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Friday, July 22, 2005

Repenting of Subculture

I know, I know. I'm a slacker. It's been over a month. I AM alive for those of you who sent emails. I've been trying to enjoy my summer a bit and do a lot of work in my basement. Thanks for loving me and checking up.

Today, I am preparing a message for the weekend. Let me tell you a few things that are on my mind as I process . . . (ummm, that usually means a long blog)

Let me tell you about a pendulum swing--many years ago. A cataclysmic shift. A seismic alteration that thrust me headlong into another world—a world where I lived for many years. A frightening and confusing world complete with its own language and rules. A world where the learning curve is steep and outsiders must beware. Though there is much talk of grace in this world—there isn’t much for outsiders. Until the outsiders become insiders. This world is really about the insiders. It’s a world where the insiders are worried about the influence of the outsiders and much time, effort and money is spent on keeping the world safe for the members. This world I fell into unwittingly is none other than the Christian subculture.

If I am a little obnoxious when it comes to raking the Christian subculture over the coals, it’s because I used to live there. I know the pitfalls. I know the arguments on both sides. It gets tiring to me. I live there no longer.

I was once spurned by some friends at a Promise Keepers event because of a chant I started. In this arena, filled with sweaty guys with their t-shirts off tossing around beach balls and singing worship songs, I felt a little out of place. It wasn’t my gig. Some guys started chanting “We love Jesus, yes we do. We love Jesus, how ‘bout you?” This junior high boy cheer went back and forth for a few minutes until I had an idea. I recognized how close the words “Jesus” and “Cheezits” sounded in an arena filled with screaming guys. So I started a new cheer: “We love Cheezits, yes we do.” No one across the stadium knew the difference. God wasn’t “less glorified” that day because I admitted I love Cheezits at the top of my lungs. But, none of my friends could let go of it. Apparently the “we love Jesus” chant is cherished among some Christians in the subculture. Oops. I was shunned.

-In this world (subculture), grace is talked about often, but not REALLY applied. It is some kind of “situational grace” if you will. Grace can be applied to some things, but some things are pretty black and white in this world.

-This world introduced me to many new concepts and things I never knew were a problem. For instance, in this world there is a huge battle going on in regard to education—apparently, public education is just not acceptable

-There is a whole list of products I can’t buy in this world—in fact, I need to boycott—because there is speculation that some of the funds from the company may actually filter to Planned Parenthood (No more Heinz catsup for me!)
Or, if you draw a line from star to star in the company’s logo it actually makes the letters 666. In his book, The Christian Culture Survival Guide, Matthew Paul Turner lists today’s most popular Christian boycotts including all things Disney (since Michael Eisner created “gay” day at Walt Disney World), Madonna, Britney, Christian and Janet, Rater “R” movies, Budweiser, Miller and Coors, and all things Mormon—this includes all things conceived of or supported by the Mormon church or any of the Latter Day Saints—no Napoleon Dynamite for you!

In this world, Christians have their own TV channels, record labels, sports teams, movie companies and clothing. Unfortunately, most of the quality, production, technology and acting is lacking and falls below the bar that has been set by popular culture by 5-10 years.

In this world there are certain things you MUST do if you love God. You must never delete an email telling you to pray for someone—even if you don’t know them—or the person who forwarded you the message. As a matter of fact, if you really love God, you must forward the email to all your friends.

In this world, the only acceptable art is art that is literal and where there is no chance that anyone will misinterpret what the art is saying. Thomas Kinkade is the most acceptable.

This world has its own Yellow Pages where Christians can find “like minded” people to do business with. Now, to be fair, the owners of these yellow pages will tell you they are not promoting the idea that you should only do business with Christians—but I don’t know that everyone really gets that message. In the words of the 80’s musician, movie and music producer Steve Taylor (who is consequently a Christian, but shunned by many in the church): some will only buy milk from a “Christian Cow.”

In this world, my father was encouraged to destroy all music that wasn’t “Christian” in nature. The preferred method for destroying albums is fire. I believe this is because the bible refers to fire in hell and all things Satan end up there.

The battle of “appropriate music” is huge in the Christian subculture. It is perhaps paramount to any argument or debate. Though it has subsided in recent years, it is still alive and well.

