Reading Scripture with a Foam Finger

Basking in Reflected Glory

Blake Nail / 2.17.22

Finding a new favorite artist can be quite the enthralling experience — especially when you find one who is small, underground and on the rise. This is what happened to me when a friend put me on to Russ. Russ is an independent hip-hop/R&B artist who is known for producing, writing, engineering, mixing and mastering all his own music. I followed Russ’ journey from the independent Soundcloud platform all the way to his most recent pivotal moment of having some of the best rappers in the game on his latest project, Chomp 2. Along the journey, Russ levelled up by reaching new milestones — interviews with the top platforms in the industry, features with legendary rappers like Snoop Dogg and selling out arenas, including the formerly named Staple’s Center. At each new level he reached I found myself not only celebrating for him but with him. It felt as if his accomplishments were mine, his success somehow shared with me. Alas, that was far from the truth.

This feeling, albeit unusual and nonsensical, is extremely common. While I didn’t understand it at first, the further I researched I realized it was an actual psychological phenomena. The classic example: sports fans. You’ve heard it before. The dreaded “we.” This isn’t your normal, run-of-the-mill “we.” No, this is a form of the word used by sports fans when they refer to star players, excelling statistics, or wins on the field, court or any other type of landscape where a sport is executed. Hear me out on this, there is no shade being thrown. (Although, most of us likely smirk inside when we hear this false association taking place in a conversation.) This type of language is likely being tossed around all across Los Angeles as I write this. But it isn’t exclusive to sports or rap, this can be seen in fanatics of Tesla who follow all of Elon Musk’s moves. Perhaps even in a favorite MMA fighter or popular YouTube vlogger.

This observation of how humanity relates to successes outside themselves in which they have played no part in besides watching on the sidelines, has a name for itself. BIRGing and CORFing are the psychological terms for this phenomena. BIRGing stands for “Basking in Reflective Glory” and is utilized to connect one’s self to another person or entity who’s been successful without one having contributed to said success. Psychologists from numerous universities also found in their studies that “the tendency to proclaim a connection with a positive source was strongest when one’s public image was threatened.” Via BIRGing, they can elevate themselves, at least in their own mind, to a higher status — notice how I used “they” instead of “we”?

That’s me participating in CORFing, or “Cutting Off Reflected Failure.” This is a flip of the former idea. “We” switches to “they.” It’s a disassociation from failure. When your team loses, you no longer want to be joined with them. Or, in my case, when your favorite artist gets dissed or flops on an album, you shy away from proclaiming your grand musical taste. This, I would assume, also goes along with the theme of protecting one’s image.

The Church seems to understand CORFing all too well. At least, our reputation seems to point toward that truth. We turn away from those who sin greatly. So and so is getting divorce? They were more of an acquaintance than a friend. Pastor Whoever fell, or jumped, into sin? They need to go away. But when it comes to BIRGing, we seem to have much to learn.

It seems the vast majority of the church and those outside the church have opinions that the Bible is to be read as stories full of examples on how to act. Abraham was obedient to God’s call? Well, so should we. Moses trusted God even with his stutter? If only we could be so faithful. Then we get to Jesus, the greatest example of how to be. So much so that plenty of people are out there attempting to be like him. Which, let me be clear, isn’t exactly a terrible goal. But reading scripture always looking for Law is as boring as is it defeating. Perhaps it’s why biblical literacy is extremely low. It turns into a Basking of Internal Glory which leads to paths of self-righteousness or it’s cousin, navel-gazing. But BIRGing brings something different to the table. And in the case of scripture, it does a lot more than just reflect glory.

The life, death and resurrection of Christ isn’t just an example. In fact, it’s an offering. To you and to me. When we read of the righteousness of Jesus and his great deeds, they aren’t merely for applause. Undoubtedly, his words pierce and puncture the haughty soul, but they also point toward something. Unlike Russ, who is well aware of how his words provide an opportunity for BIRGing: “I make people feel rich when they’re poor” (from Utah Freestyle), in Christ we legitimately have funds in our accounts — a rather large deposit, at that. An actual change in our status before God. 

And those messes we’ve made? Those places in our lives where others would likely use “they” instead of “we” with us? Well, those have been cut off. But when God participates in CORFing, he does so with his scarred hands and a giant foam finger over them. This isn’t a metaphor saying God is rooting us on to be successfully moral and religious but rather that he’s in the stands watching the game of life play out, satisfied in the results because already he’s thrown the game. He cuts off all reflected failure and somehow still uses a “we” in relation to us, despite the losses on his end.

When we read scripture, we aren’t merely keeping an eye out for ways to better ourselves or seeing what new way we are failing to meet the Law’s demands. We are basking in the reflected, and imparted, glory of God’s work in the person of Jesus. Those “he’s” turn to “we’s” when we realize God’s pleasure in his Son is in fact, pleasure upon us. In this sense, the Bible isn’t a boring book with rules and examples of how we are to live. Rather, it’s a collection of stories in which we can bask in the reflected glory with hope and faith that the righteousness we possess is no mere illusion. We too can don a foam finger and read along as a fan instead of a self-accuser. And with God’s grace and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus being painted throughout the entire scriptures, well, the Bible announces the best of news: the scoreboard was decisively broken.

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