Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cultural relevance

I've felt like I've had something to post about for the past few days, but when I pull up Blogger, I immediately forget what it was. So, in an effort to drag the idea out of my head, I'll proceed to write about everything I can. Maybe eventually it will come out. (Aren't you excited?)

Was it Habitat for Humanity? We went last Saturday. It had been pouring down rain the day before, but Saturday turned into a beautiful day, despite the inches of mud we had to walk on. I started out on the roof, hammering decking (plywood) into the beams. It was kind of scary at first, but the more decking we had up there, the safer it was. I hit my finger pretty hard with the hammer, and it's been purple and swollen for the past couple of days. I can finally bend it, but not all the way. I wish I could say it's broken (because that sounds cool), but I think it's just really badly bruised, which isn't as cool.

Was it Holly and Sophie's recent health saga? Saturday night we rushed Sophie to the ER because she was shaking and turning blue, with a really high fever. The shaking and blueness were from chills, which stopped before we even got there, but we found out Sophie has early pneumonia. Poor girl just can't stay well! And poor mom is about worn out! I am still praying for Holly's salvation. She actually scheduled an appointment to talk with our pastor, but got scared and canceled it. Not that the pastor is the golden ticket or anything, but I was hoping he would lend some authority to the answers to her questions. In the meantime, I continue to talk with her, and answer questions as best as I can. I know it's up to the Holy Spirit.

Maybe it was about Friday, who has now started an odd habit of taking each piece of food to the carpet to eat. Nah...

Maybe it was my growing awareness of the filth (muck...putrescence, if you will) I allow to enter my brain via TV and movies, as well as the growing awareness of good alternatives. Leanna posted about avoiding TV, and Margie posted about not avoiding movies because of content, but being discerning as you watch them. Lately I've realized that so much of what I watch is meaningless, or promotes a worldview I don't agree with. Sometimes it's so subtle, I don't realize it. An example that Jon and I have given is Grey's Anatomy, which is a show we were hooked on for awhile. Then we started to realize we were rooting for things that were...well...sinful! We wanted McDreamy to leave his wife to sleep with his intern, who had already slept with the rest of the cast (plus a few more). How did our minds get so clouded that we would cheer for the exact opposite of what God desires? It happens in lots of shows/movies. We allow the director to steer us exactly where he wants us to go, so our emotions cloud our discernment.

So, here's the question: How do we deal with a sinful world, right in our living room? Do we embrace it? I think the answer is no. Do we reject it? Well, that's where it gets fuzzy. The book that Margie reviews (Hollywood Worldviews) suggests that we don't reject it, but be discerning as we watch. This allows Christians to stay culturally "with it," so we don't build a communication barrier with the world. The author, Brian Godawa, gives this definition of a "cultural anorexic:"
"[Cultural anorexics] miss the positive values that do exist in many movies, but also those who would completely withdraw from culture because of its imperfection suffer a decreasing capacity to interact redemptively within that culture. They don't understand the way people around them think because they are not familiar with the 'language' those people are speaking or the culture they are consuming. A communication barrier results, and these cultural abstainers often end up in irrelevance and alienation from others."

I have to admit I don't have a culturally relevant bone in my body. I don't even really know if Slater was cool or not, and I had no idea that was his last name. I always picked The Cosby Show as my favorite TV show in school, just because I'd seen a few episodes of it at someone's house (and I had a suspicion that I really wouldn't have fit in if I said The Andy Griffith Show, which I watched at the babysitter's house). All this to say, I've lived a life of not being culturally relevant. Has that built communication barriers between me and the world? Probably. But here's the deal. The media is not real life. Most people in this world don't fit in the mold of TV life. How many of you have talked to a medical intern, who have laughed at the "reality" of Grey's Anatomy or ER, or how many cops praise the accuracy of CSI? For that matter, those of you who've gone to foreign countries know how other cultures judge Americans by our TV, and what strange ideas they get about us (every American woman is loose, half the population is homosexual, etc.). Gosh, WE even get strange ideas about us! I was shocked to realize how conservative America is, when given the chance. What was it: California? who soundly voted down gay marriage, which lets me know that media and politics have a sneaky way of distorting truth.