(Read last month’s blog for some insight here. Look for the conversation between Mr. Deadhorse and Mr. Me on 6/17)

By the way, did I mention this world has its own language? Oh, yeah. Now, the learning curve is pretty step, but if you want to survive and be on the inside, you need to learn it. Here are a few of the things you “need” to know—this is not an extensive list—just a snippet

-Sword=Bible
-Washed in the Blood=the idea that Jesus gave us a “clean” heart when He died for us
-Quiet time=the time one may spend with God daily—usually with their Bibles
-Devotions=same thing
-Sanctified=set apart, made holy, made complete
-Redeemed=the idea that Jesus saved us from destruction by “buying” us or paying for us with his death
-Worldly—ummm, things that don’t line up with Christian values
-Intercede—to ask something of God on someone else’s behalf
-Stand in proxy—to pray for someone on behalf of them when they are not around (you can even lay hands on another person as if that person was the one you were praying for
-Your “walk”—if someone asks how your walk is, know this is not really about walking or if you have been exercising . . . it means your spiritual journey or, more importantly to some, how good you are doing at keeping the rules

The first time I heard most of these words I was scarred. I knew I was on the outside and I just wanted in. Everyone wants to be part of something. But, the words were foreign. They sounded more like the trailer for a horror movie than language about God to me. Imagine this in movie trailer voice:

“In a world where evil is lurking . . . for 2000 years they have traveled the world with sword in hand. Washed in the blood of a sacrificed lamb who rose from the dead they stand in proxy for those condemned to everlasting fire. They were once dead, but now they live again interceding for those who remain dead—where daily devotion means killing the old man.”

The incredulous list goes on. It is hard to believe there exists such a vernacular. But then again, I think I understand to some degree. It happens the same way that any new language or dialect begins. It happens the same way as Ebonics, street slang, Hawaiian Pigeon, or secret club handshakes began. It stems from who we hang out with. It stems from relationship.

If any culture is to survive, it must learn how to communicate. It stems from who we are speaking with and who we are spending our time with. It starts out rather innocently. Some of the metaphors and word pictures are actually biblical and fascinating, but Christians LOVE to use them out of context or without explanation. Herein lies the problem.

It’s been said effective communication is based on one being able to understand the context and the symbols that are associated with the culture. However, in the case of Christian subculture, I would like to suggest some things have been a stain on the church and the name of Jesus.

I need to clarify what I am NOT saying. I’m not going to another extreme by saying all things labeled Christian are bad (although I have never seen a good Christian movie by a “Christian” company). I am asking us to question our motives. AND I am saying that I believe we have missed something very important about Jesus. After all—that is what we are talking about right? Jesus? Notice I didn’t say Jesus’ message. I didn’t say Jesus’ values. I didn’t say things Jesus stood for. I said we have missed something important about Jesus. The person.

Len Sweet has written a wonderful book entitled “Out of the Question . . . Into the Mystery” that I highly suggest you read. In this book, he says “The way to save the world is not through more rules to live by, but through right relationships to live for. Relationship is the soul of the universe. And the soul is sick. So sick that the worlds of business and finance are proclaiming a biblical truth that the church has lost: “The right relationship is everything.” He goes on to say that cell companies will loose money on a cell phone with you in order to seduce you into a long-term relationship. Real Estate is not about selling houses—it is about “buying” a relationship with your agent. The church has forgotten about relationship. We have forgotten about relationship with the world and, perhaps more importantly, we have forgotten we follow Jesus—the man—God in an earth suit—the one who calls himself a “friend that sticks closer than a brother.” In so doing, the church is in a spot where one of the biggest hurdles for anyone becoming a Christian is . . . Christians.

Len says, “To reach our world effectively, we need more than rules. We need more than biblical standards.” I would add, we need more than “alternatives.” Sweet would say we need to be less true to our “principles” and much more true to our relationships. “ . . . we don’t need the courage of our convictions.
We need the courage of our relationships . . . especially the courage of a right relationship with the Creator, the creation, and our fellow creatures . . . we’ve made rules (and to some degree staying within the boundaries of an “acceptable” cultural experience) more important than relationship.” (parenthetical insert was mine)

There was another religious subculture of sorts in Jesus’ day. It wasn’t very much unlike our current Christian subculture. It too elevated rules over relationship and had created systems, safe havens, alternatives, and a club mentality. These people were called the Pharisees. Jesus was always telling these guys that they were missing the point. There was more finger pointing their way than at the culture at large. God, Jesus is not interested in us setting up spiritual retreat centers from our world. The name Pharisee literally means “set apart” or “separated ones.”

It seems to me that Jesus really didn’t separate the “Christian” or the “Godly” world from the “secular” or “worldly” world. The early church dealt with a group of guys called Gnostics regularly. They were the ones that separated the “spirit” world from the “material” world and called all things material “secular.” Gnosticism championed the thought that there were two dominions we live in—the godly and the ungodly. Jesus never seemed to go down that road. He was much more about doing life “in the world” while being totally connected to God in others in relationship.

