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It was all backwards. I’m a Canadian. Nellie Furtado is a Canadian. I like good music. So why was the first time I heard her song, “I’m like a Bird” in a brown bag meet-and-greet at seminary? I don’t know. But that doesn’t matter – neither does the fact matter that it’s an old song which you probably don’t recognize. What matters, in the context of how we interact with and see the world, is a short video I saw.
Here were the lines playing, “I’m like a bird, I don’t evaluate, I don’t know where my home is, I don’t know where my soul is”. Can you find a song that so honestly articulates the wandering soul of a culture? Up on the screen were shots of really cool single people – thin and attractive, along with the occasional descriptor: Communal… Technically Savvy… Spiritual… Globally Minded…
For probably the first time I saw MY culture – my generation – as a lost people group. I saw the transient youth culture disconnected and without grounding or direction. The descriptors were accurate. The search for communal experience at a beach campfire or rock concert is the backdrop of commercials. The technical savvy description proceeded the iPhone phase and is impossible to deny. It is a culture more apt to find comfort and solitude in yoga than church. And while this short slide show was intended to communicate the post Christian European mind, it accurately reflects the North American situation as well. It’s lost predicament is no less complex than those of other cultures.
For the first time I saw them as systemically lost with lives so different that their intersection with the church is unrealistic and impossible. I know for many this may sound ridiculous. “They have churches they can go to.” Some may argue. “They can read the Bible if they want.” But as we discussed last week, there are assumptions and challenges there.
If the real job of the missionary is to learn the language of the people and to share the Gospel in that language, should that not also be applied to those who speak our language but are in a different subculture. Are there not signs of life that exist in their culture that can point to Jesus? That is what Jesus did in his parables. He communicated truth, which would be missed by many but caught by some.
But it is important how we do this. If you want to use media to explain spiritual truth, don’t take the approach of identifying people or things as symbolical or as representations. This is called the allegorical method and is what Paul uses in Galatians. While this worked for Paul in explaining a theological concept using the Old Testament, this is not a good approach to use with movies or music when evangelizing. Neo is not Jesus. This approach weakens our credibility since it is usually far-fetched. It is also usually not the intention of the original writer so we twist someone’s art for our purposes – something very disrespectful to the artist. Furthermore, sooner or later the illustration breaks down leading to some wacky understandings of Christianity if people extrapolate too far – especially if there is a sequel or two which goes sideways!
Instead raise the conversation to the level of themes and values. If you use words like ‘This is like the kingdom of God’ you are probably starting off in the right direction. ‘The way in which the movie the Matrix depicts a deeper reality beyond our physical world is like the kingdom of God. There is a greater spiritual reality with different laws not bound by space or time.” Here we make a connection then we reveal. This allows the art to stand on its own and puts no implication on the artist. This approach is about making positive associations with what is true about the kingdom of God and being involved in the education (and revelation) process.
Far too often we ‘call’ people before we ‘connect’ with people. We sell before we love. The dual impact with Nelly Furtado was that I ‘caught’ truth instead of being forced truth.
We need to stop expecting the world to come to our turf – which is geographically close but socially and culturally worlds apart – and we need to go to their world. And that is what I did… I went to a poetry café.
Live it Out:
This week, be observant to the cultural messages you see. In what way does a commercial affirm or reject a Christian value? In what way might a song or movie affirm a Christian worldview? Don’t claim these creations as Christian. That smacks of being presumptuous and territorial. Allow the art to be appreciated for what it is… along with a possible added meaning. I’ll be interesting in hearing what you come up with.
Try sharing this with a fellow believer in the way we discussed using the language “I think the kingdom of God is like…”. See what they think. For the adventurous, try also sharing with someone who is not a Christian, perhaps the same individual you interacted with in the previous exercise.