Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Men and Earrings

In my humble opinion, it's fine for a man to wear an earring or get a tattoo. Though the Old Testament has some words for men that relate to their dress and body decoration, these principles are nowhere found in the New. The principle in the New is that we are free in the Spirit to decide for ourselves what is good, provided it accords with standards of modesty, decency, and so on.

There is a strong cultural reaction against tattoos and earrings, especially amongst fortysomethings. The emphasis this generation places on such expressions of personal decoration is that of rebellion. In the eyes of these folks, one is bound to a certain cultural code of propriety that is determined by highbrow society. Failure to meet this code signals rebellion. In the eyes of my generation, however, such decorations are expressions of individuality, and are neither right nor wrong. They simply are. If one chooses to have a tattoo, and so express oneself, fine. If one chooses not to, fine. Neither individual is rebelling. Both are simply expressing themselves.

This may sound scarily like postmodern thought, and perhaps it is. But I would argue that the area of aesthetics has received some helpful input from postmodernism, and that the church would do well to recognize that. Not that everything postmodernism signifies has been helpful--not by a long shot. But the open-mindedness of postmodernism, while deadly to religion, is actually helpful and welcome with bodily expression. I do not advocate that people should disregard cultural standards, though. Far be it from me to say that. I would merely say that there is room for personal expression within conformity to social standards. One should not buck the system altogether, for to do so is rebellious, but one may certainly live by one's taste and not the personal nuances of others. To my generation, then, I would say this: broadly conform but personally tailor. That's my starting point. I see in it not rebellion but expression, and that makes all the difference.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Do You Judge Men Who Wear Earrings?

What's your response?

This week, I want to examine the question of contextualization in evangelism. That's a forty dollar term meaning simply, "outfitting oneself to match one's evangelistic target group." When you contextualize yourself in a certain setting, you adopt the non-sinful cultural habits of the group in order to connect with them. So a missionary to India might wear traditional Indian garb; an evangelist in Greenwich Village might grow stubble and wear Birkenstocks; a pastor in New Brunswick, Canada might buy some winter fishing gear. All these cultural adaptations signal an attempt to connect with the home culture.

Is this good or bad? Right or wrong? Join me this week as we think this one through.

For today, though, think about it: is it wrong for a Christian man to wear an earring?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

We're All Clearing Jungle Here

To be human is to engage in a long, laborious process of discovery. I've just started my third year of seminary at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, and I was struck by this simple truth today. It is the nature of humanity to have to struggle to learn. We don't download truths and concepts into our minds. We must effectively force them in there. Doubt me? Just ask a Hebrew student. You'll get the plain truth.

It didn't have to be this way. It's just the way it is. God made us, in a sense, dumb. Or to be more polite, it is as if he dropped us in the middle of a dense jungle and said, "Clear it." From that point on, the process of learning and acquiring knowledge is one arduous trek through the jungle. Today we clear a patch; tomorrow we'll clear more. The cycle goes on; the knowledge slowly builds; the hours quickly pass; and then our journey is over. So much work for so many days simply to clear a little spot. Here's eight hours for ten verses of Hebrew. Here's twenty hours to do required reading for a certain class. When it's all over, hopefully we retain at least a small portion--hopefully the jungle doesn't grow back too quickly. Through it all, we are strengthened, tested, and changed. It didn't have to be this way. But it is a fruitful process nonetheless.

All this said, it does strike me that we humans, even at the peak of our intelligence, are quite dumb. Yes, I know I've dropped my politeness, but that's the honest truth, I think. It takes so much effort to get so little idea into our brain. We labor and labor for the little we know. We are created with an entire world to find out and figure out, and our lives are one long quest to do so. The task is immense, and we are frail. This reality makes the nature of God quite awesome, if we just think about it. For God, there was no immense task. There was and is and will be pure knowledge, complete and entire for all eternity. That's an awesome reality. No jungle to clear for the Sovereign. How kind that in heaven, this jungle-clearing is done away with, and our knowledge will be perfect. Until that day, onward. We've all got some more land to clear, and a Kingdom to bring in.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Foundation For Dignity

It struck me in thinking about yesterday's post that we should not be surprised by the shameful behavior of so-called "tolerateurs." These folk claim to plant mighty trees of peace, but one finds a key question to ask in apprising the tree: where are its roots? Herein lies the reason behind the hateful behavior of those who claim peace above all else.

