I have a confession to make: I am a Christian, and I dislike Christian media.
To clarify, I don’t dislike all Christian media, just most Christian media. I will – on occasion – listen to a praise and worship playlist on Spotify; every now and then a Christian-made film will surprise me as an enjoyable film-viewing experience; there are a handful of Christian writers who capture me with everything they write. I don’t visit many Christian websites, and I don’t listen to many Christian podcasts. By and large, I am creatively and artistically unimpressed with much that comes out of the world of Christian media.
But it runs deeper than that. While I don’t have a problem with the individuals creating the media, I don’t like the various industries that have built up around the Christian faith. For example, on this blog I’ve argued against the creation of a Christian film industry. In the spirit of Keith Green and Rich Mullins, I’m vexed that writing praise and worship songs and devotional books is a big business. I’m most definitely not a fan of the idea of Christian celebrity, because celebrity runs counter to the humble life that Jesus lived, which is the point of the Christian faith.
And don’t get me started on people using Christianity to get ahead in politics.
I haven’t always felt this way. I think it started when I moved out of the Christian subculture in 1999, the year I moved to Kazakhstan. Also, as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more discerning with both my theology and my artistic tastes. Finally, I credit the internet, which opened the door to everyone and their mother creating media with their cell phones and laptops, which means that a LOT of the Christian (and not Christian) media being produced is just… for the lack of a better word… poopy.
A few days ago, Lifeway Research published a report that showed that the majority of Christian media is consumed by Christians. This means that I – as a middle-aged white Christian male – represent one of the key demographics for Christian media producers.
And I don’t like very much of what they’re producing.
This brings me to another confession: I am a middle-aged white Christian male who loves secular media.
To clarify: I don’t love all secular media. There’s quite a bit that I wouldn’t go anywhere near. But I listen to secular music; I love non-faith-based movies and television; reading good fiction by authors who don’t broadcast their religious beliefs is one of my favorite ways of passing the time, I constantly visit websites that have no overtly spiritual content, and I listen to hours of non-religious podcasts each week.
And I believe that God can speak to me through these materials that have not been created with the express goal of speaking to me about God.
But reading the Lifeway report made me wonder: am I doing something wrong as a Christian by not buying into what the makers of Christian media are selling? Does it somehow make me less faithful? Am I missing an opportunity for spiritual growth by avoiding materials made expressly to help me to grow spiritually?
And then the idea came: what if I only consumed Christian media? Saturated myself with the stuff? What would happen? Would it strengthen my Christian faith? Would it make me dislike Christian media even more? Would I discover producers of Christian media who consistently produce good quality work – thus opening my mind and choices a little bit?
There are precedents for an experiment like this. Over the past few years there have been several examples of writers setting time limits, forcing themselves out of their comfortable lifestyles, and documenting what happens. A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically, Ed Dobson’s The Year of Living Like Jesus, Rachel Held Evan’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Ryan Bell’s A Year Without God, to name just a few.
And so I decided to challenge myself. If those writers could change things for a year, certainly I could change things for forty days, right?
Still, it wasn’t an easy decision. I would miss the movies, the programs, the podcasts, the music. But, it was because it wasn’t an easy decision that I decided to do it. The day after I started thinking about this, I read an article where the writer said that if God is prompting you to give something up, and you aren’t willing to do it, then that thing may have become an idol.
As much as I enjoy secular media, I don’t want it to be an idol. So, for forty days, secular media will not be a part of my life.
The challenge: to live on a strict diet of nothing but Christian media for exactly forty days (and nights), and then in the end, examine the results.
The ground rules:
1) The Forty Day (and Night) Christian Media Challenge will begin on March 15, 2015 and will end at midnight on Saturday, April 25, 2015.
2) For the sake of this challenge, media includes films, radio, television, magazines, books, podcasts, websites, and newspapers. And I will only use media that you would find sold by a Christian retailer. So, while it can be argued that Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is a film rich with Christian themes and imagery, it’s not sold in Christian bookstores, so it wouldn’t qualify.
3) I will still visit and comment on social media websites (Facebook, Twitter), but I will not click any links, stories, or images that take me to any websites that are not promoted as being Christian.
4) I will use all media as needed for my employment (I’m a teacher) – but not recreationally.
5) I will do this every day except two. I’m flying from China to America and back in April, and I will watch in-flight movies during that trip. The trip will take at least 24 hours, and so I will watch in-flight movies as we travel. However, if Delta makes Christian-made or Christian themed movies available in flight, i will give them preference. So the challenge will actually run for forty-two days (and nights).
6) I will write about my experience existing off of a diet of Christian media here on the Thimblerig’s Ark blog on a daily basis over the course of the 40 days (and nights). I’ll write about the things I find that I like, and the things I’d liked to have not found. I’ll record things that I learn along the way, things with which I disagree, questions which are raised, answers that are found, and which Christian-made media has the most potential to reach those who can’t find the choir loft.
I would love to have recommendations from you – my readers. Which Christian-produced websites, blogs, news outlets, films, music, or television would you recommend? Please let me know, because I want to find the best sampling of Christian media to enjoy!
And finally, if you’d like to join me on this Forty Days (and nights) of Christian Media Challenge, please do! I’d love to have some company, and to hear what others are finding. Let me know!
Finally, I’d invite you to be a part of the Sacred Arts Revolution on Facebook, and join us as we regularly discuss Christian media.
I finished! If you want to read my concluding thoughts on this challenge, click here.