I’m susceptible to the frequent lament of Christians that Christianity is fading from our culture. I worry about the church in a world that seems indifferent, even hostile to the faith. But it’s not just Christians who are feeling burdened by a decline in commonly held values.
Our culture as a whole is foundering in a tidal wave of pessimism. A National Journal piece entitled “In Nothing We Trust” explored how trust in most public goods has plummeted. The authors note that seven in 10 Americans believe their country is on the wrong track, naming a loss of hope in government, banks, business and media spokespersons. Additionally, “less than half the population expresses ‘a great deal’ of confidence in the public-school system or organized religion.” Sociologist professor Laura Hansen sums it up this way: “We have lost our gods.”
It just so happens that I recently embarked on my own non-scientific experiment and came to a conclusion that speaks to this malaise. I was on one of my daily walks, my brain a furious whorl of thought, when a fish-shaped stalk of grass on the ground impinged my peripheral vision. I had to laugh at my hyper-spirituality. I was seeing Jesus everywhere! Next thing you know, I scolded myself, you’ll being seeing Jesus’ face in spaghetti and sending photos of your supper to all your Facebook friends!
But, just for fun, I started logging how often Christian images intruded on my consciousness apart from my regular devotions and church-related activities. That night I happened to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Well, to clarify, tried to watch. I spent a good part of the movie averting my eyes due to the nudity and violence. But I was surprised to note that the protagonist’s daughter was a Christian. She wears a cross, says grace before a meal and informs her dad she is heading off to Bible camp. Moreover, she is the one who casually solves a puzzling mystery for her journalist father, identifying a series of number sequences as Scripture verses. I kept waiting for her to be reviled, ridiculed or victimized, but it never happened. In fact, she is portrayed as a subtle redemptive influence on her callous and self-absorbed parent.
Next thing you know, I scolded myself, you’ll being seeing Jesus’s face in spaghetti and sending photos of your supper to all your Facebook friends!
Over and over again, as I paid attention, Jesus was there in my world. His cross was everywhere, sometimes in admittedly strange places, like hanging on the neck of American Idol judge Steven Tyler or on the wristband of rap singer Flo Rida. Jesus flashes on my Facebook page as well, in posts from fellow Christians, in ads (Play Gospel Adventure!) or in news clips and shared links. References run the gamut from earnest to stupefyingly pious to plainly offensive.
And then there’s the world of serious journalism. National Geographic’s March cover story was “In the Footsteps of the Apostles.” The same month Huffington Post ran a story called “Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit the Church.” Newsweek’s April cover featured a well-groomed hipster Jesus.
I didn’t exert myself in any way to find these examples. Jesus was simply omnipresent in my day-to-day media consumption. How does this all pull together for me? I’m sheepishly reminded: Jesus is still alive and well. He is risen indeed. The Nicene Creed confidently asserts that Jesus “ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” That final consummation may come in ways I don’t expect or can’t even fathom.
I may decry these images of Jesus in the maw of a ravening media monster. I may worry that, unlike his servant Jonah, the Son of God might be consumed beyond his ability to be spit out whole from the belly of such a leviathan. But Jesus won’t be counted out. That ballooning despair expressed by seven in 10 regarding the “gods” of our culture has the potential to trigger a gold rush, to propel a massive sifting through a mountain of dirt for something of value - something more precious, more lasting, more genuine than the superficial connectedness of social media or the soothing drone of the entertainment factory. Jesus is still moving souls to seek Him in the 21st century. It’s His reality show, after all.
What Do You Think?
- What unexpected places has Jesus shown up in your life?
- Do these cultural references have spiritual significance or do they dilute the power of the Gospel?