I believe the Christian subculture may be the new Gnosticism. We have done effectively the same thing by promoting the idea that there are two realms we live in—the secular and the sacred. It almost mirrors the problem that the townspeople faced in the old musical “The Music Man.” The song describing the town’s problem in the musical said “Oh, we got trouble. Right here in river city. With a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for pool.” The town’s ills were all surrounding the pool hall. Now, what might Christians do in this situation? Create a Christian pool hall. Cover the table in felt that has been made in the Holy Lands. Print Bible verses on the billiard balls. Make the triangular ball rack with the words Father, Son, Holy Spirit in the corners to remind kids of the trinity—the ever watchful eye in the sky holding them accountable for their ways.

Interestingly enough, there is not one distinct Christian subculture. Generally speaking, there are different varieties. There are those who belong to the hymn singing—organ embracing—King James bible reading subculture. There are those who belong to the Christian Heavy Metal listening, Christian tattoo wearing group. There are those who belong to the “boycott group”, but not the “must wear a tie to church” group. We come in all different shapes and sizes.

There is the “nothing but the bible” subculture that hates my blogging and my speaking. Wrong language. Wrong approach. Wrong stories. Too much humor. Too many references to culture. Not enough references to scripture. Reading off a screen rather than a book. Referencing a rated “R” movie in the message. Quoting a democrat, etc. (Read last month’s blog where I posted a letter from one of these folks).

I want to make something very clear. It is something that I want to apologize for. Because of our commitment to live within our bubble, because of our desire to “regurgitate Christian renderings” of artistic culture, because of our “hidden-ness,” because of our desire to live in a sterile “free from temptation” environment. We are losing a battle. And, it IS like a horror movie.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Acts 17. (READ Acts 17:16-34) What an awesome example for us as Christ followers. If this is to serve as an example of how to engage not-yet-believers in spiritual conversation—we have a lot to be sorry for.

Paul so eloquently and lovingly engaged this crowd. He complimented them on there faith journey—even though he knew they didn’t have it “quite right.” He knew they had a lot of things unsettled. He knew that they were trying to cover all their bases and give credit to God—they just didn’t know him. They didn’t know how to address him. He didn’t insult them. He didn’t use a secret handshake. He didn’t speak in code or cause them to pull out their secret decoder rings. He even quoted one of their contemporary poets—drew from their “secular” culture in order to speak THEIR language. (Read this in The Message for an excellent, conversational translation)

BUT, there is hope! Wanna know a secret? Paul was once IMMERSED in subculture! In his own words he was a “stalwart Pharisee from a long line of Pharisees.” He knew the language. He had Grand Pooba status. He knew the lingo and was not only a club member—he was the president. God grabbed a hold of his selfish, uncaring, self-centered soul and started a whole new trend with him.

Paul understood that you can’t engage and understand while at the same time reject/hide from/boycott/and picket. The art— the music, the media, the entertainment, and the literature of our culture is screaming out the heart of its people “Listen to us! We have questions! We have problems! We want answers! We are just like you! We have hearts! We hurt! We bleed! We want understanding!” Are we listening? Do we pay attention and listen to our culture’s mode and vehicles of communication or are we content to selfishly substitute everything our mainstream culture produces with a sanitized, safe, alternate version for our own consumption?

One commentary I read recently said, “Retreating from the world into a Christian subculture creates a small and weak God, ties up his people with legalism, and hinders the good news from being lived out where it is needed the most.”

Jesus never called us to safety and security. If we really believe Jesus is the answer to those questions—and I do with every stitch of my being—let’s give the world a reason to take a step in that direction.

8 comments:

Pilan said...

Hello John, your blogs are sooooo long but I enjoy what I can read.

Love you and miss you all at Lakeside Church.

Not much going on in the terms of visual arts, but wish there were. I hope that things are going great with you and the family. When is your next cd coming out?

P

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Esther said...

Hi John,

Just wanted to say how much I'm loving your blog. I really enjoy hearing the inner thoughts of a modern-day man of God - you seem so in tune with the way the world, and the church, work today. Definitely in agreement about the "nothing but the bible" crowd. And what you said about our culture screaming "We have problems! We want answers!" really struck a chord with me - I listen to a song which obviously shows the singer's confusion and cluelessness, and find myself praying for him/her.

Anyway, your entries are really making me think, so keep up the thinking and posting. Oh, and you should probably check out the comment for this post about the timber industry - looks good. ;)