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You Last

You Last
Girl praying in orphanage. New York, 1947


Earlier today Derren Brown retweeted this photo with the comment "Oh Lord." It's had 85 retweets and counting. Here are some of the comments in replies:

The list is backwards

'You last'. What a heart-breaker

So sad, make them feel guilty, bad and no self worth...sorry no religious belief from me!

On the original Classic Pic tweet were the following comments (swearing coming...)

disgusting crap message on the wall. abandoned child must focus on invisible Jesus rather than own needs

that is the saddest thing I have seen in days. *sob*

fuck that, fuck the message on the wall

This is a desperately sad photo. Not just the message, but the stark walls and the bleak, loveless room.

Interesting photo. Revolting story told in the photo.

Everything that's wrong with religion

"Dear Lord. i thanks you for giving me no parents and a shitty start in life."

Torn between sorrow and rage.

This is all sorts of horrible. Poor kid.

Horrible, horrible child abuse. Disgusting.

I grew up with "Jesus, Others, Yourself" - JOY comes by putting yourself last, right? If you grew up in a Christian home I'd be surprised if you've never come across the acronym. I mention this so that no-one thinks this is the orphanage's way of putting the children in their place. This is not a power-play, it's the opposite. This is the essence of the way of Jesus: self-giving sacrifice as the way to fullness of life.

But what's fascinating to me is that in 1947 'Self Last' would have been roundly endorsed as the moral position. Today 'Self Last' is not just strange or inadvisable, it's immoral. It's disgusting crap. It's everything that's wrong with religion, etc, etc.

But what do we have in this photo? We see a little girl in need. She's an orphan and our hearts go out to her. But who is actually caring for her? Answer: the people who believe in "Self Last", that's who.  And which body of people have had the longest and most impressive history of caring for orphans? Christians - i.e. those who believe in 'Self Last'.

What's the alternative? Shall we declare 'Self Last' as an abusive sentiment? Shall we endorse 'Me First' instead? How many orphanages could be built on that foundation?

But, some will say, this girl is at the bottom of the heap already. How crushing for her to be told to pray this hierarchy into her heart every day! Isn't that abusive?

Ah but, here's the thing. All Christians pray 'Self Last.'  I'll bet the Queen herself was taught this acronym. Everyone is called to the selfless life of Jesus. Christ's kingdom inverts all our 'Me First' values. As Mary's Christmas song (the Magnificat) reminds us:

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:52-53)

'Self Last' is a philosophy that humbles the highest and lifts up the poorest. In the kingdom of 'Self Last' it's the lowliest who are greatest. As this little girl prays, she is in touch with the Lord of the universe - the Lord who stoops, serves, suffers and dies.

Just practically speaking, her greatest hope is the 'Self Last' people. They are the ones who care for orphans. And spiritually and existentially speaking, her greatest hope is the Lord who put Himself last. In His kingdom she is the greatest:

46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and made him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.’  (Luke 9:46-48)

14 thoughts on “You Last

  1. JOY is abusive

    No one can care for others if they aren't first taken care of themselves. If you aren't fed, clothed, physically & mentally healthy, you have nothing to give anyone else. And the people who push this self last bs are usually the ones who are already well taken care of and they tend to push it on to those who need help the most, like the little girl in the picture. Hardly Christian.

    In addition, there are thousands of people alive right now who can testify that the treatment of "orphans" has and continues to be cruel and inhumane. Ask the native children stolen from their families, abused and murdered in church runs schools, the first mothers and their children lied to, manipulated and ripped apart by church run pregnant girl's homes and adoption agencies.

    Or how about we go further back, to the ever so Christian slave traders?

    Being Christian doesn't make you a better person, it just makes it easier to justify your abuse of other people by claiming it's what God wants. Funny how what God wants always seems to line up with what the person claiming it wants. People who are genuinely good claim their altruism is how God wants us to act, and people who commit atrocities also can use the bible to justify their actions and claim that they are only doing "God's work".

    Religion doesn't make people moral and putting yourself last doesn't make you morally superior. In fact, it is completely impossible to do literally without ending up dead, because you would never, ever be able to take care of yourself at all.

  2. Glen

    Welcome to the blog.

    Inhumane treatment of orphans (or anyone) is unChristlike. I don't deny that awful things have been done by Christians, but bearing the name of Jesus does not make atrocities easier. Only those acting like Christ - the Servant of all - can claim to be acting Christianly.

    As for putting yourself last - you're right that this would be impossible if it meant you couldn't take care of yourself at all. But no-one has ever taken it to mean that. We still feed and care for ourselves, but at the same time we're challenged as to why we're so concerned for our own well-being and not our neighbours'.

    I guess there's a vital foundation for this teaching: That the Lord puts *us* first. Jesus serves us - even to the point of death - therefore He calls us to His kind of life. First receiving from Him, then passing it on to others. I still maintain that it's this teaching that has produced the greatest amount of orphan care in the history of humanity.

  3. Gina J

    Wilberforce ( a Christian) lead the fight to abolish slavery. Christians such as Barnado set up care for orphans - countless other Christians work with the homeless, drug addicts etc today. Putting self last means not being selfish - something which is alien in today's society that promotes selfishness. Humanism says look after No 1 - put self first- Christ teaches that we should put others needs before our own.

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  5. Thelma

    Blah blah... random religious bullshit...blah blah, we hate gay people, we condone slavery, we condone misogyny, but we love Mr. Jesus. Oh yeah, Christians...It make sense.

  6. Cal

    Thus in the second thousand and fourtheen year of our era, the brave soldier Thelma scaled the parapet and beheld the carnage. For lo, she had slaineth an army of straw so vast and malevolent that no eye hath ever seen such a feat, nor will ever again.

  7. Imcatbb

    Cal I love your tweet!
    But as one who was brought up on JOY It did contribute to my low self esteem until I had it pointed out that Jesus said Love your neighbour AS YOURSELF, ie you love yourself as much as your neighbour (but not more!). JOY is great guidance for adults but perhaps less so for small children.

  8. Alistair

    Two very different worldviews presented.

    Yesterday I went to visit an elderly disabled man I know in Hammersmith. He was facing his first Christmas alone after his mum had died. His brother and sister don't want to know him.

    I arranged for him to have Christmas dinner at a local church. They picked him up, dropped him off and treated him with the love he craved. He's still raving about what a great day it was.

    From my friends point of view he was very grateful for a JOY attitude and not the yourslf attitude of his brother and sister.

  9. Si Hollett


    Sure, JOY can sap joy, but so can this idea that we should have high self-esteem - I've been told "you need to raise your self esteem" and got caught in a vicious downward spiral as I thought lower of myself for not thinking higher of myself. I got out of the tailspin by seeing the self-emptying nature of Jesus, that he didn't care how he thought of himself, laying it aside for others like me (this great news that what I think of myself doesn't matter, and that Jesus loves me more than himself, have made my self-esteem too high!).

    As for love your neighbour as yourself, it declares that you do love yourself, rather than prescribes that we should (not that we shouldn't).

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