In the secularist vision of the world, there is no foundation for dignity. What do I mean by this? Well, secularists, like most of us, say that they want to treat all people the same, with respect and love and all that. But when you examine their beliefs, and ask them why they (and we, for that matter) should do so, they really have no answer at all. They will offer something like "it's just right" and "that's the way to live" and "all the great leaders of the world have pushed us to this end." The last response begins to hint at a philosophical basis for dignity, but it is so loose as to give way at first probing. There really is no foundation for dignity in the secularist worldview. In fact, there is no foundation for anything, save nihilism, because there is nothing behind anything to guide humans. There is no revelation, no supreme deity, no Living Word to speak the decree to value all men as dignified beings. Where one searches for speech, one finds only silence.

Contrast this with the Christian view of humanity. We have a definite reason to treat others with dignity: our Lord has instructed to do so, having Himself made us in His precious and holy image. Now there's a reason for dignity. Almighty God did and said so. Revelation lights the way. Informed with this truth, we Christians understand that we ought not to slander and defame and generally hate other beings, for they are created by God and invested with dignity. Thus, when someone makes a mistake, even someone with whom we have a world of philosophical and theological disagreement, we treat them with dignity, because they are beings made in the image of God, however flawed.

The world lacks this understanding. That is why it speaks tolerance out of one side of its mouth and spews venom out of the other. There are no roots to the tolerance tree; and so it is doomed to perish, or give way, when the earth rebels or the tide rises. Not so the Christian worldview. Ours is steadfast, rooted in a sure foundation, grounded on the unshakeable rock of revelation. There is a means to hope. There is a foundation for dignity.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Fruits of Tolerance Are Bitter

I attended secular schools until I was 23. During that time, I was exposed to the cardinal virtue of higher education in the late twentieth century: so-called "tolerance." Broadly defined, this meant non-judgmental, non-prejudicial acceptance of all viewpoints as equally valid and personally meaningful. If those who advocated it had given it a metaphorical identity, tolerance would be a tree, producing fruit of the best and sweetest kind. Such promises have been made before.

A recent situation brought this to mind. Pastor Timothy LaBouf of the First Baptist Church of Watertown, NY, recently led the charge in dismissing a female Sunday School teacher for the reason that she was teaching men, a clear violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. The lady, a Mrs. Lambert, had taught the class as a volunteer for 54 years. This action -somehow- caught the attention of the national and global media, and prompted a scathing news segment from no less than CNN, whose reporter could barely deliver the news, so breathless was she from her skedaddle to the Church of the Stone Age. I found out the news today and checked out the church's website by Googling it. Turns out the pastor has a blog on blogspot, and said blog has attracted incredible attention--89 comments post-news-story. Needless to say, the comments are scathing, malevolent, and just plain evil. People, it seems, breathe hatred for the Christian view of gender and church authority.

Take a look at the comments here. They are horrifying. Pastor LaBouf is called evil, a member of the Taliban, and a being desperately deserving of hell. From people who I am sure would profess to be open-minded and "tolerant," he is excoriated. Honestly, check the comments out. They are frightening. I've never seen such vitriol directed at a Christian--and all from a very common stance on women's roles.

We know this, but secular tolerance is no tolerance at all. It is a disguise for an anti-God, anti-Bible, anti-conservative program of hate and intolerance. The same people who will scream bloody murder when a derogatory remark is even hinted at by a Christian find no such derision available when a Christian does something they disagree with. Thus "tolerance" shows its true colors. Those who planted this tree promised peace and happiness. The fruit of this tree, though, has shown itself to produce anything but.

