Dear American Cultural Christianity,
I’ve been thinking about writing this letter for quite a while, but just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and type out what needed to be said. You and I have been together for so many years that it seems unthinkable that it could come to an end. But as Chaucer said, “all good things…”
I’d like to say that it’s not you, it’s me, but that’s just not the truth. It is you, and it is me. We’ve just grown apart. And it’s time to admit it, face the fact, and move on.
When I left America to live overseas back in 1999, we both knew that it would be tough. Back then, the internet was not nearly as accessible as it is now, and so our ability to spend time together was limited to the few mix tapes and books that I could bring with me.
This was such an abrupt change for me.
Before leaving America, you were everywhere in my life, all the time! You were everywhere, American Cultural Christianity, and it was one of the sweetest things about growing up in the South. Radio stations, bookstores, television stations, concerts, conferences – I could hardly have gotten away from you if I’d wanted to. Knowing that you were right there whenever I needed you was so amazingly comforting to me.
I remember the times I would go running along the waterfront in Charleston, listening to you on my walkman. Or the times I would spend with you at the Christian bookstore in Mt. Pleasant, wishing I had the money to pick up the latest novel, devotional, or CD you’d released. I didn’t tell you then, but I wanted to spend all my money on you, I just didn’t have much to spend. But that didn’t seem to bother you; you were still there for me.
But when I decided to go to Kazakhstan, you couldn’t go, and that’s where the problems started. Long distance relationships are not easy on anyone, are they? Suddenly, you weren’t there to help me with spiritual growth. Yes, I wore out those few cassettes, CDs, and books I’d brought, but I hadn’t realized how much I’d come to depend on you.
The worst part, American Cultural Christianity, was that it felt like you didn’t care. I know that I was far away, and you were busy. And while it might be a bit self-centered of me, I just didn’t understand why you didn’t do anything to try and help. It was my time of greatest need, and you were just… business as usual. It felt like I had never been a part of your life, as if we’d never had anything at all.
So, it’s not surprising that our relationship deteriorated so much during that time. A good relationship has to have proper give and take, and we didn’t. It was hard at first, but I slowly adjusted, and became okay with the fact that we were just going to be friends. I started reading my Bible for spiritual nourishment rather than depending on your music and devotional books. It became good. It felt pure.
But I won’t lie. I still missed you. I would see something you’d done, a CD, a book, even a movie (when did you start making movies?), and I would think about the old times we’d had together. They were really nice memories, American Cultural Christianity. But still, you were far away, and it seemed like there was nothing either of us could do about it.
And then something changed, and this time, it was you. You started making more of an effort. You got onto the internet in a way you never had before, and you began reaching out to me, even if I lived so far away.
It was a “world’s collide” moment for me – having you with me in Kazakhstan. Once again I could listen to you while walking the streets – this time the streets of Kazakhstan, now with podcasts. I could read your books with my Kindle, any book I wanted, sitting on the bus in Atyrau. I could even watch your preachers on youtube when the internet was working! You were back in my life, and I loved every minute of it.
But even so, I began having nagging little itches in my mind that I had difficulty ignoring. You were so absorbed in what was going on back in America that I wondered if you really could understand what I was experiencing overseas. By this time, I’d moved to China, and all you could talk about was American politics, American culture, American sports, American problems. I soon realized that you hadn’t come to me at all. You had just figured out how to bring me back to you.
Last year I decided to do something extreme. I made the decision to only spend time with you for forty days (a good Biblical number) to see if our relationship could be salvaged. I only watched your movies, only read your books, only visited your websites, only listened to your music, and I learned things about you during that intense time together, things that part of me wishes I had never learned.
You’ve changed, American Cultural Christianity, even if you don’t want to admit it. And looking back, I can see that those changes really started before I ever left, but I didn’t want to see that you were changing.
Those forty days together brought it all to light.
Where before, you seemed fearless, you’ve become fearful. Even paranoid. You’re afraid that the government is making plans to start persecuting you. You’re afraid that Hollywood is actively seeking to ruin your family. You’re afraid that Muslims are outside your door, planning to behead you. You’re afraid that homosexuals are going to indoctrinate your children and turn them gay. You are afraid of anyone who says anything that makes you uncomfortable. It’s what you talk about nearly all the time: your fear. It’s wearisome, and – I’m sorry – not at all like Jesus.
Where before, you seemed encouraging, you’ve become angry and bitter. Even hateful. Often when someone says something with which you disagree, you lash out. I read the things you write online, and I wonder what happened to the American Cultural Christianity that I’d loved so much before! Were you just pretending, or did you just wear a mask whenever I was around, hiding your true nature? Maybe that part of you was actually there all along, but recently you’ve become way too comfortable taking off the mask in front of me. I just can’t be with the one behind that mask.
Where before, you cared about welcoming others, you’ve become inhospitable. Even reclusive. You sit in your circled wagon, complaining about everyone outside the circle, rather than offering them to come in and sit around the fire. You’ve built up the faith into a fortress to repel attackers rather than opening the doors and tearing down the walls so that outsiders can feel welcomed. You talk about wanting to engage the culture, and in the same sentence talk about winning the culture wars. I’m tired of all the fighting, American Cultural Christianity. I’ve got maybe 40 years left on this earth (if I’m lucky), and I want that time to be about something else.
And maybe the worst part, the part that stings the most: it turns out that you really were irritated that I didn’t spend more money on you back in the day. It seems that what you really wanted from me was my money. Buy this book, buy this CD, buy this t-shirt, buy this DVD. Even now, it seems like all you care about is money in our relationship.
For example – let’s talk for a minute about the movies you’ve started making. I have to tell you, I am so proud of you that you’ve started to make movies. I know that it is a big deal, and takes a lot of your time and energy. But then you pressure me to buy out blocks of tickets and invite all my friends, and my youth group from church, and even my non-Christian friends (who you’ve NEVER gotten along with). But that’s not all – you also want me to buy the books and study guides from your movie, the soundtrack, the t-shirts and ball caps, and then then DVDs when they come out. You pressure me by insisting that this is how I can “send Hollywood a message”, but I wonder – if you really cared about me, would it be so much about the money?
Anyway, I think I’ve said enough. Probably too much. I thought about getting into your obsession with certain politicians, but I decided to let that ride. I just want you to know that I am thankful for many of the times we had together. You taught me a lot, for which I will always be grateful. And even though we are broken up, I will still listen to your music from time to time, and I know that you really can put out a good devotional when you set your mind to it. I’ll look forward to reading them. I won’t erase all your podcasts from my iPhone. And yes, I will even still watch your movies.
But, it’ll be different now. We’re done, American Cultural Christianity. But I do wish you the best in the future, and hope that you find happiness.