For those who are in the church or live in some level of Christian community, it is common to refer to the forces and realities outside of Christian community as "the world" or "the culture." Typically our references are perjorative and our expectations fearful.
It is very true and appropriate that we make some very special theological affirmations about those within the church —
• We say that we are "in Christ" meaning that we are in relationship with Jesus and a triune God — we are joined to God!
• We might also say that we "walk in God's Spirit" meaning that we are in some manner recipients of God's Spirit (God's Spirit dwells within us).
These are critical affirmations that make knowing and experiencing God a source of joy, a unique privilege, and the defining mark of one's existence. These theological realites distinguish Christ followers from those who do not accept or find this path.
Even with these theological affirmations in mind, it can be very unfortunate for Christ followers to always use negative languages or tones to refer to the culture around us. When we do so, we often set up a false dichotomy between the sacred and secular in culture. From my experience, the things I might call "sacred" sometimes don't seem so sacred. Often I am moved by how "sacred" certain aspects of our "secular" culture have become.
An old but favorite example — I remember the first time that I read John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany." I don't know if I'll ever be as moved by a Christ figure in literature as I was by Irving's diminutive, prophetic character, Owen Meany. After finishing this novel (about 12 years ago), I was so shaken that I took a day off (it was no choice, I wasn't able to work) to mourn, contemplate, and enjoy aspects of the Christ narrative that are so often lost to me. (For those of you who are Owen Meany fans, I keep a bronze armadillo on my desk at home to remind me of Owen, the voice, the shot, and the power of this narrative!) This work is sacred and secular. It is a powerful and prophetic voice of the Christian narrative and God's redemptive heart from an unexpected source. John Irving does not need to convert (I know nothing of his spiritual commitments) for this to become sacred.
I'm nervous that our tone and language about culture can blind us to a series of critical realities. When we demand a constant and sharp dichotomy between the sacred and secular, we heighten the following risks:
• We can become oblivious to the ways that Christian community is shaped by the assumptions of our culture that are antithetical to the gospel. Make no mistake, many of our cultural assumptions war against the soul of the gospel. We can be blind to how consumerism, the American dream, individualism, self-help, relentless busyness, and socio-economic stratification have become codified and even blessed in Christian community.
• We can diminish God as Creator and redeemer. God is the creator of our whole world — all who follow God's way and all those who reject the gospel narrative, our environment and world as well as those who live in it, and every community and nation in our world. God's redemptive hopes and plans include all of creation. God's love goes way beyond those who are Christ followers and the communites and products that we call "sacred."
• We can diminish the Scriptures and the texts we call sacred. The power of these texts is that they come to us in human language and in a human context. They are another act of incarnation. They remind of us a God who speaks understandably to us and intervenes in our lives. I accept the authority of the Scriptures because there is so much "non-sacred" material in them, so much truth about our lives and the world we have created, so much mystery, so much that confounds my logic.
• We can limit God's voice and invitation in our lives. God's voice comes to us in so many ways beyond the (seemingly) safe confines of sacred community. Through artists, writers, politicians, critics, and even national enemies — God speaks. Israel had this experience so often — God's word and direction coming from the mouths of their enemies.
So let's not be naive to the aspects of our culture found outside and inside Christian community that dull us to God's voice and manipulate or even contradict the gospel. But let's also not create language that limits God's redemptive voice in our lives and community.
So go out and see "Saved" and ask where is God's voice in this parody. Read, write, interpret, create, form community, and think with a perspective shaped by God's redemptive narrative. God's voice is pleading, shouting, laughing, cajoling, provoking, comforting, and inviting us in so many places — many places that we do not expect. But, isn't that the great part, expecting a stone and receiving bread in even desolate places.