Thursday, May 10, 2007

Now She's Meddling

"The Atlantic" is not exactly Proletariat reading material. It's not, for example, sitting on the table in the grimy waiting room of your local car repair shop or in the magazine rack at your local beauty parlor. At least not the ones in my neighborhood. This is a magazine with articles about "Stalin on the Eastern Front" and "A Safari by air over Namibia's haunting sand" and "Why we should worry about the military's increased political assertiveness" and "Freeloading aesthetes and the women who kept them." There's a whole section on POETRY every month, ok? Enough said. But in this month's issue there is a fascinating article praising, against all odds, the virtues of Reality TV. Nothing is easier to make fun of. Mention it at your next social gathering and watch people turn their noses up, as though somebody in the room just had the audacity to fart in public. No one with any CLASS would admit that they're a fan - and I mean a real fan, not an embarrassed "I-can't-believe-I-watch-it-either-I-just-can't-help-myself" fan - but a real FAN who really CARES about whether or not LaKisha Jones will have a career after getting booted off Idol before her time (Blake survived?!? Puh-lease!!) and whether or not she'll be able to support her little girl, struggling single mom that she is. [If you missed it live(!), you can catch up at http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/sns-ap-tv-american-idol,1,7040377.story?coll=chi-entertainmentfront-hed] Reality TV is a sign of America's demise, right? The end times have to be near! And the 45 million people who voted for this week's Idol are barbarians who are responsible for the decline of our civilization. God help us all. But this author, convincingly!, argues that nothing on TV today takes more risks or is more vibrant. "Real Housewives," he says, charts the spiritual decay of life in gated communities where financial anxieties, fraying families, fear of aging (and, we can surmise, the absence of sidewalks) leaves people grasping for meaning and happiness. "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" captures the stories of real people who have fallen through the cracks in the Bush era, ravaged by health-care crises and layoffs. There is no predictability in Reality TV, no assurance that, in the end, lessons will be learned and order restored. What's more, says the author, "Narrative vibrancy is not the only thing that electrifies these shows. Reality TV presents some of the most vital political debate in America, particularly about class and race." The author, Michael Hirschorn, makes his living producing Reality TV shows and so you might expect him to have a biased opinion. But he's right that no one is even bothering to look for the good in these shows. They just roll their eyes. And I've got to admit, I was almost cheering when he finally made his point that the only reason anybody is picking on Reality TV is because they are snobs. Now maybe I was so taken by Hirschorn's willingness to name the ugly classist attitudes that run like poison through the crowds I travel in because, although my car radio is tuned to NPR, my vehicle of choice is a pick up truck. And I happen to have my most meaningful worship experiences when there is a good drummer driving the beat. And I feel uncomfortable when the preacher uses that "God" voice and insists on using words that have more than three syllables or sound like Greek to me (because they actually ARE Greek). And it makes me a little nuts when the worship leaders are prancing around in robes that were originally designed to keep priests warm in the unheated cathedrals of Northern Europe but now form the basis of a Sunday morning pageant, instead of just dressing and sounding and acting like normal people. And I really LIKE it when there's a projector and screen in the sanctuary, especially if it's being used to show movie clips or photos that illustrate the point of the sermon and communcate the good news and make the Biblical stories come alive. Maybe I was cheering for Hirschorn because my dad was a mill rat - a factory worker - and I was so incredibly offended to learn that one of my colleagues, when I was a member of a seminary faculty, told his students that lay worship assistants (whose main job is to read prayers the pastor writes out for them and hold the book so the pastor can make just the right hand motions at just the right time) can jokingly be referred to as "blue collar clerics." Another colleague taught his students that guitars have no place in worship because "all guitars make people think about is sex." I'm so not kidding. It is my experience and my observation that when it comes to doing worship - and being church - differently, a lot of the resistance comes down to a simple and horrible case of classism. And I just can't figure out why we're not dealing with this. We seem willing enough to at least talk about our racism, our sexism, and the various issues we have around sexual orientation. But we aren't talking about why we don't have the NASCAR crowd at worship on Sunday morning. And, since NASCAR is like the most watched sport in the country, this might explain why we have such a hard time reaching ANYBODY outside our walls including, by the way, our own kids (who are, of course, the biggest consumers of Reality TV). Frankly, I think most of the people INSIDE our walls would secretly like to see things be different (i.e. a little "Reality Worship," perhaps?!?) but they think they have to dress up & "worship UP" to be a part of our churches. In other words, while we long ago stopped telling non-Western people that they have to act Western in order to be Christian, we are still telling working class/blue collar/proletariat people that they have to act snooty (for example, listen to classical music for at least one hour a week and look like you're enjoying it...if you're in a traditional church, that is...listen to jazz and wear your best torn up jeans...if you're in an emerging one) to be members of our churches. I don't think anybody explains better than Martin Luther why it's important for worship to be deeply contextual (see the article below about his Preface to the German Mass)...but all that theology aside...I just think it sucks that we treat people so poorly. Sorry if I appear to be meddling where I don't belong. I'll just slink away and pop in my DVD of "Talladega Nights." That'll keep me laughing...and out of your hair for awhile.

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The Bottom Line

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love becomes slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:13-14