Culture…Create or Imitate

This morning, I watched some video of an Easter service from a rather progressive church. The service started with a presentational cover song. It was rather theatrical…with the presentation almost matching the actual video for the song.

As I watched, I found myself thinking, “Wow! This is kind of cool.”

Then, as I continued to watch and think about it, I found myself thinking, “Hmm. Can’t the Church do better than imitating popular culture?” And, then I thought, “Is the point of the Church to get someone to think a performance was cool?”

I don’t know…there’s a lot to be said about entertaining people…if they think “wow, that was cool” they may be more inclined to return and continue to encounter the message of the Church. But, is the message getting through? Is the attempt to be culturally relevant adding to the message or is it distracting? (That question being posed, I will say that the pastors message was on-point…and powerful).

You see, the message of the song wasn’t that strong. It felt more like an attempt to do something in order to be culturally relevant for the sake of relevance, rather than an attempt to do something in order to creatively communicate a powerful message in a relevant manner. There’s a huge difference in that.

And, the performance of the song, while interesting, was simply mediocre. I found myself cringing at moments. In the end, I thought to myself, “Well, nice try.”

While watching, I was reminded of attending a conference at a mega-church about 8 years ago. The band performed a Dave Matthews Band song in order to demonstrate how to be culturally relevant. The senior pastor of the church stood up after the song, praised the band, talked about how they performed the song better than DMB. The problem was, it simply wasn’t that good. It was a bunch of 55 year old people doing 3 & 4 part harmonies to a DMB song (nothing against 55 year old people). I thought it would have been more powerful to simply use the DMB recording.

Then, I was reminded of the Apologetix. This is a band that has made a career in the Christian niche market of parody songs. They take Top 40 songs, and Christianize them. And, the result is corny lyrics and poorly performed instrumental parts. Seriously, I remember listening to a recording chalked full of wrong notes. And, the lyrics…cheese-a-riffic! It might be a bit different if they intended to be funny…but that’s not the intent. I end up wondering, “why?” Is listening to a lame attempt to Christianize a popular song somehow better than listening to the actual song? I find the lame attempt more offensive than the songs they are attempting to somehow “redeem”.  

And, this is where the problems arise for me. As Christians, are we simply called to imitate culture? Are we called to Christianize pop culture?

Or are we called to create culture? Are we called to create art (music, literature, film, visual arts, etc) that can stand on its own…that doesn’t have to be labeled “Christian”…that doesn’t have to copy non-Christian art???

Don’t get me wrong…I do see the value in using pieces of our modern culture to communicate powerful truths. But, what’s so wrong with simply using the piece of art? I believe that simply using culture to use culture is borderline inappropriate. And, if you are going to imitate the culture…make sure you do it well…and make sure the message is clear.

So, my hope and prayer is that the Church will rise up and create culture, rather than imitate culture.

Wisdom from Lil Wayne

While reading the Lil Wayne interview in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, I found just a small piece of wisdom.

After briefly talking about migraines that seem to be a side effect of an accidentally shooting, Wayne said, “We’re here to live. We’re here to do, we’re here to be. And this here, this is what I’m doing, so I’m gonna do it. Because when it’s over, it’s over.”

So, I’m reading those words and found myself thinking, “Wow! Isn’t that what we say often say in the church? We’re here to live…we’re here to do…we’re here to be.”

We continually challenge people to discover what God is calling them to do…and then do it. We challenge people with the idea that life isn’t about sitting back and waiting for that one day, “when we all get to heaven.” We attempt to usher people toward action…to live…to do…to be.

The point where the church would disagree with Wayne is when he says, “When it’s over, it’s over.” The church would most likely proclaim, “when it’s over, it’s only beginning.”

Lil Wayne seems to understand that life is for living. Living is done best when we do what God has uniquely designed us to do. Living is done best when we attempt to become the people God desires us to be.

So, this morning, I find myself encouraged (by Lil Wayne, of all sources) to get out there and live, and do, and be.

Are You Groovy?

My favorite line from the U2 article in the latest Rolling Stone is a quote from Bono:

“Look, sometimes our audience isn’t as groovy as we’d like. “

As I read that line, I found myself thinking, “Yeah, I understand.” From my days playing with various ensembles, bands, and artists to my days in the realm of speaking & preaching, I’ve had my fair share of times feeling that the “audience isn’t as groovy” as I’d like.

Sometimes that is an indicator of the audience’s lack of ability to groove. Sometimes it is an indication that the performer just isn’t connecting with the audience. So, who needs to take the responsibility when the groove isn’t there? Can one place the blame on the other…or do we all share the blame?

I believe the groove is important because that is where the performer connects with the audience. There is something transcendent when the performer and the audience find the groove. There is a unity between the artist and the observer that goes beyond explanation. The lines of distance between the performer and the audience begin to disappear. The performer and the audience mold into one.

If you’ve ever experienced the groove, you know what I’m writing about. In the midst of experiencing the groove, one attempts to hold on…to lock-into the moment. After one experiences the groove, he or she begins to once again search for another encounter with the groove. You may have experienced the groove at a concert, a spoken word event, a worship gathering, a drum circle, a dance recital, a conversation. The groove is happening..the groove is out there…waiting for others to participate.

The article goes on to point out that American audiences tend to be a little “less groovy” compared to others.

Are you in the groove? Are you a hinderance to the groove (if you clap on 1 & 3, you probably aren’t in the groove)? Are you seeking to participate in the groove? Or are you simply “less groovy” and have given up all hope of experiencing the groove?