The fruits of tolerance are bitter indeed.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Christians Doing the Arts: Creative

This ties in with an earlier post on excellence, but goes into new territory. One of the worst sins Christian artists commit in making their work is that of copy-catting. Christian record companies and film studios seem to take some sort of glee in making their products as close to secular influences as possible without the secular content. The end result is heartless art, art that is not its own but it is a poor knockoff of some truly innovative endeavor.

We have this backward. As those who believe in the Creator God, the one who created creativity, and embodied it in His work to create the heavens and the earth, we should approach our work with joyful expectancy, excited to see what artistic fiat we may bring to bear on our canvas, whatever it may be. There seems to be a notion in conservative Christianity that it is a bad thing to be creative, that all Christians do is memorize things and recite them back, preferably in a monotone. Where on earth have we gotten this idea? We need to respect the commands of God in reference to worship, and worship Him according to the clear decrees of His Word, but there is precious little in the Bible that would restrict us in the artistic realm. We know that we need to steer clear of sin and sinful creation, so we have that in mind, but there is obviously a great deal of freedom involved in making art. So far from being bound, we are loosed, loosed to fashion praise to the Creator and truth to the world.

I love hearing Christians who are artistically innovative, who are freed from the strictures of corporate policy and copy-catting, and who make original, interesting, sometimes bold music. Those who do so are modeling responsible art-making for the rest of us. Art should be a joyful enterprise. It is not grim; it is not pain-by-the-numbers; it is not off-limits. It is entirely our forum for expression, and God has graciously, kindly given us all kinds of freedom in which to fashion works that speak of truth and beauty. We are those who believe in an origin for our creativity, the Creator of all we see. I cannot help but believe that when we keep this in mind, we will indeed form works of joy, works of truth, that point to the author of these and all good things in the world.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Christians Doing the Arts: Boldness

We don't try to enter the room just to sit in the corner. That should be our philosophy as Christian artists. That is to say, we don't involve ourselves in artistic culture, work to craft an excellent product, and then seek to speak our message only to ourselves and the tiny mass of people who already agree with us. We come into the room to speak with everyone.

This is a radically different philosophy than many Christians have today. Christian radio, for example, seems to consist largely of artists who are interested only in speaking their message to other Christians. Now, don't jump on me for that one. Of course we need Christians to minister artistically to fellow believers. But you are hard pressed to find Christians making music to engage, challenge, and bless the culture. Most of us are content to sing the same songs to one another, pretending as we do so that there is not a great planetic (yes, I made it up, it's my blog) mass of people who don't know Jesus and are going to hell because of it. Christian art is never merely art; it is never merely message, either, but it is art with a purpose. When the vast majority of our talented musicians, for example, seek only to share with those who already have been shared with, the gospel stays bottled up and the culture remains unredeemed.

Far better to boldly take one's music and message into cultural waters and see what happens. Do we expect great success? Well, it won't surprise us if we meet with rejection. But one never knows. We simply do our art and leave the rest in the hands of the One who controls all publicity, press, exposure, and acceptance. That means we can make bold, true, and honest art. Now I'm not saying we just preach the gospel. I would advocate a more sensitive form of art-making, one that respects artistic conventions, and that aims both for potency and subtlety. I admit that it is difficult to achieve this balance, but who ever said that making beautiful works of truth was easy? It's not supposed to be. When it comes to preaching, out with it--the whole counsel of God! But the arts are more subtle. Stories and songs and carvings and paintings are usually made more effective by the soft touch, not the strong hammer.

Do not understand me to say that Christians should not clearly preach the gospel--no! I'm not saying that. Preach the gospel. But don't treat every cd like a Bible study set to music, or every piece of canvas as a future parable scene, or every movie as a redemption tale. Salt your work with the gospel, and speak boldly and completely unapologetically when you do. But encompass all of life in your work. Speak notes of sadness and triumph and regret and satisfaction. Paint real, vivid, truthful pictures of life that make all who engage your work say, "There is truth here. This is life as I know it. This is thoughtful art." Our goal is to enter the room, and when we come in, to converse with others, and speak the words of Life to them, through whatever art form we love. In doing so, we should speak lovingly, carefully, and boldly, following the example of the One in whom all beauty and truth find their place.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Christians Doing the Arts: Excellence

Wow. I wrote alot last night. Got on a tangent, I guess. Today's post is shorter. Here's the idea: Christians should make artistic works that reflect excellent craftwork. As the Lord fashioned a beautiful creation from nothing, so we take materials before us and make works of beauty.

