Saturday, July 11, 2009

The culture that surrounds religion
To clarify where I'm coming from

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Who I am and where I came from. That's a tall order no matter who you are. But in the comment section of the last post a good point was brought up (thanks Katie). Are all these 'rumors' about big churches or the christian culture in America legit, or are they a bit heightened, or have they been fairytale-d? I know that from the outside looking in, a lot of things christians do seem strange to the non-christian. But in America we have quite the different take on what a christian looks like compared to the rest of the world (or biblical christianity or historical christianity for that matter). Those are the things I'd like to discuss.

The blogs I pointed to in the last post again, are helpful tools. But let's talk less about what everyone else has experienced and more about where I'm coming from, being the author and leading a discussion, I want to be up front about where I've been and where I'm headed. Do not think that everything in my, 'where I grew up' list is bad or wrong or even things I disagree with. I hope that will be established in future posts, as will my 'where I'm headed' list. This is simply, how I grew up and what I was immersed in. In a list, cause lists are the best. You can ask for clarification if necessary.

Where I grew up - off the top of my head
I've included examples when I felt it would help clarify.
(in no particular order, the numbers are just for keeping track or if you have questions).

1. In a christian home, prayer before meals and bedtime, bible stories, my brother and I raised to treat one another as a gift from God and the bible basics throughout our young lives.

2. attending Assembly of God, Foursquare, Calvary Chapel - evangelical, typically charismatic churches.

3. Speaking in tongues or a prayer language. The Wikipedia page defines it as:
Glossolalia or speaking in tongues is the vocalizing of fluent speech-like syllables, often as part of religious practice. Some consider these utterances to be meaningless, others consider them to be a holy language.

4. attending weekly youth group and girls bible studies, years of summer and winter camps, plus various 'youth conventions'

5. on a drama ministry team

6. prayer included - laying hands, speaking in tongues, a prayer chain, casting out demons, raising hands, emotional intercession, kneeling or laying on the ground

7. wore a bracelet with different colored beads each one represented a part of the salvation message to help with witnessing (before wwjd hit the market), and I wore a purity ring

9. at church included - everything from #6 the 'prayer list' and waving flags, emotional worship with hands raised, crying and laughing in the spirit, tent revivals, prophetic speakers

10. spent time as a missionary in Africa, Asia and Australia

11. was a Youth Leader/Camp counselor and led various youth bible studies and home groups

12. I sang on the worship team

13. listened entirely to christian music until I bought my own car at 16 and had a radio

14. didn't watch rated R movies. My first one (and only one for a long time) was Schindler's List.
I watched in when network television aired it un-cut in February of 1997. I had just turned 17 years old. (As I researched when this aired on NBC, I was seriously shocked when I typed the words, I had just turned 17, I could've sworn I was more like 14. Guess this proves my sheltered and naivety once and for all.)

15. The thief in the night movie series about the end times was influential to say the least.

16. I didn't swear, ever. Okay of course I did, but only in moments of passion, not in conversation. And still, I don't think I uttered the F word openly in public until after I turned 18, and it certainly didn't become a part of my vocabulary at all until after I got married at 20.

Side story: I was recently at a table read for a new script and I it was my job to read aloud the direction notes. I came across the line, 'it was f**king mesmerizing' and I read it aloud as, 'it was effing mesmerizing'. It got a laugh from the room. But that wasn't ten years ago, that was Tuesday, so this is me, now.

As you can see, most of my experience with this cultural christianity was as a youth (I moved away during my 21st year). But in churches today, the youth culture is what informs the eventual adult culture and often the pursuits of a church as a whole.

In this culture there is a high emphasis on looking, sounding, acting like a christian, and the minor emphasis, although it is present, is on 'getting right with god', having an 'active prayer life' and we are told to 'be authentic', but how are these things taught, what does that look like? It is often an outward expression without an inner foundation.

To sum up. For me christianity and the culture I was immersed in had a lot to do with the outward actions as proof of the inner religious piaty... Now my christianity is less about how I speak - christian-ese - or what I do - action based religiousness - and more about my inward pursuit of righteousness.

But that's just me. Any questions?

10 comments:

onefinemess said...

It sounds a lot like the "age old" (at least in the sense that I've had it with dozens of Christians over the years) discussion about what "you" (the Christian) do as compared to what "Christians" are perceived as doing.

In general, almost all of the folks I've spoken to agree with what I perceive to be your general assessment of "Christian Culture" (along the lines of what the better of those blogs - the Stuff Christian Culture Likes one - the other one comes off as way to cheezy and gutless (although well written)): it's generally nothing like the teachings of Jesus or whatever, and more about culturalized behaviors.

I've met people who admit to attending churches guilty of the various cringe inducing tactics documented on those blogs, and defending how they can thrive in that setting with various excuses, but I think it boils down to being comfortable among your own. People (...most people) like to be a part of something, they like to be around people they know agree with them so they don't have to be challenged (other than a speaker's "challenge" to do some spiritual thing which is in general not actually challenging but rather to be expected).

Where am I going with this? Honestly I don't know, the blogger comment window is so damn small I can't see what I wrote in the previous paragraph.

Maybe something like this: people are social animals, and the average intelligence of the behavior of a group is inversely proportional to the size of that group. So, while individual Christians may be well-meaning, throw enough of them together and they start bringing the stupid to town.

Tucker said...

so... my conservative Baptist upbringing did not condone tongues, raising hands in worship, and a few other charismatic kinds of things, but my list is at least as long as yours.

