Let’s face it: if history is any indication, we as a church have been terrible at engaging culture. We have been much better at guiding people through the Bible than guiding them through the world that we live in. Because we have not really engaged with the baggage and implication of culture in our daily life, there have been three major areas where people have gone as they encounter it. I want to delve into these points so I may just split this post in half to not bore you.
I hate sermons that start like this, but I’m going to have to do it. Webster’s defines “culture”(*sigh* sorry guys) as:
: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)
Everyone belongs to a culture. Even the very name of the website that this article first appeared on, “Haystack TV,” reflects an aspect of Adventist sub-culture. There are lots of cultures that we could discuss today (and that we will be tackling in the following weeks, like ethic, geographic, and religious cultural expressions), but the culture that I’m going to refer to this week is the overarching culture that encompasses everyone in the world that is known as “pop culture.” Yes, pop-culture has a specific connotation to it (a.k.a. what young people are into these day with their YOLO swag), but I’m referring to pop-culture as as the sum total of everything that fits the main description of culture that I referenced earlier applied to your own local context.
Remember, the pop-culture in your part of the world is different than that of another. Psy was somewhat known in Korean pop-culture way before “Gangam Style” made him famous beyond their borders. Likewise, pop culture in the Southern United states is vastly different than what is happening out west in California. For clarity sake, I’m going to be referencing American pop culture in this series.
The point is, regardless of where you live, you have, live in, and live with a culture. As Seventh-day Adventists, we typically have responded to the pop culture that we live around in one of three major ways.
This has been our go-to option for many years. Perhaps some of you grew up in a house where your parents warned you about the dangers of pop culture by calling it or attributing it to “the Devil.”
Movies? The Devil. Music? The Devil in Stereo. Movies? The Devil in 1080p. Video Games? Super Devil Brothers Wii. Sports? They’re called the New Jersey Devils for a reason. You get the point.
Recently (I kid you not), I overheard a conversation among a group of young mothers talking about the dangers of their children watching Spiderman because, you guessed it, the Devil is a web-slinger. I couldn’t help but think of the following picture to the right in retrospect.
That’s right, we had playtime with the Devil as children…or so it would seem.
Yes, while this comparison is initially meant to get you to laugh, the reality is that this in many ways is the same logic behind the way that our church has dealt with culture many times: find any fault that could be attributed to it and reject it completely. To be fair, this idea doesn’t come out of thin air. After all, 1 John 2:15 says,
“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (NASB)
I’m sure you’re heard the expression, “in but not of the world.” Does verse mean that, as some movements throughout history have done, we have to move away from all civilization into remote areas as a way to separate ourselves from those things we consider sinful (more on this in the future)? Whatever the case, this is one approach that some have taken.
Of course, some people will not flat out reject culture, but they may not give it a second thought. This concept of culture impacting the things we do may be a new concept for some. However, like a baby, ignoring it does not make it go away (it might get you thrown in jail though). When we ignore culture’s effect on us, we can begin to adopt some cultural habits that eventually turn into superstitions.
Take these following examples as cases in point:
- Why do brides wear veils at weddings? This custom originated in Rome, when a bride would wear a veil down the aisle to disguise herself from evil spirits who were jealous of her happiness.
- Why do brides throw their bouquet? In England, this was considered a symbol of happiness. A single woman who catches the bouquet is believed to be the one to marry next.
- Why do people ask God’s blessing on a sneezer? In Europe during the Bubonic plague, people used to think that your heart would stop for a second and your soul could fly out of your body from how hard you sneezed. My wife can attest that my sneezes sound like I’m trying to bring the dead back to life with how loud they are!
- Why do people cover their mouth while yawning? Other than protecting others from potent halitosis, this practice had the same roots as the “detached soul” idea from before.
- Why do Protestants ask the pastor to “bless” the food before eating? This one, I believe, comes from a carryover from Catholic heritage with the idea that somehow pastors are at a “heightened spiritual connection” to God above everyone else. The idea is that a pastor’s prayer somehow makes a meal “holy.” This concept is ironic considering we believe in this concept called the Priesthood of all believers.
I’ll stop here. What has been your experience with pop culture? Have you experienced any of the above or something different? Feel free to comment below.