Sunday, May 07, 2006

My Humps

If you've ventured across a Top 40 radio station lately, you've no doubt been lowered to:

"What you going to do with all that breasts . . . all that breasts inside that shirt?
I'm going to make you work; make you work.
What you going to do with all that ass . . . all that ass inside those jeans?
I'm going to make you scream; make you scream."

Ah yes . . . you've now entered the world of the Black Eyed Peas. However, not to be out done, a group of young sexy women in a group called The Pussy Cat Dolls have further enthralled us with their deep, moving lyrics:

"You've got real big brains, but I'm staring at your [beep]"
to which the later response comes:
"I don't give a [beep] keep staring at my [beep] while you're playing with your [beep]"

I didn't edit out the "beeps," the actual name of the song is "beep" and it raced up the Billboard music charts over the past few months (it's currently at 33). These songs (and others) have really forced me to look at the collision between popular culture and the Christian ethic. Touchdown Jesus (see sidebar), is a book I picked up to read about a week ago. It addresses the intersection between sacred and secular. It is a good historical look at the way churches and demoninations have forged what is now known as popular culture. There are several interesting historical case studies the author points to, but I have found the most helpful discussion in early chapters as he addresses the way the traditional Protestant ethic was so ineffective in shaping the early industry that has forged into what we know today as pop culture.

The author puts forth that it was Catholics and Jews who were the early industry leaders in film and music, and it was organizations from those traditions that raised questions as to moral content that others put out. I don't have the book in front of me, but there's a great quote from an early moralist in this area who believed that these outlets (film, television, music, theater, literature, etc.) would indeed forge the ways that people think, and it was therefore imperative to provide some kind of censorship.

Protestants simply stood aside as early popular culture hastened to a culture of sex and drugs. What Protestants have usually done is stand aside and condemn movies, books, etc. with little or no effect on the culture at large. A powerful chapter in the book shows that Protestants answered this early cultural creation from Catholic and Jewish leaders by a long process of creating what now can be described as the Christian sub-culture. I have long been critical of the Christian sub-culture, and will continue to do so because I believe it has been one of the leading factors of making the Gospel largely irrelevant to many ears, but the Black Eyed Peas and Pussy Cat Dolls have brought the tension to my eyes better.

What is the harm in listening to these songs? That's a question that no doubt gets asked in a million youth group classes and who knows where else. And do we really have an answer? I don't. I don't know what the "harm" is, but often we don't have good answers because we don't ask good questions. I don't think I've been asking good questions. I love my AC/DC and feel as though Tipper Gore was full of crap trying to get them and all other hard rockers out of the popular circuit. Now, the issue is the same, but the names and faces are different. When I was growing up it was rock music, now it is hip hop. Hip hop is errantly understood by many to be a mostly African American movement in music. However, it has already influenced widely popular music and will continue to be a factor in what comes out of your radio. And, by the way, I am a huge closet Nelly fan. If he didn't cuss in every song, I wouldn't even have to be in the closet.

So . . . as you can see, Sunday afternoons is not a good time to blog because I ramble on aimlessly, how many times have you already checked to see how long this dang post is? Anyway, I guess this is the quandry I find myself in. Working with teens tends to exacerbate my wrestling with popular culture. I want my teens to fit in at school. I want them to be cool. I want them to go to prom, run for class offices, all that - but I don't want them to comprimise: no youth minister does. I guess that cuts to the chase: At what point to we compromise our faith? When is it OK to take a stand and say, "I just don't listen to music like that." And when does it do more harm that good to the Cause?

As a youth minister I do my best to be "in the pop culture know." It suits me best not to be suprised by things that my teens may encounter. Being in the know is not even half the battle. Each teen ultimately has to make the decision on his or her own regarding how different aspects of culture will effect their faith. We Protestants don't have a good handle on this issue as our history bears that out. Recently we have been so consumed lobbying on a national politcal level, that I'm afraid we pay too little attention to our own.

In the book I'm reading, Laurence Moore goes on to put out some strong words to make Protestants rethink their approach to popular culture. The bottom line is that it's been ineffective in making any kind of influence. They made a major push to get films rated, but it was ultimately the Catholic groups who saw the need and paved the way what we have today. Whatever the answer is for us, I'm seeing it is not easy for a Christian to faithfully live out thier calling in our world.


Abbey said...

Well, I used to think that listening to this kind of music was alright and that it really had no effect on me. The truth is though, the older I get the more I realize that it does have an effect on you. At the time I didn't realize it. Now I seem to lean more towards country music, not that it is perfect by any stretch either, but the messages are usually a little more positve and include a little less vulgarity. I have always hated that rap/hip hop music contains so much profanity. Most songs like that I just like the up-beat tempo and could go elsewhere with the lyrics. The way I see it anymore too, is that kids who play violent video games tend to be more violent, not saying that because you listen to rap music you are going to go out and do unthinkable things with your special someone, but some of the things they say make you blush if you really understand what they are talking about. Overall though, I think that it does have an effect on us whether we want it to or not. By the way, Nelly has always been my favorite too. I can't deny that I still listen to him sometimes too. How about that new song Grill? Anyways, I don't really know if I got my point across or not. But you raise a good point about fitting in and compromise, there is a fine line but then again Christians are supposed to be examples and not be worldly. On that I say, easier said than done!

Mark Bacigalupo said...

Mama E-I, E-I!

(sorry, had to do our old shout out)

Suzie said...

I've wanted to comment on this post for awhile because it has bothered me. It is easy for me to know why I don't support music, tv shows, and movies that are cavalier and indifferent about sin. I don't do this perfectly, but I try because my homes both as a child and as an adult were practically decimated by the consequences of sin. When someone you love falls into sexual sin it's hard to jam to "My Humps". When you know the long term effects of sexual abuse on children, then it's hard to laugh at those movies and tv shows that are so casual about sex. When you work with teenage girls who feel their only source of value in life is to be a sexual object, then your standards change. You want them to know a life more abundant. I understand the challenge of teaching the teens to set a standard for holy living especially if it could mean they don't think you are cool or might not like you, and to be most effective you have to be willing to set the standard for yourself. You have to be willing to say, "No, I don't watch that." or "I saw it, but did you notice the lies that movie portrayed about..." I certainly don't want teens to learn from experience how serious promiscuity and other sinful choices can be, but they do need to see why they shouldn't do something. Especially when every teen show from the O.C. to Degrassi bombards them with conflicting views. The only way they will survive is to pro-actively learn to practice Godly discernment.
Here is one method that could work. Today's learners are experiential. They want the experience, so one way to do this in this area would be to challenge the teens to go thirty days without listening or watching shows that glorify sin. As a group come up with criteria, even give examples. Throughout the thirty days, see if the teens notice a difference in how they feel, think, talk. Were they able to survive without this influence? Then at the end decide if it's worth it. Is life better without these? Doing it this way, the commmitment, the process, and even the conclusions are directed by the teens, and hopefully by the Spirit as well. Even if the teens are not open to giving something up for a length of time, or they fail at giving it up, that could even lead to a discussion of why we aren't open to giving up the influence of pop culture in our lives or why it is so hard. Then you lead into whether its even necessary to give it up. The coolest part is you can go with them on this journey telling them what you are giving up for the thirty days. For my life, after doing something similar to the experiment above, I found I was a lot better off without lots of the books, movies, and music I used to listen, too. God proved to me that He was much more fulfilling and has taught me to think for myself and not just accept something because it's the current trend. I'm not some fanatical prude, but I am willing to discern and willing to say, "I'm not going to watch that show" understanding fully why I make that choice.
Just some rambling thoughts...