So maybe I can't connect with the media, but I can connect with people. When people need help, it turns out that they realize what's relevant. I think of Holly; she used to do what was socially acceptable--party all the time, have a live-in boyfriend, etc. When I met her, she intimidated me, because I was the one who didn't fit in, not her. I felt the "socially unacceptable" emblazoned on my forehead. But she needed help, and I gave it to her, and it turns out that's all that was necessary to form a friendship. Sure, she laughs at me for not knowing who a singer is, or ribs me for being "perfect," but I'm real with her, and she knows I'm far from perfect. In turn, I know she's not "unredeemable," like so many Christians are quick to judge those who fall prey to the world's vices. (And I'm still quick to judge those I don't know.) I guess that's some of the point Brian Godawa was making in his book. He said not to reject a movie for its faults, and I'm saying not to reject a person for her faults.

Forget the movies. It doesn't matter if you've never seen a movie in your life. Humans are human, and we all have a need to be loved and accepted. We all mess up and know it, and we all look for meaning to our lives. Christians know a God who loves unconditionally, offers forgiveness and acceptance to all, and gives us each a calling higher than anything we could imagine. Now that's relevant. And we've got it! Why are we afraid of it? Why do I think, "Oh, she's a partier; she'll just laugh at anything I have to say." You know what it is? It's a very tiny part of my mind, whispering to me, "Your Bible doesn't have answers for this. You can't trust it to offer what she needs." What a lie!! How could I listen to such trash? But I admit that I do!

It sounds cliché, but the Bible really is all we need for answers. It doesn't have to turn us into pious, self-righteous people who can't look at the ugliness of the world, for fear of being tainted. Believe me, the ugliness of the world is right there in the Bible, too! And so is the answer for it.

Trust in God. Have faith that He has come to redeem the world, sinners and all! And He's going to use you to do it. Don't worry about whether you're socially acceptable, or if you can keep up with the latest lingo. The world is lost, and most of them won't care if you're a little awkward, as long as you're the one holding out the lifeline. God promises that He "did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline." Take hold of that promise, and get out there!

This began as a response to Godawa's definition of a "cultural anorexic," and ended up as a call to boldness in our evangelism, because we hold something that is more culturally relevant than anything else. I haven't read the rest of the book, and would like to. The judgment he gives toward "cultural anorexics" can be a slippery slope toward allowing things into our minds for the sake of relevance, when that's not what makes us relevant. I'm not saying we need to swear off pop culture forever, but I do think we need to be on our toes and discerning with whatever we watch, whether it be the latest horror flick, or the summer Disney adventure. Discuss what you see with your spouse/friends. Challenge yourself to figure out what worldview the movie/TV show is promoting. And if it's promoting something you don't agree with, don't watch it! Don't excuse watching what's popular just so you can know how the world thinks. Keep it up for too long, and you'll find yourself as Jon and I did, cheering for the exact opposite of what we should.

Yep, that's what I was going to talk about. That's all for now. :)


  1. Great post! I know we raised you to be different from your peers,and you may have felt socially inept at times. However, I'm glad you've learned that God's love is always relevant to people and that you have what it takes to share that love with others.

    Now you know why we rejected so many movies for their rating, discussed all others as to their worldview and what they were really saying. I think a lot of my sensitivity to those issues was because of Ms. Riling's influence on me. Since she became a Christian as an adult, she saw through a lot of what I had taken for granted in our modern culture. She was outspoken about the right and wrong of ethics issues and how they were reflected in our society. I am grateful to her for opening my eyes to those things.

    Discernment is essential for a Christian, but so is the courage to act on what we discern. So take courage! God has put you and Holly together "for such a time as this" in her life. He will accomplish His purpose through you.

  2. Thanks for the post and thanks for the encouragement. Another talent God has given you, cheerleader?? Say it ain't so!!! But really, great things to remember and to encourage oneself with daily. Thank you for taking the time to rememeber!

    And on the movie thing, I remember totally getting shot down by your parents for daring to suggest Operation Dumbo Drop for a Saturday-night movie.

    Note to self - when discerning, don't make your friends, esp. 13 yr-old girls feel like a donut for wanting to watch a movie with a cute elephant!