Is anyone else tired of mediocrity in Christian artwork? I'm not talking only about music. I'm talking about paintings, movies, handcrafts, etc. We do things so poorly, and for no good reason. If we do a movie, it's bound to be preachy and overwrought. If we do music, it's bound to sound dated and exhibit little true songwriting ability. If we do artwork or handcrafts, it's likely to be kitschy. Reason for the lack of good Christian artwork evade the intelligible mind. Think about this for a second. We are the people who claim to appreciate God, who is true beauty and excellence and perfection. We have been given the work of "salting and lighting" the world with our words and deeds. We have the power of the Holy Spirit in us and the promise of eternal rewards before us. Somehow, we take these factors, exert ourselves, and produce...mediocrity. How is this? How can this be?

I confess that I'm not sure why. I guess I could say that we Christians have long thought that art was good if it was true only. We gave no attention to whether it was beautiful or not. Truth is the main thing, but it is not a substitute for beauty. The two work together. The most beautiful work of art should be the most true, and the most true should be the most beautiful. God is the example of this for us. He is both absolute Truth and absolute Beauty. He is not simply philosophically right. And He is not simply radiantly wonderful. He is both at the same time, and we are the richer for it. Armed with this knowledge, we should make art that is both true and beautiful. Our songs should be written with excellence and composed with harmony. Our movies should be subtle, powerful, and engrossing. Our paintings and handcrafts should be solemn, reverential, and arresting. When our art is done in these ways, it will more fully witness to the reality of God and more fully reflect His glory. In turn, it will commend this God who is Truth and Beauty to a culture that knows neither in any meaningful way. The Lord has taken care and time to fashion us into creatures beautiful in His sight. How can we not do the same?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Christians Doing the Arts: Involvement

Yesterday I began a series about Christian "doing" the arts. I proposed the very basic idea that Christians should do the arts. Not exactly a revolutionary idea. But there's a great deal to unearth underneath this idea. Most all of us believe that we should do the arts--but what does that mean? In the next week, I want to offer my own vision for Christians doing the arts. It is my hope that this sparks a good deal of thought in the strange little corner of the world that Christians occupy.

The first matter I would tackle in this offering of random thoughts about Christians doing the arts is this: Christians should be involved in the world's arts. This is simple. But it is quite a statement. Not in an impressive sense, in a magnitudal sense. Many of the Christian stripe would disagree with it. Many would say that Christians are called to engage in a process in which they absolutely and unequivocally separate from the world and its content, much like a woman anxiously scrubs a garment to rid it of every foul spot. There is good in this viewpoint. We need to be separate from the world, especially in areas where we are vulnerable. We need to flee from sin, especially where are susceptible to it. We need to strive for holiness with great exertion, taking care to take care in artistic areas where we are spiritually weak. With all this said, we are not called to separate in totality from the world. We are called to obey the government and salt the culture and love the lost (Romans 13, Matthew 5, John 3). We are called to appreciate beauty and truth wherever it is found. We are called to be here, to minister, to come alongside those around us, to understand them, to engage with their worldview (Acts 17). In order to do these things, we need to know our world, to understand it, to evaluate it, to know not simply what it thinks, but why it thinks what it does. We don't simply scream out biblical truth; we engage people in sensitive, thoughtful conversation that leads to gospel-telling. All this means that we should be involved in our world.

So when it comes to the arts, we should be involved. We should target our passions and favorites (rap is mine when it comes to music) and study and interact carefully with that genre. We should know what is good and bad about it. We should appreciate the good and reject the bad. We should then talk with people around us who have similar interests, and use our own interest as an evangelistic bridge. Our interest and involvement in the arts is not, after all, secular--we are working for the redemption of all things in Christ. So we are purposeful in our involvement.

