Black turtlenecks make sense in a world dominated by Jacques Derrida. When I was in grad school in the early 2000s, some of my friends were enamored with the French philosopher, speaking of Derrida (1930–2004) like he was a god. They attempted to imitate his grand skepticism, and they even tried to dress like him. Black turtlenecks, out of style everywhere else, were high fashion among my friends.
Grad students aren’t the only ones who imitate their heroes; we all shape ourselves after those we’re most impressed with. We admire people who’ve captured a quality we wish were true of us, and then we imitate their whole style, hoping it will give us that quality.
Teenage girls of 2017 are impressed with Taylor Swift for the same general reasons teenage girls of 1997 were impressed with Jewel. These singers embody something teens want for themselves—celebrity, musical skill, panache, authenticity. My son is impressed with Lebron James for roughly the same reasons I was impressed with Michael Jordan. They embody something we want—skills so dominating that opposing teams adjust their strategy and sports apparel companies name shoes after you.
We’re impressed with people who’ve captured the things we desire. The problem is, without Jesus, we naturally desire earthly things: money, fame, and success. We can only desire the right things with the help of Jesus. And that’s no automatic process.
Be Mindful of What You’re Impressed With
It takes discipline to be impressed with the right things and to steward our desires properly. In the book of Jude, a Christian leader told believers to be mindful about what they were impressed with. He was concerned they were impressed with pompous leaders who gained influence by appearing successful, but who would lead the church astray.
It takes discipline to be impressed with the right things and to steward our desires properly.
Much of the letter of Jude is spent vividly portraying how these men appear impressive but are actually deadly. Jude compares them to waterless clouds that promise rain but don’t deliver, trees that promise harvest but produce nothing, and wandering stars that promise guidance but shift around recklessly (Jude 12–13).
These leaders were superficially impressive, so Jude works to teach believers how to be impressed by truly good things. They need to decide what they will be impressed by and whom they will imitate. This goes for us, too. We’re also stewards of what we call good.
So how do we steward well? Here’s a possible fourfold strategy:
1. Think through why you’re impressed with someone.
What specifically does she have that you want for yourself? Whether it’s tangible or intangible, try to identify what’s so desirable about the person.
2. Think through how those values reflect God’s values.
Every person bears the image of God and reflects aspects of his goodness. Derrida sought out a greater understanding of language and unsettled a lot of bad assumptions. Taylor Swift uses music to capture emotional complexity. Lebron James hones his skill so that he operates instinctively on the court.
3. Think through how those values don’t reflect God’s values.
As image-bearers who are fallen, capacities meant for the worship of God are used for the worship of self. Because of this danger, we should never passively imitate anyone around us, no matter how impressive. Derrida undermined the nature of language. Taylor Swift spends her musical efforts elevating the importance of relational matters above the eternal concerns of the soul. Lebron James participates in an industry whose values orbit around viewership dollars and inflated sports loyalties.
We should be impressed with self-control over self-aggrandizement, with gentleness over power, faithfulness over platform.
4. Look for people you ought to be more impressed with.
Jude made clear to his readers that being found in the love of God is the supreme goal of our existence (Jude 21). Be impressed with people captured by this desire. Whether or not they’re impressive in terms of wealth, platform, or ability, your heart ought to be impressed by evidences of God’s character being formed in them. We should be impressed with self-control over self-aggrandizement, gentleness over power, faithfulness over platform.
Choosing what you’re impressed with is a long-term project. You can’t simply decide in the moment, but you can direct your attention to the folks who embody the values of our eternal God. Eventually you’ll be impressed with those values and instinctively want them for yourself.