  3. @Leanna: Sorry about that! I have no memory of that whatsoever! It's a good idea to explain to kids why we don't watch some movies. That probably would have been helpful in that situation. Maybe my parents didn't want to drag out your discomfort by explaining it all out. I promise it will never happen again. :) No one wants to feel like a donut! :)

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  5. Ok, I want to clarify...just in case my other blog might not have said this. We must find balance between being a glutton and an anorexic. I don't think Godawa's goal is to promote non-stop tv and movie watching. In fact, I think he would strongly oppose it. Do you spend more time in the word or in the television? That's something to evaluate yourself on. If you watch more tv, then of course it has a higher influence. Secondly, anorexic is just as bad. There is redemption in the arts. God created it. I don't think it's something to avoid. Now I choose my medium...and that doesn't include television. I just don't watch it. My time is focused on film. Because I have more say in only takes up a small time slot vs. a commitment to watching an entire series, etc. I have control over the film and I have the right to know what I'm watching. I would strongly encourage you reading the book when you're through. (You shall be my little bookworm and I shall provide you my new literature in a timely manner.) I don't think he wants us to desire cultural relevance...(I hate American Idol and other shows that always make me seem out of the loop)...he's arguing that film should be a visual tool for learning more about God, the world and others (for yourself). What sacrifice means, what loyalty really looks like, loving beyond skin color, facing tough decisions. These are applicable because the foundation is the Word. But I think you have a wonderful response here. Pray about it, research it and make up your own mind...but my children will watch movies. And as a family we will discuss them prior to and after and it will be appropriate. I don't think its necessary to show certain things to kids. But I learn visually and I do think there's potential in the film industry...partially because it's one of my passions and calling. Love you.

  6. It is interesting how God has called different people, with different talents and tendencies, to be His people. This is for His purposes, as I'm sure we'll all agree. I believe one of those purposes is to have each of His people active in engaging the culture of the world with the message of Jesus. So, we're going to do it differently - good.

    I am myself a big movie nut, like many of you. I have many favorites and have learned a great deal from them. Images are very powerful, they can be both good and bad. I think of the amazing speeches in Braveheart (the one before the first big battle and the one right before Wallace's death), and I know those scenes have been used to open the eyes of many people to certain truths about life, liberty, honor, sacrifice - all of which are Godly qualities. I also realize that the same movie has characters doing terrible things - homosexuality, brutal murder, an adulterous sexual encounter. The point is - we must always THINK as we consume these images, lest we take them all into our hearts without discernment.

    Ultimately, as I believe Lydia has said, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is truly relevant in every culture, at every time in all of history. This is at once a great proof of the truth of the Gospel and a great encouragement for the people of God to be active in the process of spreading that Gospel.

  7. Media in itself is not inherently bad, and I will never swear off TV/movies altogether. I will be discerning in what I watch or allow my family to watch, and, like my mom said, try to have the courage (or maybe discipline?) to act on what I discern. And some things that are hard to watch, are good, as long as they're discussed before and after the watching, as Jon mentioned.

    @Margie: I'd love to borrow the book! You're keeping me stocked! :) I'm a little over half way in Uncle Tom's Cabin, so Hollywood Worldview will be next. Thanks! I'm excited about your passion for film, and hope that you realize your dream of using such a medium for God's Kingdom. You are probably more aware than any of us of the worldviews that many film makers have, and the power of film.

  8. I have really started noticing the "normalization" of people living together and of pornography on almost every movie or TV show I've seen lately.

    I've been talking a lot with a friend of mine whose boys are in junior high. She was emphasizing how careful they have to be about what they watch to try to keep her sons from developing the idea that these behaviors are normal and even expected out of them.

  9. Every movie...that might be a bit of a stretch...but I agree that's the case of most sitcoms. Not all films focus on this attribute, but it is something to take into consideration. For example, Stranger than Fiction does have an instance in it where they are "staying with each other". But I would still venture that this film, outside five minutes has some very redeeming ideals of the worth of life--and that's a great story and lesson.

  10. It is very frustrating to find a show or movie ruined by something that is offensive. (Example: Gilmore Girls has had some stuff in it that it did not start out with that makes me not watch it anymore.) It is something that just gradually started back whenever and now is so mainstream that it isn't even looked upon as a problem by most people. Most people (including myself) get desensitized to things like violence and sex in shows. Thanks for the reminder to not fill our heads and hearts with things that are not Godly.

  11. Desensitized...there's a media theory to all this. It's called the Mean World Index. It was termed by George Gerbner. Basically, they see the media as something that becomes a part of you. Old ladies feel like they're "a part" of the Price is Right. The NY group of "Friends" become people we refer to as our own friends. Soap operas us. All of this to say that the media affects us, so how are you armored up to protect yourself? Do not allow living together, violence and sex to become something that is common in your life. Recognize today that these are not normal. Well, sex is normal in its own context, as is recognizing that violence occurs in the world...but you know what I mean. But there is research out there that proves these concerns. I know so many girls from the seminary that watch Gilmore Girls with a passion (some from our Sunday School) and yes, it's filled with all kinds of "offensive things". So how do we prepare ourselves? Watch it with others perhaps, consider it's influences, consider "Tivo" and fast forwarding inappropriate scenes. I think if I had a Tivo I would consider more television shows. But not now, while I don't have control. Also consider how advertisement influences you. Sometimes you don't even have the opportunity to shield yourself. For example, VS in the poor husband avoids that area of the mall all the time when we go. It's like soft porn! It frustrates me that they advertise like they do...all this conversation is great, but we must remember to apply its wisdom!

