Friday, August 29, 2008

Relevancy, or Godzilla vs. Batman

Some of you may not like this. I know for a fact that some of you will, but I'm sure at least a few people will disagree with me. If such is the case with you, I would encourage you – no, I would ask you – to speak up. Not so we can argue or change each other's minds, but I would really appreciate a look at somebody elses perspective. The same goes for any of the other topics I've touched on.

I believe there are very few things in life which do not strive to be relevant. Music plays on our emotions and personal experiences, becomes relevant to us, and then we spend money on it. Movies and television appeal to our perceptions of what's cool or interesting, and so we spend money on them. Politicians exploit issues and current events to win the loyalty and enthusiasm of the public, becoming relevant to their supporters, and then they prosper.

Relevancy may be one the most powerful forces in existence. Things that are relevant or interesting to the general public tend to warrant more attention than things that aren't. They prosper. They live on, even if not in a tangible form, at the very least in infamy.

Example: I love Godzilla movies. Love them. I've seen most of the twenty eight or so that have been filmed since 1954, and most of the ones I've seen I have on DVD.
Most people on the other hand don't like Godzilla movies. For some reason they find the idea of a suit actor in a dinosaur costume stomping on cardboard buildings to be boring, stupid, and irrelevant, while as far as I'm concerned movies of that genre are about as interesting as you can get. Don't ask me why.
If another Godzilla movie were to be imported to the united states and saw a theatrical release, it probably wouldn't do very well at the box office. The great, great majority of people wouldn't bother with it. I would, some my friends probably would, but most people would not.

Now imagine what the public response would be if another Batman movie were released. Dark Knight just slaughtered at the box office, and it was a really good movie. So if in another year or so, another Batman movie comes out(which, fingers crossed, it will) it would probably make millions and millions of dollars and be loved by most of the people who see it. The same people who wouldn't give the time of day to Godzilla vs. Some Other Monster would probably flip over the release of Batman: Please God Let It Still Be Christian Bale.

I believe the reason is because Batman, unlike Godzilla, is relevant. Godzilla doesn't appeal to what people want or enjoy or find interesting. Godzilla isn't a character you can identify with. Godzilla is just a big dumb lizard who makes a lot of noise, breaks things, and spits atomic fire from his gaping maw.

Batman on the other hand is the ideal personification of human ingenuity and physical ability. He's strong, fast, smart, and by all accounts, nigh-unstoppable, and he doesn't even have super powers. He's something or someone that most everybody can identify with, because everybody wants to be Batman, in one sense or another. Don't tell me you don't, because you'd be lying.

Nobody wants to be Godzilla.

So by this point you might be asking yourself why I've devoted four paragraphs to a comparison between Godzilla and Batman. You may have even stopped reading. If you're still with me, then good for you. Hang in there.

My point is simple: The Church, like most other things in life, strives to be relevant. We want the message of love and hope and forgiveness which is the foundation of Christianity to mean something to people. We want them to feel that Jesus' message can be and is a part of their daily lives. And this, I believe, is a worthy and potentially obtainable goal. We CAN reach people, we CAN be relevant. We've done it in the past.

Unfortunately though, the Church, more often than not, seems to completely blow off Batman's example. We don't identify with people. We don't portray ourselves in a way that people can relate to. We achieve no real, large scale success in being something that people can understand, and as long as we continue, we will never, never be relevant.

As far as I'm concerned, Jesus' life was the most relevant thing in our history. It put us back in touch and gave us direct contact with our creator, something we hadn't had for thousands of years. This is what Christians believe. In addition, we believe we're supposed to share said belief with the rest of the world. And in in attempting to do so, our words often fall on deaf ears.

I could give you any number of reasons as to why I think this is, but in my mind the main reason is that the rest of the world doesn't see us or our message as relevant. Our beliefs don't seem to pertain to peoples lives. What we say doesn't make sense. We come across as spewing irrelevant babble in the form of folk tales and moral principles which, in today's society, seem outdated, stupid, and unimportant. And when we express our beliefs with the vehemency which many attempts at “evangelism” often are, we end up turning people off to Christianity altogether. We either accomplish nothing, or even worse, are counter-productive in our efforts to share the truth of the single most beautiful and miraculous thing to occur on Planet Earth.