But we are also involved in the arts because we do like them and we want to find beauty in them and we want to exalt truth where it is found. In addition, we want to make beauty. We want to speak truth. We want to do the arts. We will do the arts well--or at least give ourselves a shot--when we understand them. We are snobbish and foolish when we pretend that only Christians make music. When we make music of a certain type, we enter into a larger conversation. It is very helpful if we do not simply barge into that conversation, but if we enter into it respectfully, thoughtfully, and with knowledge and (where possible) appreciation of those around us. This is a sensitive and wise way to begin interacting with the arts, I think. Perhaps our strange little corner will spread a bit more with such engagement. We should pray so.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

How Should Christians Do Art?

A while back I did a series on how Christians engage our culture. In looking at culture, I focused specially on the arts and thought through how we as Christians should encounter secular art. In this series, I intend to ask a different question: how should we make art? What does it look like for a Christian to make music or paint paintings or film films? Some may not think this question is important. When you think of how much engagement my contemporaries have with the arts, though, this becomes an important matter.

Though we may not know it, we're encountering philosophies on this question all the time. When you turn on your local Christian pop radio station, you are hearing a philosophy through the music they choose. When you ask a young person which bands they like and they reply "Coldplay, MuteMath, and Bob Dylan," you're hearing a philosophy. The choices Christians make about what to listen to or watch likely reflects the way they would approach the creation of art. Now, there are not enough Christians out there making art. This is a slight diversion from the question of this blog, but that's fine. This is an important matter. Many Christians don't think much about art. That's not right. We should not cede the making of art to non-Christians. There is absolutely no good reason to do so. Beautiful creations show the beauty of God's creative power and actually reflect the glory of God, whether made by a Christian or not. Why on earth would we cede the making of beautiful things to those who have no care for the Creator, who shake their fist at him even as they form works of great beauty? We should not. We should be evangelists for art. We should make it to give shape and color to the presence of ineffable realities such as grace, beauty, horror, and sadness. The arts give us a powerful vehicle for expressing the inexpressible. We should be the most communicative of all the world's people, as we have found in the Bible the Ultimate Reality that allows us to make sense of our world. Through the arts, we can point out both that Ultimate Reality and also the attendant experiences, emotions, and truths that make up that Reality. We should not leave it to the secularist to construct shards of reality when we may shape the whole stain-glass window. This is our task, not the world's.

Christians should be evangelists for art. To amend my own question, then, should Christians do art? The answer, I think, is a resounding yes. In coming days, we examine how.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

About My Generation: Passion Excites Us

I would add one more thing about my generation: we are ignited by passion. I suppose that this is true of most youth cultures: passion attracts. But it's especially true in an age when many--most?--don't trust authority figures. Sure, young people rebelled in ages past, but more voted, more went to church, more went to college than my generation. No, merely holding authority does not cut it with us. You need a driving force behind you to catch our attention.

There's not alot of passion to spare these days. We live in a cynical age, and my generation heads the cynical pack. When a passionate person flares their head, people notice. Look at Barack Obama. He doesn't have a strong political platform. He's a fairly bland Democrat. But he speaks and acts and moves with passion, and young people have noticed. Or look at the attention Bono has garnered in the last few years. He's not a brilliant mind, but he is passionate about African aid, and the world has reacted. My generation is galvanized by passion. We see it as the antidote to the dull dreariness of our world. We also trust it. We read some measure of honesty in it, and follow it as a result. It's no different in the church. The men who have captured the attention of my generation--take John Piper, for instance--are passionate. Fellow Christians my age have flocked like moths to Piper, who exudes passion and purpose. That last clause is important. My generation links passion and purpose, going so far as to disbelieve that people without passion stand for anything. That's not the way it should be--but that's the way it is.

