Thursday, March 29, 2012
I Could Not Possibly Pass This Up
For years I’ve been trying to help people see that popular consumer culture is a form of religion. It offers us a sense of value, identity, and context that traditional religions once provided. Similarly, pop culture has sacred symbols. How do I know this? Because when one of these symbols is altered the faithful will rise to protest the act of irreverence.Now I want to stop down here for a second becasue I can here all sorts of church changer types going "yeah!" When it comes to comics, I understand. I have been quizzed endlessly by many who want to know if the recent spate of comic book movies are "real?" By which they generally mean "true to the comic." I always respond, "They are fictional characters! There is no 'real' here." In the comics most of the characters have morphed and changed over the decades.
The latest victim of pop-culture blasphemy: Superman. Photographs have leaked from the production of Warner Brothers’ new film Man of Steel showing actor Henry Cavill wearing a blue Superman suit without red trunks. When the film debuts in 2013 it will be the first time the character is depicted on screen without the red under(over)pants. Nerds are enraged.
The strong reaction to Superman’s costume change is coming from a community that is highly invested in the character. To many of them he represents something iconic, good, pure, and nostalgic. Some hold Superman to be a patriotic symbol in the same category as the Stars and Stripes and George Washington. He stands for “truth, justice, and the American way.” For others, and I must put myself in this category, he is a symbol of childhood that triggers positive memories of backyard action figure battles and treks to 7-11 to buy comic books.
When we invest symbols, like Superman, with this kind of meaning and significance, we expect them to remain timeless and unchanging. They serve as vessels that hold something precious–our nation, our childhood, our memories. And the permanence of these symbols only increases in weight as cultural changes accelerate. So when the symbol itself changes–by having his underwear removed, for example–the values and memories we associate with it suddenly feel insecure or worse, attacked. One of the fixed points of reference in our universe unexpectedly shifts, and we lash out at the person who moved it.
But when it comes to church I think we have should demand changelessness. True, the church is an imperfect reflection of a perfect God, but even so, after millenia, I would hope the basic structure of the image was reasonable, and wholesale change was not what was called for.
Jethani continues with some other lessons, but the last one I find really problematic:
Ultimately the people will decide what’s important and not the person with the microphone. President Obama, for example, has learned through plummeting poll numbers that while he wanted to talk about health care reform, the rest of country wanted to focus on unemployment. And Anthony Weiner may have wanted to talk about reforming the financial sector, but everyone else wanted to discuss his Twitter pics. Bill Hybels is fond of saying that the first job of leaders is to define reality. But doing that means taking the time to listen to the people and what they’re saying is important.Now that, I think depends on your church. Most churches are authoritarian and that is what he argues against, but I have also watched my church, which is supposed to be guided democratically turn increasingly dictatorial.
No person has exclusive access to God's will. I do believe that His will is best expressed through a democratic process, BUT, and it is a big but, submission is the key to healthy spirituality. The church is not pop culture and we do not merely give the people what they want.
OK, serious comic lesson ends.