As Christians, we can spot it a mile away. "Christian" rock, "Christian" rap, "Christian" pop. Re-packaged versions of our secular favorites, "Christian" stylings attempt to put a more meaningful face on the pop and progressive culture we love. But this face comes across as suspect; like I said, we can spot this stuff a mile away. And, we should ask ourselves, "What good is this face anyway?" Whether a secular or Christian veneer glosses the culture we love to consume, shouldn’t we be looking deeper than this? Pop culture and progressive lifestyles might fuel our initial interests, but do they fuel our interior spirituality?
Here’s the deal: we love fame, we love star-power, and if you rock…well, all the better. It’s a simple fact of the 21st century. As Christians who’ve been entrenched in media culture nearly all our lives, we look to rockers and rappers to understand which places we can stand and yet still "defend the faith," staying true to our roots in Christ.
Our first stop? Christians gone public—secular culture is where we head. Let’s be honest, who really flips to the DayStar network first? My heart goes out to all of us who begrudgingly have to admit this fact. We’d like to say Christian rock is loved just the same, but it’s not. That’s why Jars of Clay, P.O.D. and other bands who’ve crossed the secular divide continually receive the praise and publicity.
Fact is, we check these bands hoping to pick up some tips. After all, they’ve been able to make the individual, internal relevance of Christ apparent in an external way that strikes a chord with the secular world. And isn’t the secular world of media, entertainment and culture where we really choose to live each day?
Popular culture serves, for many of us, as our weigh station in life. However, our choice to move in secular circles shouldn’t translate to a dependency on others to bring Christ into this space. We can’t expect the crossover success of our Christian favorites to buoy our individual notions of spiritual relevance. Just because U2 has found a way to externalize the Christianity that drives them at the core doesn’t mean that we can simply look to their model hoping that they externalize Christ for us. Making Christianity relevant within the pop-fueled circles we choose to live in is work that can never be done by grafting someone else’s understanding of Christ onto our lives. Failing to take up this work as individuals means the beginning of "spiritual malaise."
This is a difficult concept to understand. Doesn’t the success of Christian crossovers simply scream, "Hey you…this is how to be a culturally relevant Christian! See, I love God and I still found a way to become famous; I still thrive in the media culture we’ve grown to love"? Unfortunately, the answer is no. What crossover success should scream to you is, "Hey, I’ve learned to externalize what I was keeping inside the church, or myself, for so long. I was true to myself, and guess what? Others responded!" The simple fact is this: These bands have been able to externalize their internal faith across the traditional division between what is religious and what is secular. Furthermore, the externalization of feelings we hold within often solidifies our understanding of what we care about, what we’re committed to.
Spiritual malaise is the opposite. We have no solidification of what we care about because we’ve never externalized it, put it out there; we’ve never looked at it outside the container of Christianity. Instead, we’ve always looked to others to "show us how," letting them do the work we so desperately need to be doing ourselves.
Finding a way to externalize our Christianity in secular space is one way to thwart spiritual malaise. We don’t need to become rock stars, but we do need to quit segregating our lives into compartments, forever fixing our eyes upon the famous few who cross over (and away from) these segregated spaces. We need to let go of useless formulations for living a Christian life like: worship band = externalize my faith, secular space = watch Creed externalize their faith. Spiritual malaise forever shadows those of us who rely on rockers, and other artists, to give public props to God. Malaise follows those of us who pull our Christianity in and out of our pocket depending on the company we keep.
Simple honesty can cure this, though. If we can admit that the landscape we love is popular culture, defined by the pluralism we see on screen and listen to on stage, then that is where we need to find our relevance–in the environment that fuels us, that we’re passionate about being a part of. This doesn’t mean we don’t go to church and revolve in some "Christian circles," but it does come clean as to where we pony up to party. A life lived across boundaries—one that rocks religion and the rest of it too—is the life we’re really living.
Those who are lauded most for crossing the Christian/secular divide inspire us because they model this philosophy. These bands seem "real" because they revolve in "real" space, space that is varied and pluralistic. These bands rock us because they seem to have found a way to break from the partitioned practices of the Christian ghetto. From Ozzfest to the Grammys, there’s no divide; Christianity is externalized right alongside all categories of content, all sensibilities of style.
Bands come and go, but we have to live with ourselves forever. And we have to live inside the spaces we create for ourselves. The longer we depend on others to bring Christ into these spaces, the longer we ultimately pursue a life of "window gazing." By linking our sense of spiritual relevance to what we see modeled in the window, and by letting those models transcend the compartments we refuse to tear down, we ultimately window gaze in order to fit a mannequin: ourselves. To counter this sense of emptiness or spiritual malaise, don’t shy away from externalizing what you know to be real for yourself upon the wider landscape you’d like to live in. You’ll be surprised what your passion will contribute toward an understanding of what you truly care about and believe. Like the stars you look to for reference and reassurance, you just might find that by doing this, you’ve made yourself "real" too.