We act too much like Godzilla. We talk too loud, say too much, and shut ourselves off in our own little worlds with our bookstores and record companies and T-shirts and social clubs. We make it all about us. Like a mutant atomic dinosaur stomping on Tokyo, we make it all about us. We become irrelevant.

And then we do one better, by taking logos from things like Reese's and Starbuck's and photoshopping them to say things Jesus and Serve-me. I'm not kidding. These are actual T-shirts.

I saw a shirt in a Christian book store a couple weeks ago with a screen print of a cowboy riding a bull at a rodeo. At the top it said, “I can stand anything for eight seconds.”

And then at the bottom it bigger, bolder letters(but the same font) it said,
“Except Hell.”

And then there was some verse about the wages of sin.

And I stood there, mouth nearly agape, scratching my head asking myself how, in a million years, we can ever hope to be relevant when this is medium through which the world sees us.

I realize that we shouldn't just roll over and say to the rest of the world, “OKAY YOU'RE RIGHT” on anything, but for decency's sake, can't we at least not use our faith as an excuse to stick out like a blue swan?

I just made that up, blue swan.

I submit to you that if we meld our faith and our values with a practical world view, and stop all this microcosmic, “it has to be all about old-time religion” crap, then the church would have a much better shot at being seen as a relevant and significant part of modern society.

I know that the cowboy T-shirt isn't the standard. I know that a lot of Christians don't think that coming within a hair's breadth of copyright infringement is going to change the world for the better. But I also know that we need to meet people where they are, and I think it's impossible to do that as long as we make a spectacle of ourselves and wear weird T-shirts and adamantly refuse to listen to secular music and then chock it all up to being faithful.

A friend of my sisters bites her nails. Once while attending a homeschool group outing, one of the mothers of another kid saw her biting her nails. The woman rushed up in a frenzy, demanded that the girl place her hands on the car, and then proceeded to pray, loudly, that God would give her the strength not to bite her nails, and then continued to pray, loudly, saying the same thing over and over again, but with different phrasing. Right there in the middle of a skating rink parking lot.

Could we get any stranger?

I am not so arrogant as to assume that I'm the only one who's ever said or thought this. Plenty of other people have said the same or similar things(see 1 Corinthians 9:22), but this particular topic, for whatever reason, hits home with me. Every church service I attend I find myself trying to see it from the eyes of someone who's never been to church before, and often, from that perspective, I become bored, irritated, and confused. Sometimes I even become that way from my own perspective.

I don't have a solution. I don't even have a suggestion. My goal is not to be combative or overly negative, and I'm sorry if this rubs you the wrong way. But can't we at least consider that maybe we've missed something, somewhere, and start looking for ways to make the church more real? More relate-able? More Relevant?

(1 Corinthians 9:22)
“To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some.”

Blue swans and white swans had a hard time relating to each other.


Ryan said...

for the record, biting nails isn't a sin in my book. my nails look horrid and are as short as the width of a penny. (actually, it's about 3. i just checked.) My "excuse" for biting my nails is because i play the violin. long nails would scratch the strings! and i play electric violin for a church. so in essence, biting nails is giving glory to god!

That's total bs. It's true, but it's retarded. It was good. I agree. Peace...

jsmith2585 said...

The bottom line to making the message of Christ relevant is by portraying it in our own lives in a real way. If we take all the things that the bible says weather we want to do them or not and apply them to our lives than the message of Christ will become relevant. I believe that the bible in not so many words does tell us to only listen to Christian music Colossians 3:2
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. how can we do that if we are filling our minds with trashy music or TV shows or drinking or with inappropriate sexual relationships, or by just ignoring God in most of our everyday life. I'm not going to say that it isn't hard Im just saying that the only thing that will make the church and the message of Jesus relevant. Also, this can happen I have seen it and I one point in my life I would like to think that I lived it.

Terri said...

Brilliant post. Being a Christian isn't just about believing in Jesus and His message; it's about living it. We can't make the Church relevant without living it first. I truely believe that if do that, people are going to notice something about us, and when they ask (notice I said WHEN, not if), we have all the more opportunity to share Christ's message.

Richard said...

You need to start a ministry... or something. And start preaching these kinds of messages. And hopefully one could equip fellow Christians with a like mindedness so we can start being relevant. And stop being retarded and one big "No unbelievers allowed" social club.