Christians should breathe Bible and exhale passion and purpose. Why would we not? We have found the key to life, the solution to our problem, the means to joy. How can we help but give off the aroma of purposeful passion? We can't, if we let our doctrine shape our life. This is why the emerging church has caught the attention of so many young people. Their leaders speak with charisma and energy and act as if they have found something worthwhile. Meanwhile, far too many Christians of conservative stamp simply punch the evangelical clock, believing the right doctrine, doing the right things, but without any zip in their bones. Who wants to follow that? Not my generation.

Live with passion. Christ didn't walk around as if He had other stuff worth doing. He breathed His cause, and gave His life for it. So too should we. If you want to reach my generation, you don't have to change what you believe. You simply have to do yourself the favor of being excited about it. It'll make a difference--trust me.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

About My Generation: Autonomy is Everything

This follows from yesterday's post. We are narcisstic, lost in a self-gaze of our own making. From this comes a concern only for ourself. That's not to say that we don't have friends. It's just that oftentimes our friends serve our own interests. No, for most of my generation, autonomy is everything.

Young people of other generations took interest in civic and community affairs, joining groups that were dedicated in some way to the betterment of society and the cultivation of genuine friendship. Past folks also participated in religious activities, going to church, youth group, and other such events. Groups like the Boy and Girl Scouts were popular, and many youth participated in sports (not just the elite). Nowadays, though, the only community many of my peers have is found in the darkened anonymity of a rock concert, or the public spectacle of a sporting event. We're not patriotic, certainly, so that cuts that side out of things. We could care less about politics--remember, we're cynical--so that sort of involvement is nonexistent. In fact, I can see this clearly in my own life. When I hear the President say, for example, that Americans should carpool to save gasoline, I feel absolutely nothing. There is no sense within me of public duty. I am my own autonomous individual buying gasoline and shoes and cds as I fit. In my mind, and the mind of my generation, I don't fit into any grid or form a small part of a larger social fabric. I just do what I do. I'm autonomous, you see, and I have no need to do otherwise.

It's sad that this is so. I've recently realized that I am generationally inclined toward selfish autonomy, and I've been trying to remedy the situation in small ways. I want to participate in society and not shrug it off. I believe in the common good, not simply the Christian good, being the advancement of things in our own little corner, but the public good. I want to support good art and dethrone bad politicians and make positive contributions to society. These are good and normal things to do. Perhaps if a great deal of my generation began thinking not simply for ourselves but for others, things would change. And yet our old companion irreverence--sneering irreverence--rears his head, and snickers at the naivete of the notion of the common good. No, he says, and my generation listens, just turn the Ipod up, hit the bar, and gratify yourself, because all this is other stuff is worthless and unfixable and who wants to be a part of that losing cause?

Christians should avoid this attitude. The emerging church has understood, perceptively, that youth actually do want to belong, albeit to cool stuff. So they play things from a cool slant. There's good and bad in that: good, because they connect with youth, and bad, because they downplay doctrine or make it fuzzy to connect. We need to avoid their error while capitalizing on their achievement. Show young people, pastors et al, that Christianity has a big story with big meaning and big things to do in it. This is a huge reason why missions is big right now among young Christians. A few of us have discovered that Christianity isn't tame and packaged but is awesome and far-reaching and life-involving, and that's a powerful vision. We need to focus on the "bigness" of Christianity these days. Preach the whole counsel, the true gospel, but do so while emphasizing that our lives are meaningful and meant to be connected--with forgiveness from sin, with fellowship with God, and with love for others. That, not autonomy, is everything.

Monday, August 07, 2006

About My Generation: Narcissism Becomes Us

Okay, so this one most everyone knows. But it's an important point nonetheless. My generation has been raised on the fumes of its own fame. Actually, let's revise that: the fumes of its own "fame." We're not really worthy of fame, most of us. It's just that we've been told we are. As a result, narcissism--the relentless pursuit of self-adoration--becomes us.

