The “media and culture” post

Part of my recent exposure to Christian culture has lead to an increased exposure to Christian media. The first day I went to Hillside Church, I turned the radio to a Christian station on the drive home. And I was kind of surprised to find that, by and large, I like quite a bit of it. I’ve come across a few songs that I really dig (“Freedom is Here” by Esterlyn, comes to mind) and I’ve also found that some worship songs I enjoy have been done by multiple people. For instance, “Revelation Song” is a pretty awesome song, and I’ve heard it by Jesus Culture, Phillips Craig and Dean, and a few others – and it’s always good. I’ve discovered that some of the songs done by my church’s worship band have been done by dozens of Christian artists, and since I’m a bit of a music geek, I like listening to many different versions and hearing different arrangements.

On this note – props to Aaron Boothe’s most recent arrangement of “Grace Like Rain,” with the super-sick five-part harmony on the third verse. Not bad for his first day back at church since suffering from an ice- slash dog-related injury. 

God speed, sir. May your collarbone be less broken.

I’m even reading a Frank Peretti book because, well, I might as well try it out. It’s “The Oath.” Not bad, but I’m used to my horror stories having more cuss words and nudity. That’s the Stephen King influence on me – and I started reading King when I was far too young to start reading King, so. . . you know. . . that influence runs deep.

“Father, what does ‘vivisected’ mean?”

I’m not partaking in Christian media because I feel obligated, but because I want to. Sometimes, damn it, I just want to hear about Jesus. Or maybe I want to feel uplifted. Or maybe I feel distant from God for the moment, and I want to be reminded that he’s awesome.

And yet. . . and yet. . . sometimes Christian artists get weird. I was YouTube’ing a Christian band I like, and they were doing a cover of a song that I have a soft spot for. So I was sitting at work, my Droid in my pocket and my earbuds in position, listening to a song, and it was well done. I was enjoying the music. Then, as the music kept going, the singer just sort of started. . . ranting? Preaching? I dunno. She stopped singing, and started talking about experiencing the love of God, and encouraging the people in the audience to come to God if they hadn’t already, and how nothing they were singing had any value without the love of God, and so on. She looked really into what she was saying – ecstatic, even. The audience loved it. I admired the singer for having the courage to be so genuine and raw while preaching, but at the same time, it seemed a little weird to me.

I appreciate what she was doing – she’s a worship pastor, she needs to encourage people to come to Jesus – but it’s not always what I’m looking to experience, when I’m enjoying an ice-cold can of pop culture. Maybe it’s because I’m so new to Christian media? Barring a few embarrassing examples (like “Rage Against the Machine”), most secular artists don’t get so passionately into an agenda or message when they’re performing – they’re just doing what they do, hoping you have a good time, and having fun.

“Dude. We know how you feel about the machine. You’re raging. We get it. Take a Valium, ‘kay?”

That’s what I’m used to. So I’ve learned to have a new appreciation for songs, movies, books, whatever, that are nearly Christian, but not quite. Brandi and I make a game of it, sometimes – we’ll bring up a movie like Ink (a movie we are mostly sure is an allegory for spiritual war) and talk about how it makes us think about Jesus, the Bible, God, etc. In that way we can get ourselves re-focused on God, enjoy a good movie, and not get a little weirded-out by people doing what they do.

I’ve tried to convince Brandi that “The Expendables” is a metaphorical retelling of Acts of the Apostles, but she still won’t watch it with me.

One time, I thought I was so clever. I had just come to God maybe two weeks before, and I was listening to my Pandora station. Suddenly, “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons came on. I listened to the song with a growing suspicion that it was an allegorical tale of someone coming to Jesus – going through the same thing I was going through. I looked up the lyrics on Google, and sure enough, the lyrics seemed to support it.

Oh man, I thought. I can’t wait to drop this mind-blowing info bomb on my friends at church!

Some of you know where this is going.

Yep, straight to the corner.

Time went on, and I forgot to tell people about my amazing revelation, vis-à-vis Mumford & Sons. Then, when I went to the many-times-aforementioned Blue Ocean Midwest conference in Minneapolis, I had my chance. I had just attended a dinner at a local pub with several awesome people – my own pastor Ryan Bauers, my newfound friend-in-snark Pete Benedict, and Blue Ocean mastermind Dave Schmelzer. At said dinner, we’d had a lively discussion about the role of Jesus in the mainstream media, and where we might see that going some day. On the way back from the pub, we were all piled into Ryan’s minivan as we headed back toward the church where the conference was being held. We chit-chatted a bit, and it suddenly occurred to me –

Now’s the time to drop the info-bomb!

I was right there with my pastor and several people I liked and respected, it was vaguely topical, and there was surely no better way to impress my friends than to blow their minds with my “Mumford & Sons are stealthy Christians” theory.

So I told them.

Quickly, for those of you reading at home, could you raise your hands if you know who Marcus Mumford’s parents are?

Here is a hint – I got this image from “www.vineyardchurches.org/uk”.

Marcus Mumford, of Mumford & Sons, is the son of John & Eleanor Mumford – the heads of the Vineyard Church network in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Everyone in the minivan with me was a Vineyard pastor.

