I was in a hurry, looking for the nearest entrance into the maze of barricades, stages, vendor booths, and other random attractions that had transformed almost all of downtown Las Vegas into a raging music festival for 3 nights. I had been flown out west to join one of the set up teams, and one bonus of the job was a free entry pass for the entire weekend. With the preparations complete, my only responsibilities were to find the rest of my crew and enjoy the festivities. Although we weren’t really working during the festival, the organizers had still given us “Workin’ It” wristbands instead of the spectator bands issued to most everybody else. These bands allowed us to enter the zone through what normally were exits or through any other gap in the security fence. I found one of these gaps and was quickly ushered through by security. Once inside, I turned and watched a couple behind me that hoped to enter the same way. That same security team, however, blocked their path, and after explaining the difference in the wristbands, pointed them towards the main entrance, a good half-mile further away. The couple protested briefly, and then reluctantly began their long walk to their assigned entrance.
As I watched the two of them walk away, a feeling came up inside me; a feeling that briefly felt good, but one that I knew was ugly and selfish. I knew that the couple was going to be stopped, and I liked it. For them to be able to follow me in would not have hindered my progress in any way, and yet there was a kind of smug satisfaction at being able to do something they couldn’t—a feeling of superiority or higher status. It wasn’t because of anything I had done, the worker passes were given to us only out of convenience, but that didn’t matter. I had a privilege that they did not. Mine was pink, theirs was purple. Mine let me breeze past security, theirs meant a long walk and a time consuming security check.
It occurred to me that many people who come to Las Vegas are willing to pay a lot of money for that same feeling. My main role there was actually to help set up the VIP section for the casino big shots. Once the work was done, I wouldn’t be allowed in that area until it was time to tear it down. Those patrons were bestowed an even higher status than my own. Further down the strip, lavish nightclubs promote exclusive VIP packages, complete with massive liquor bottles that spray fireworks served by an entourage of attractive women, so that everyone present can notice and admire the patrons on the receiving end. The highest echelon in the city, of course, goes to the legendary “high rollers”, men and women who can throw phenomenal sums of money at games of chance. The whole concept of VIP at the festivals, nightclubs, and casinos is not just to provide a good time and spectacular services, but to provide things to some that are denied to others. Establishments in Las Vegas aren’t just about serving up drinks and music and good times. They are selling shots of superiority.
Humans have coveted after higher status since the beginning of time, or at least since Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve bought into Satan’s lie that they could “be like God”. The human race has been paying the price ever since. In many Asian cultures, “saving face” has long been valued more than life itself, and India codified its social standings through the caste system. Here in the America, young women will give their bodies in return for recognition; young men will gun each other down for it. Those with the means simply pay cash. By stratifying its pleasure seeking guests, Las Vegas and other places like it are betting on human nature and making a killing.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee in Mathew 20, along with their mother, wanted a piece of that superiority as well. They weren’t interested in being equal to the other disciples in the new kingdom (Mathew 19.28). They wanted a higher status all for themselves, and a seat at Jesus’s side. Jesus’s response is completely contrary to human instinct, when he tells them that “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” (Mathew 20:26-27) Those of us who grew up in the church have probably heard this so many times that we don’t even think about what it really means. “Yea, of course, the first will be last, that’s what we Christians say.” But do we really know what that looks like?
When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in John 13, it wasn’t heroically savior-like, edgy, avant-garde, or counter-culturally cool. It was scandalous. Gauche. Unacceptable. Humiliating. Peter was embarrassed that his respectable rabbi was acting like a servant, and tried to tell Jesus to stop. Washing feet, though, was a small thing compared to what Jesus had already done, and what he was about to do. He traded in his heavenly throne for a feeding trough in a smelly cave, and would die on a cross, the most disgraceful death the Roman Empire could devise. He went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, to save a mob of untouchables like us. He gave up his heavenly status, so that we could be given a new status–as children of the King.
If we’re honest, losing face as an adult carries far more consequences than losing it as a child. Perhaps this is why parents will often tell their young children not to worry what others think, only to turn and spend their own lives desperately trying to preserve or improve their position in society. Truly following Christ’s example may cost us friends, family, or relationships, or it may require us to be a friend or family to someone we want nothing to do with—someone who doesn’t meet our expectations or someone who might tarnish our image. As our culture continues to break from any biblical attachments, being a Christian may soon cost us social status and favorable recognition. Our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world know this cost well, and we will have much to learn from them.
In the end, I did have the chance to check out those big name nightclubs on the strip. The L.A. Dodgers were there that night, as well as members of the Sacramento Kings. I went without the $2,000 VIP status and so was just another head of poofy hair mashed into the crowd. I still met some really cool people, though, and had a great time. The music festival, my first of this size, was quite the experience as well, but I’m not sure I would shell out my own money for it. One friend recently told me that my life “seemed so fabulous”, and for this particular season, I truly do feel blessed in many ways, both big and small. I do not know what God has in store for me, but I do know that being a disciple of Jesus will someday, somehow, cost me something. I hope that when that time comes, that I will be obedient to his calling, take up my cross, and follow Him.
by Ian Bridgman