My Breakup with American Cultural Christianity

Dear American Cultural Christianity,

man-person-fog-mist-largeI’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.

lonely-man-wallpaper-s-aty-wallpapers-walking-painting-bench-room-beach-lonely_man_wallpaper_s1aty_zpsa0a8d329The 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.

Sincerely,
Your friend,
Nate

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “My Breakup with American Cultural Christianity

  1. Remember WWJD? Now that’s teased and mocked but I think that’s around the time you were thinking about in the good ol’ days. When people were forced to think about what or how Jesus would have reacted and tried to emulate that. I don’t go to any Christian bookstores anymore. If I do, it’s definitely a bit of a struggle to find something that speaks to me. I picked up a book at church the other day and there is one part I strongly disagree with which makes me disheartened about books in general.

    Anyway, good post. I can’t relate to most of it because up here in the Northeast, there isn’t much in terms of Cultural Christianity but it’s there of you look hard enough. I’m not sure I ever have.

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  4. Hello, I find this a very well thought out and articulated article. Please keep writing. God has given you a beautiful gift. I have shared this article with others and will continue to do so. There is a need for change in the church. You might find Krabills perspective refreshing. He was a speaker at Urbana 15 http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17271207-worship-and-mission-for-the-global-church. He said, in regard to Nations, tribes and tongues “we all have a place at the table.” I dearly wish, as a number of us out there for American Christian Culture to embrace indigenous styles in worship to the one true, living God with their different flavors and fresh living lyrics. God bless you.

  5. I posted this writing of yours to both my Facebook pages with this comment…
    ” The way I see this blog post is that the author is expressing his disappointment with the Christian Arts Community/Culture. Art culture includes many forms of expression. Music, fiction, drama, filmmaking are a few forms. In my opinion, (and where I agree with the author of this post) the focus and expectation of much of today’s Christian Art is that it be designed to be supported by Christians. The current American Christian Art climate (a very small climate compared to world-wide) seems to support only the art that fits neatly into certain criteria. The art being made must be inspired to “fix Hollywood” or the “atheist” and make sure the world knows we are not going to stand for being persecuted.

    We, as Christian artists and Christian audiences, have SO MANY ways we can grow and create art to be “like God” and “like God” in our faith walk, yet we continue to choose the easiest and least effective art form and faith walk. We use art and our faith to verbally slam the world for being the world and think we have done our due diligence.

    It’s ironic because I think God in His power (without my help) is constantly able to work in each man and woman (Christian or not) to convince them- His creatures- that without tapping into His presence, they have a gap in their life- the one he gave them- and filling that gap to bring wholeness will always relate back to Him.

    If the problems of the world could have been solved by chanting a few pat phrases and putting up some neat churchy pictures, and boycotting the bad people in the world then why did Christ have to come and die?

    Jesus’ life certainly did not model continual intense “slamming” strategies against the world. Yet no one could accuse Him of compromising His relationship to God. However, it is notable that in his personal “stand- for-God “strategy, He was, of course, crucified by his own people.

    The man writing this blog post is a teacher and screenwriter. He is also a Christian, from what I know of him, but in this post, he seems dismayed with the Christian/Art/Culture group for having such a narrow and America-only focus.

    His dismay is reasonable.

    There is a wider global world and wider global needs that Christian artists & audiences could support. Christian artists and audiences could aim their talent & resources at illuminating these things. Artists often use their art to mirror or frame things in the world that they want people to see and feel. Just like if I walked past a man hurt and lying in the dirt, I might point him out to you and say, “Come help this man.” Or “Come see this man or woman in their terrible struggle.” Or, in the positive, “Come see this beautiful thing.”

    Maybe the complaint is that as Christian artists & Christian audiences, we deliver and fall for art that is too “glossy” and too “tidy” in conception. We don’t want to see the hard stuff. Perhaps, for fear of minimizing God’s power, we seldom show or linger long in the difficult and uncertainty of life. Art showing the terrifying struggle of doubting what you believe is also taboo. We find it easier to show the WORLD doubting the existence of God, but Christians doubting???? “NEVER!”

    Side note here……. IF Christian Art/Culture criteria requires that an artist stick to Bible story relatable themes to be accepted and called Christian art, then, in my opinion, there is an elephant that needs addressing. The BIBLE has a much wider discussion of life and how it is lived and the relationship of faith to our life than EVER gets brought up in our churches or the current Christian Art Culture scene.

    Many say the odd Bible stories and sayings are in fact confusing. They are. At first glance many teachings seem contradictory. These stories are perfect fodder for Christian artists to take ahold of and turn into a relatable story. We could go much deeper in the Bible than we do. It seems most often that the church and church audience wants to pick and choose the Bible stories we agree with, and we seldom want to shed light on the R- rated Bible stuff that is weird or questioning.

    Christian art promoters, fueled by who they think is there audience, are very good at shunning the odd Christian artist whose work or character vetting does not fall into the narrow focus and a narrow aims they set out to promote.

    Curiously, Christian “shunning” does not seem to apply to other work fields. For instance, professional sports players. To my knowledge there isn’t a professional sport team that Christians watch regularly in exclusion to all other sport’s teams (& buy blocks of seats for) that is only made up of Christian players who give acceptable Christian messages.

    Why is this?

    As Christians, we have no problem watching games promoted by all kinds of non- Christian advertisers pushing non-Christian things. We do not shun the game of Christian players who are part of a team with non-Christian players. Christian sports players are not asked to continually make their sole message aside from the game to be about atheists, or the Bible, or anti-Hollywood, or anti-homosexuality. They are not asked to continually rant against the world and deliver in quick sound bites the bible’s solution for the world. They are, in short, never asked to “preach” each time they play.

    I think the author of this blog post is pointing out the elephant-in-the-room gap in “Christian” art as it exists today- which, in today’s definition, is art made by proven, properly vetted, Christians or Christian groups that reflect correctly the narrow range of “Christian” themes and topics that have made it to the table.

    There are quite a lot of hoops to jump through for both the artist and their work to make it onto the stage of the American Christian Art arena. Which is really why I don’t consider them my circus clan.

    I’m not keen on sacrificial jumping of that sort.

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