I saw it on the fourth of July, on a beach on the North Shore of Boston a few years ago. The crowd was poised for the fire works show. There were thousands of people milling around the beach with their blankets and beach chairs waiting for the inevitable. The place was packed. You couldn’t be alone if you wanted to. And its in that environment where I/we experienced, once again, the mindset of entitlement.
The show started and everyone took a seat on a blanket or a chair; well almost everyone. There was a small group of people, maybe ten yards from us, who remained standing. “Down in front,” people called. That did little to make them move. They huddled together a little more closely out of consideration but the message was clear, “We’re not sitting down. If we block your view, so what?!” And so the show went on and on and on and they remained standing—to the end. I guess I didn’t like that they blocked my view of the lower fireworks. It was pretty obvious that they were locals, based on how they were talking and acting. They probably had yearly beach passes. Maybe they lived in the community. I don’t know. But clearly, they felt entitled to stand while everyone else sat. They were at least middle class, white, and arrogant. They were entitled. And who they inconvenienced was irrelevant to them. It was truly amazing to watch. Irritating but amazing. They were entitled. And they let everyone know it!
It made me think about how much people feel entitled to. In America we feel entitled to compensation if we can’t work and a nice living if we can, freedom of speech and religion, health benefits, dignity, respect (even if you act disrespectfully), material goods, personal satisfaction and meaning, the right to say what you think or feel even if it hurts someone, happiness, and a lot more. We feel entitled. I’m not so sure that’s always good. I think in a democracy, there are benefits and those benefits, more than entitlements, seem to me to be more like privileges. I recently finished a book by a guy named Jamie Smith. The book is called How (Not) to be Secular. Smith’s book is a summary of a book by philosopher, Charles Taylor, who is so complex to read very few can understand him. So you read Smith to understand Taylor. At any rate, Charles Taylor (via Jamie Smith) notes that there is an individualism that haunts our modern way of life in the west. My take on it is that it erodes our ability to care for others the way we should.
St. Paul told the Corinthian church that he was entitled; entitled to compensation, entitled to respect, entitled to bring a believing wife along on his ministry if he so chose. But he didn’t. He chose, for others sake, to give up the things he was entitled to and live instead with a servant heart. Are we doing that? Am I doing that? Its easy to feel entitled. Its hard to want to serve. Jesus Christ, as the eternal Son of God, is entitled to respect, reverence, honor, and glory. On the cross He gave it all up for us. I think that means we can and should do the same for others.