Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.
We’re all crazy, every last one of us. The world is crazy, too. We have a bunch of crazy people running around in a crazy world trying to make sense of all the madness. That’s why Lady Gaga wore a meat dress: because we are a bunch of crazy people in a crazy world, and she is obviously crazy, just like the rest of us.
Because of technology, modern pop culture reveals our insanity more quickly than ever before. Twitter reveals our insatiable appetite for knowledge of others and to be known by others. Facebook reveals that we want to connect, but without really connecting. The iPhone reveals that Steve Jobs is a crazy genius, but also that we are easily bored. Why does a world-changing device need so many next-generation updates? Because we’re crazy, that’s why. I do not mean this as a lament or a condemnation. I mean it as a soberly serious fact.
Where does a person like me go to get away from the madness of life? Where can I find peace and stability in a world that changes and shifts so rapidly that, despite my best efforts, I feel like I am lagging behind? I go to church. There, in that place, I find the unchanging. I find the resistance to the careening madness of the world. I find out there why I am crazy, why I do the things I do, and I find the God who saves crazy people like me.
I’m a pastor. That makes me the door man for the asylum. Because of that, I often view pop culture with a purposeful suspicion. This isn’t because I don’t see value in art, music, movies, and video games. Our culture acts as our collective voice crying out about what it believes is important. There are some lovely things about popular culture, things that exist in culture because we are made in the image of God, but a lot of what is popular must go if we want to get sane. Pop culture is the clothes we wear, and when we import too much of it into the church we dress Jesus up like us. Instead, we ought to end up dressed like him.
How do we do that, though? How do we make certain that we aren’t giving Jesus a make-over to look like us? We have to look for timeless, historical, and biblical ways to worship together. By asking the questions, “Has anyone done this in worship historically?” and “Did they do something like this in the Bible?”, we can make the church a haven from the manic nature of pop culture. These two questions alone will keep us from setting up a wrestling ring in the church auditorium or from turning our baptistries into a fire engine.
If we strive to keep the corporate worship of the church simple, historical, and biblical, then we will find her to be a safe harbor in the tempestuous sea of pop culture. It’ll be a little paradise, a refuge where things stay grounded. That’s what we ought to strive for, because in that environment, we have a better opportunity to learn about who we are.