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Feb 23

Pop Culture and Religion = Trying Too Hard

Over on Facebook, my colleague Tony Rossi over at the Christophers blogged a piece about how Greg Plageman a longtime TV writer got into the business because he noticed his then-students were more influenced by “Saved by the Bell” then by him as their teacher.

My first thought was …Saved by the Bell?? You’ve got to be joking. I don’t know what age the students were that he was talking about but I’m hoping it’s middle school. Regardless, pop culture certainly has some influence but often when Christianity tries to make something in the pop culture realm, it tries way too hard.

I won’t out the group that was singing but at a conference I attended there was a music group from a university who put on what I called “a Sister Act” type of show. It tried way too hard to be “cool” and ended up being a bit nerdy. The students weren’t bad singers, it was just overdone. You could tell that they were trying too hard to be relevant but it smacked of the disingenuous. When asked if we had any questions for the performers I had to stop myself because I wanted to ask:

“How often do you guys get beat up?”

Christians just try too hard sometimes.

Tony makes the point that Christians should have more of an influence in pop culture and he’s probably right–but not if their work isn’t up to snuff. I’ve seen too many syrupy-sweet movies that smack someone in the head with their overdone theme that I can’t possibly take them seriously.

Even the movie, Bella, a good movie about pro-life themes falls short of the standard. It’s better than most, but another movie about pro-life stole the show. It’s name: Juno.

People even started to say that that movie, created by fairly secular producers has a greater effect on teens and others considering abortion than Bella did. They often referred to “The Juno Effect” when discussing the film’s influence–some said it glamorized teen pregnancy and others said that it was a strong pro-life message. Even the USCCB included both Bella and Juno in a tie for their 2nd best movie of 2007.

What did most others say about Bella? Next to nothing. I did an informal poll today on my secular campus of 20 students. Not one student knew about the movie Bella, but they all knew about Juno.

Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen’s movie, The Way, seemed to strike the right chord. I think that’s a must see.

Even the Passion of the Christ, while a huge hit, needed a controversy to get an audience.

The truth is that faith is often subtle and when it is, it often has a greater effect. Nobody makes another person believe in anything. We can influence them certainly, but that takes great care, patience and love.

It also takes trust and conversation. A former student of mine said that he first met me on an alternative break when he sat next to me on the bus headed for New York City. He didn’t know what to talk with me about but he knew my past as a sports radio person and he began a conversation with me about that. In coming to see me as a “normal” person (for lack of a better term), he grew to trust me. I know I had several profound experiences on other trips with some others in similar ways. One even stayed up talking to me deep into the night about some serious matters.

But it all started rather subtly. God whispers through us much more readily than a scream or a shout or an obvious hammer blow. Movies and TV programs should do the same most of the time.

But that’s just my opinion! Inspiration strikes us all at different places on the journey. Where in the modern media has inspiration struck you?

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