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Monday, April 07, 2003

Christians In Culture-It is often hard for me to be a reasonably-devout Christian and be able to popular culture without gagging. I can remember a decade ago coming back from a two-week stay helping work at a Christian conference center and going out to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with some of my Midland friends. Not only did the violence and sex bother me, but the underlying theme of people more interested in finding the Holy Grail than the man who gave the first Communion from it. Saturday, Eileen and I went to Disney World with my parents. I commented earlier today on how Main Street has no churches. God is only mentioned in passing at the Hall of Presidents, while magic and ghosts permeate the place. Later in the day, I bumped into the genie from Aladdin trying to "get away" from his master; I play-acted helping him get over a rope fence for a moment. Think about that for a moment(I didn't until just now); I'm play-helping a confined demon. That's the problem with a lot of popular culture; it's steeped in sexuality and the occult and lawlessness, but in ways that are entertaining. In Smokey and the Bandit, you're rooting for the speed-demon bootlegger to escape the bad guys, approving of their "total dis-re-spect of the laaaaaw." In Aladdin and Beetlejuice, you're rooting for the demons/ghosts. Even if we disaprove of a hero's actions, we often root for him anyways. Davie D points out this piece (thank Josh for the link) on Christians and popular culture. There are quite a few "Christians Who Drink Beer"-my very charismatic Dad's been known to down the occasional brew on a warm day and contentedly watch a Dirty Harry movie. I don't do either, yet I'm a sucker for good sci-fi or a good geopolitical thriller or a good clean comedy. The piece from William Romanowski points out how little Christian media is consumed compared with the percentage of Christians in the US. The first thing that comes to mind is that we should expect a majority of nominal Christians to be partakers in the broader culture. Most people who will check off "Christian" on a census form don't have a working relationship with Jesus and those who do are often products of our culture and are slow to leave the seedier elements behind. If a third of the population is evangelical and half of those are still watching regular TV and movies, that leaves about 16% of the market to the Christian artists. Let's break down the genres. Music-Josh stated that "'Christian music,' however, hasn't done all that bad." I'd put modern CCM toe-to-toe with the general Top 40 for quality of music. There's also a fairly broad variety of music available; not everything is sweet adult contemporary, although that seems to be CCM's strongest suit. You do have a solid rock and alternative-styled scene as well as a thriving black contemporary scene with people like Kirk Franklin. However, as the old saying goes, it's hard to bring the Cross over when you cross-over. An evangelistic message that we're sinners in need of Jesus will scare off a lot of non-believers. When CCM people have crossed-over, it's been either with clean love songs (Every Heartbeat, Kiss Me, Picture Perfect) songs that are generically theistic (Place in This World, Find a Way) or so mildly Christian to be unobjectionable (Butterfly Kisses'-"...she talks to Jesus..."). I'd put Steven Curtis Chapman toe-to-toe with modern male stars for quality, but there's too much Christian content for him to cross over. Chapman's Go There With You would be a good love song for a pop artist to cover, as would Phillips, Craig and Dean's Strong Determination or the old Michael English song Take The Time (I somehow can hear Gloria Estefan covering that one). Another problem is that the devotion express by singers can shame a less-devout believer into changing the channel. I can gauge my spiritual walk by whether I can listen to Twila Paris without cringing. If you can't, it's easier to make yourself feel superior to the lust machines on the Top 40 rather than feel inferior to the modern psalmists on the Christian station. Yet another problem is giving up the music that you liked in the past; the less-than-edifying lyrics that you overlook before can be hidden by a good melody, singing and musicianship. I can remember hearing Time of My Life on at the dentist office a while back; it's a catchy tune that glorifies an illicit romance. Eileen had to chuck a lot of videos that she had bought in the past; a lot of stuff that fit the "it may have ________, but it's still a good movie" found its way into a donation pile. Television-For now, Christian TV is a vast wasteland. The primary evangelical presence is from name-it-and-claim-it folks that have good showmanship and questionable theology. Baptists, who have a face made for radio, have largely ceded the field, with the exception of Jerry Falwell and Charles Stanley. Pax may have family-friendly fare, but largely have clean secular fair; there isn't a whole lot evangelical about Diagnosis: Murder or Dr. Quinn or even Touched by an Angel, even if they are clean and entertaining. There's a market for entertaining Christian-flavored television, but Trinity Broadcasting isn't the answer nor is Pax. Movies-Given that many churches frown upon people going to even clean movies, this will be an uphill fight. About the only Christian media that has significant appeal outside the evangelical subculture are the Veggie Tales videos. Most of the Christian movies that have been made in the recent past have been a bit too preachily scripted and had limited appeal to a broader audience. That leaves Christian consumers to look towards the secular offerings at the video store or the multiplex. It's hard to come home at night and pass on the offerings on prime-time TV. We're not used to spending our evenings talking, reading, playing games, playing sports or visiting friends or checking out your favorite blogs. However, those options might well be more edifying.

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