Cultural commentators and pundits are quick to jump on the backs of my peers for our self-exalting ways, and they should. But more than us, they should target our parents. We have been raised in homes stripped of religion, scrubbed free of morality, and evacuated of meaning. We've been doted on, spoiled, and stuffed full of the best of everything, and as a result, we've learned to seek first the kingdom of self. Many have noted that we're materialistic to the extreme. Yes, we are, and why wouldn't we be? Many of our parents made materials the sum of life. They slept in on Sundays, took us to the mall on Fridays (as they shopped for themselves), and worked Monday through Saturday in order to buy their coveted possessions. Guess what happened? We fell in love with materials. We inherited our parents' distaste for religion and deeper meaning and chose instead to drown ourselves in pleasure and purchases. Now we define our lives by our possessions. It used to be the other way around. (Note: this in no ways describes my own parents.)

This is to say nothing of the psychological culture of the day. Psychology is the new Christianity. Young people born several centuries were often trained to rigorously examine their souls, to consider whether they knew the Lord or not. Young people today are trained to rigorously their feelings and psyches to consider whether they are as happy as they could be. Doubtless there are some in this number who need some sort of help. But there are many who suffer no other malady than insufficient self-exaltation. They are desperate to remedy the situation, as their parents trained them to be. They thus become connosseuirs of themselves. Christianity transforms and saves the self, yes, but then it trains the believer to go out and help others. Not so with psychology. It trains one to focus on oneself, and nothing more. Many of my generation in an endless cycle of self-examination, like one of those mirrors that shows one's reflection ad infinitum.

How should we engage this as Christians? Teach the culture that they are separated from God and damned to hell by their sin and in desperate need of a Savior, not a psychiatrist. Teach them that they were not made to pursue their own pleasure, but God's. Teach them that they should labor for eternal fruits, not earthly treasures. We should proclaim these truths with sensitivity, remembering that they will sound strange due to their others-centered nature. Want to really shock a member of my generation? Don't show them a smutty nature. Tell them that they need to meet the demands of a righteous God, not a raging ego. That should do the trick.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

About My Generation: We Are Irreverent

A quick note about this series: I'm speaking about my secular peers, those who form the bulk of my generation, but what I'm saying also applies, I think, to all of my generation, though some of us may not know it. Long sentence, I know, but a true one. Now, not everyone is cynical; but most of us will have undercurrents of such behaviors and principles in our thinking and living. We may not even know it. But we are embedded in our culture, and likely bear to some extent the cultural attitudes of our day. It's almost impossible not to.

But enough of that. My generation is irreverent. That's what I want to say today. This won't surprise you on the heels of the other posts, because I've tried to cover how we're distrustful and slow to believe. Irreverence walks in step with these values. Past generations would be shocked at just how irreverent we are these days. The punchline joke is dead. The "knock-knock" joke is buried in a farm in Kansas. Nowadays, mockery and sarcasm reign. Everything is deadpan. Most of the popular comedies on TV are shot through with sarcasm: The Office, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Steven Colbert Show are just a handful of the "mock-everything" kind of comedy that dominates today. Sure, we'll appreciate you; but first, we want to mock you, and knock you down to size a bit. We can't stomach earnestness these days; again, we're too cynical for it. Our earnestness can be found in the dirt, trampled on by happy marriages that were really divorces waiting to happen, campaigns founded on ideals that crumbled on scandals, stars that smiled beautifully but lived horribly. Earnestness has had its day in America. We are a mocking generation. We are irreverent, and we want to cut everyone down in our path. Draw a face of this generation, and it would have a vague smile that on close examination proved to be a sneer.

Leaders of the church can thus know that it will help not to take themselves too seriously. It's a good and healthy thing in today's age to show that one can take and make a joke. However, we cannot approach our faith irreverently. Many are doing so today, making light of all kinds of doctrines and practices that are holy, and they will regret doing so one day. This is a major reason the emerging church is so popular: it is irreverent. Few things are sacred. The historical church is mocked, the modern-day church is mocked, serious Christianity is mocked. This gives the emerging church a pull with the younger crowd. I should say that there's nothing wrong with levity. It's needed. I try to find it in everyday life. But levity can cross into blasphemy with surprising speed. It is our mission, I think, to be personally disarming and theologically serious. Some things are sacred. Not everything should be questioned or joked about. My generation needs to learn that. You can help teach them.