  12. I totally agree about VS. I feel embarassed just walking by seductive mannequins in skimpy underwear! Another thought I had about shows with questionable content...some Christian girls that I know watch stuff that they will even say has "bad stuff" in it, and maybe for them its like a little way to be wild. The content is a little fascinating because it is so different from their daily lives. And they in no way are going to morph their lives into the lives of the characters in the show, so it is fairly safe to watch just for the interest. Does that make sense?

  13. Yes, that makes sense, but what a scary path to follow! They may never morph into the lives of the characters, but that doesn't mean they're safe from the way it affects their thinking. Margie's idea of watching shows with people is a good one. We're usually more aware of what we're watching when others are around.

  14. Great! I think we need to all get together more often and test this out! =)

  15. Women struggle with fantasy. Look at the show Desparate Housewives (never watched an episode, but I know the storyline). These women are all about living out their "dreams". Women read romance novels so that they can take themselves into a situation in their mind where they can feel "appreciated". I'm stereotyping, but just to make a point. Men struggle with lust a lot more than us women, but do we not struggle with fantasy? I don't consider all "dreaming" bad. We have to form vision for our lives and pray. But we need to realize that it can be unhealthy when taken to an extreme.

    @T: These girls who watch these shows to live on the wild side would fall under the category of sinful fantasy. They're going down a path that needs correction. I don't know how close you are to them, but I would confront them. I did not have a close relationship with the girls who watched Gilmore Girls, but I certainly never encouraged their conversations with feedback that they may have taken as affirming. You just have to feel out the situation.

    Yes, watching films in groups makes you more aware of things. For example, once my friend got "Scarey Movie" (one of those stupid teen horror spoofs). I had no clue what it was about (it was when they first came out on DVD). He popped it in, we watched for a little while, and then in a matter of five minutes I was exposed to unnecessary nudity, offensive remarks and I immediately asked that the movie be turned off. He may not necessarily have turned it off if I hadn't said anything. And the others in our group were "relieved." Case in point, use your discernment. It's a gift from God and don't be ashamed to say something if you feel awkward!

    I refuse to buy panties from VS...although I do love their free coupons. But I will never venture to purchase something from a place that causes men to struggle visually. There are lots of other "stores" I can go to for special items if I so desire.

  16. "feedback that they may have taken as affirming". That statement made me think. I am very apt to listen to people talk about doing something that I don't agree with and just kinda listening and saying "oh" and never saying how I think that is wrong. In that way they could think I am affirming whatever it is they are doing. I guess it has something to do with the fact that I am such a people pleaser that I don't want them to think that I am thinking badly of them because of whatever it is that they are doing. I struggle with how to say "gosh you lived with your boyfriend before yall got horrible" in a way that isn't offensive. And also not wanting to come across as "holier than thou" in the way that I admonish them. And I don't just mean in the tv show situation, I mean other things as well. Any suggestions?

  17. @Teresa: I struggle with the same thing. I'm trying to think of any suggestions, but can't! It all depends on your relationship with the person and the attitude with which you talk to her. Many times, that person will already know she's doing something wrong, but doesn't have the accountability she needs--someone to call her on it--to get out of it. It would take courage on our part, but most of all, love.

  18. Silence is another communication theory veterans dream of discussion. Silence is affirmation. If you give them your attention of course. Usually at lunch time Gilmore Girl talk I would focus my attentions on another person and begin conversation because they know I don't even think watching television is worthy of my time. They don't feel bad about it. Now, if I had a closer relationship with them, I'd say...why waste your time on it. Think of all the things you could enjoy outside of that. I love my hobbies and wouldn't trade them for anything. Or what about spending time with God. I know saying things to people who have sinned is tough, but when they're's tougher not to say anything. Tim and I live this out in our marriage. It's so hard to say something sometimes, but when we do there's such a piece. And when I have sad something harmful, for example to Lydia...there's nothing like asking for her forgiveness or approaching her, or whatever the situation. We can't deny the Holy Spirit working in our lives. It's hard, but I don't want to be a people pleaser any more. Nope! Gave it up.