not the root problem.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
In the tenth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus, as usual, teaching to a crowd. In this particular passage one encounters Jesus affirming the worldview created by the Law. Today we commonly sum them up with the phrase “love God; love people.” Now I know that #LoGoLoPo isn’t nearly as catchy as #YOLO but I think it is a better way to view the world. As Christians we are told that the Law is summed up in these two statements and we are to live accordingly. At a surface level interpretation of this text one encounters a call to give up one’s own self for the sake of others. Cast off the me and focus on the we. A full life is not one where you focus on yourself and how you can use others to gain what you desire, but of pouring out from ourselves into others.
All to often #YOLO becomes a justification for destructive and down right stupid behavior. Instead of seriously considering the possible outcomes of actions and behaviors, individuals flippantly toss any kind of real reflection to the wind for the sake of the experience. Part of the Christian life is the focus on community building and community life. These things break apart when one solely focuses on one’s self in the manner that the #YOLO mentality proposes. We are called to be selfless not selfish.
There’s this idea within Christian theology called kenosis. It is a Greek word found in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It denotes the idea of self-emptying. In that letter Paul asks his fellow Christians to take upon themselves the mindset of Jesus and then goes on to talk about kenosis. As Christians we are supposed to be self-emptying. Love for the other in our life should be extremely important. How can we adequately love God and love neighbor within a #YOLO mentality?