Needless to say, my mind-blowing info bomb didn’t have the desired effect. Still, I’ve found other songs that I think might be secretly spiritual, and some day I’m going to post a list of them! I’ve got one in particular that is going to break your brains!

I’ll give you a hint – the song's name rhymes with “squawk”, and the band's name rhymes with “Schmoo Schmighters.”

What about you guys – do you have any movies/songs/books/whatever that are ostensibly secular, but you are convinced are actually telling a very spiritual, possibly even Christian, story? Recommend your favorites to me, and there’s a good chance I’ll read them and. . .give you credit, or something.

Anyway. Check out Ink!  It’s awesome.

You know you want to see more of this guy.

About Daniel Mitchell

50% of "What the Faith?!?!", a blog about two skeptics who turned to God for no apparent reason. View all posts by Daniel Mitchell

17 responses to “The “media and culture” post

  • Peter Benedict

    You disrespected RATM. You are dead to me…

    …for 1 minute. I’m back now, and if you’ve never seen them live, I’m willing to forgive you. I have shed a decent amount of blood & pain in that band’s mosh pits. They give good show.

    I love Xtian themes in music, art, story, etc. To my shock, I’ve even found a good Xtian fantasy author (Brent Weeks) whose work sells well and isn’t Xtian in any easily detectable way. I like my faith messages to be less bludgeony than most pastoral types. I liked Peretti in high school though; I have no idea how he’d hold up today.

    I also love “How He Loves Us” with Kim Walker freaking out into the mike in a clearly uncomfortable way. Oddly enough, that song is the favorite by a good long ways at Celebrate Recovery, where our 45ish addict-types are a lot less Christian than our Sunday crowd. Weird, eh?

  • Daniel Mitchell

    Listen, buddy – I specifically did NOT name-drop Kim Walker singing “How He Loves Us” out of respect for Kim Walker, who is a) very talented and b) cute as a button. In fact, I looked up Jesus Culture specifically because they’re my favorite contemporary Christian band. And now that I think back on it, I’m not sure why her “freaking out into the mic” bothered me, except that it did. Maybe it was my head space at the time. I wasn’t mad, or annoyed, or disgusted, just. . . weirded-out.

    I’m about 70% done with “The Oath” by Peretti right now (according to Mr. Kindle) and I’m generally liking it. Again, I usually like my horror to have more cussin’ and bewbs, but maybe that’s a habit I shouldn’t encourage in myself? Dunno. Brandi started reading “This Present Darkness” to me, and so far it seems pretty cool. I’ll check out Brent Weeks.

    PS – Of COURSE you liked RATM. Good show or not, you have admitted to being a socially active but bitter/angry person in your youth. You are the CORE AUDIENCE for Rage. When Rage was doing their thing, I was mostly listening to Toad the Wet Sprocket and just being like, “Guys. . . is it really THAT bad?” I wasn’t a stoner, but I should’ve been.

    • Peter Benedict

      Touche! I am indeed the core audience. And Kim Walker is indeed both awesome and hotness… it saddens me when they pan the camera to the other bandmembers, who are merely awesome. That said, her ranting weirded me the first time, and quickly became a high point for me after that. I’m not sure why, but I know that if I’m in a hard spot that particular rant puts me in a great place quickly.

      I’m off to South Carolina to hang with a former-Imam/former-pro-wrestler/database migration specialist who I met playing MMORPGs in 2000. We’re going to a beer festival together. We’ve met twice in person. Exciting times! He’s on my six, and I’m hopeful I can invite God to show up & do some much needed healing. Say a prayer for us.

      • Daniel Mitchell

        Honestly, that guy you’re doing a beer festival with (!!!!) has too many descriptors. I can’t keep track of them all. I’m simply going to call him “Francis” for short. I’ll pray for Francis and I hope you guys have a great time drinking delicious beers (!!!).

        What MMORPG did you play? Have I already asked you this? If so, I apologize for not listening to you, but come on, it’s hard to take you seriously.

        I’m just kidding.

        It’s only KINDA hard.

  • Forty Ounce

    Harry Potter, fool. Or was that too obvious.
    I liked the Oath in high school too. It had a nice “less explicit stephen king” feel.
    there are a bunch of love songs that i’d think of when it came to God… but none of them come to mind right now. and none of them had to do with bumping and grinding. in case you were wondering.

  • Jennwith2ns

    I’ve been trying to explain to my new husband the greatness of “stealth-Jesus” in pop culture, but, though he loves Jesus and also pop culture, I don’t think he quite gets it–at least not in terms of music. Not sure why . . .

    So anyway, did you see that hand? I mean, like, I raised it and everything. :-)

    • Daniel Mitchell

      Yeah, yeah, I made a fool of myself with that one. ;)

      My take (and this is topical with “Blue Like Jazz” being in theaters) is that you’re going to have a hard time getting secular folks to watch religious movies or listen to religious music. And “Blue Like Jazz” is proof that the answer isn’t always quality – and sometimes, there’s just nothing we can do (yet) to get people who don’t go to church to see a “church” movie.

      I think a big first step might be to add Christian characters to stories that AREN’T Christian in nature, but show the characters as something other than superstitious bumpkins or judgmental a-holes. Christianity is now paying for hundreds of years of being on top, at least in the western world, and pop culture isn’t going to remove that stigma until followers of Jesus are seen as the under-dog.

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