It's all true folks. Mainstream Christian culture is like Disneyland, a secret society complete with secret handshakes, a game show, the planet Dagobah with Yoda teaching the Force, and mainstream American culture all rolled into one big mishmash. It has its own language too.

What I think would be interesting to know is what percentage of Christians would look at your list and say, "Oh yeah, I was so there, but I'm not anymore." Then you look at their lives and think, "Oh yes you are."

Interestingly I also never used "bad" language (even in moments of passion). I still can't easily.

Tucker said...

I should be clear though. My thoughts on mainstream Christian subculture (specifically American) are not meant to be particularly critical. There are many aspects of it I miss and some good things there. I also have to say that none of us can get away from some kind of subculture that we inhabit, that makes us feel good, that speaks our language, etc. I would say, however, that there are many aspects, maybe most, of the mainstream Christian subculture that do not have anything to do with following Christ.

meg said...

onefinemess - you can make the window bigger ya know, why you hating on blogger?

meg said...

onefinemess - okay, so I just discovered I can make the whole window bigger but the comment portion doesn't grow...lame. I hate blogger to now.

Serious stuff now. To be clear, this is the list of things that I grew up doing or being a part of, it wasn't what "we" do compared to what is perceived as doing. What I "do" now will be discussed later.

I do agree that there is a sense in churches that people are there to be accepted by a group and feel a part of something and this can sometimes lead to lemmings jumping off proverbial cliffs.


Tucker - thanks for weighing in. I appreciate your insight and agree, obviously...haha

meg said...

Tucker - "Oh yeah, I was so there, but I'm not anymore." Then you look at their lives and think, "Oh yes you are."

this is what reeaaalllly makes me crazy. Exactly.

k.elizabeth w. said...

Okay, this was helpful. Thanks!

What stuck out to me is that my church has never had a youth group and it seems that this is very key to the modern Christian experience: the youth culture of a church and how it is constructed and made to dance. (Note: I'm not trying to sound negative or flippant right now with, um, "made to dance"...but, I guess, just the expectations of what it means to be A Youth in A Church).

The experience of the youth group or culture or however the church organized the youth seems to have really impacted so many people I know. For many the experience really caused them to question a lot of things (which, for the record, I think you should always be doing anyway)...but in a hurt or jaded sort of way.

meg said...

(k.elizabeth)Katie - such a great point regarding the youth culture with in the american chrisitian community. I have had the same experience with friends being hurt or jaded by their experience in or around their youth group experience.

one of the difficult and potentially harmful things about youth culture and religion is that the two are mostly at odds. There is either a lot of condemnation and judgment on the youth or a lot of games being played. Both not "what it's all about"

Maybe (onefinemess) Andy French has a thing or two to say about this?

Anonymous said...

In my 30-something years of Christianity, I’ve seen changes, but I think those changes were defined more by the denominations I’ve attended.

At one point in my life, I stepped back from the “Sunday morning” ritual of “having” to go to church. I did this because I felt dissatisfied with “Church.” Some call this burnout. But I’m not so sure. I was tired of hearing the same shallow sermons that neither spurred me on to good deeds nor motivated my pursuit of God. The relationships can be just as shallow. It’s sad that relationships among Christians continue only if you’re attending the same Church. Once you leave, the relationships are nil.

When I decided to take my sabbatical, from church not God, that’s when I began to hear my heart, my thoughts and to be honest with myself-with God about what Church meant or didn’t mean to me. It gave me time to revisit why I thought the way I did.

When I stepped out of the American Christian culture, I began to see my fellow brothers and sister in a different light. I remember thinking “if that is what Christians look like, no wonder people are not breaking down the doors to get in.” Sad. Honestly, I felt embarrassed for Christians.

Christianity, in part, has become a program and within that a serious of programs. Not that I’m saying programs are bad in and of themselves; however, I think real Christianity becomes lost in those agendas.

To fully answer the question about the American Christian culture I think one has to look back into history. When did Church become a one man in the pulpit? What happened to the five-fold ministry of pastor, teacher, prophet, apostle, and healer? How did serving God become a Sunday morning event shaped in the confines of a Church building?

How did we stray so far from the original idea of the Body of Christ being the Church, looking after widows and orphans, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising the dead, and being a genuine community of believers in which brotherly love, kindness, and passion for Christ swells in one’s heart to were we become a beacon of light and hope for the hurting world?

On symbols, which define Christians, are they wrong? No. Is belonging to a Church wrong? No. Is talking the talk wrong? No, unless those words are not backed by true faith based action. Most groups have some type of symbol that represents them. I think that is part of humanity. I don’t think that we can answer the question of “how should we look, sound, and act,” until we realize that American Christians have white washed the gospel of Christ and find the root to how we got where we are today.

I think of scripture that states, “come out and be separate,” “put off the old and put on the new,” “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” etc. We are to be different. I think that we’ve cultur-ized the simplistic message of the Gospel. We’ve lost it in denominational splits, Church politics, and programs.

The Church needs to get back to her first love-Christ, restructure what she is to look, sound, and act like, which I think would be like Christ Jesus. It is easy for Christians to get lost in the Christian-ese of their faith and lose sight of the bigger picture.

I don’t think one can ever over use faith, but I certainly do think they can miss-appropriate faith. They put faith in faith rather then faith in God. I’m glad you started this blog. I think these are questions that people of my generation are uneasy about asking, let alone discussing. But it needs discussing. The Church is changing, more so the people are changing, but the Gospel will never change, cause God is unchangeable.

A question to ask is, “who have we allowed to define us, Church or God?

Thanks for letting me share-Diane

stephy said...

Hey, thanks for talking about this. I love that people will look at it and separate God from the culture. xo