American Idol debuted June 11, 2002 (Full disclosure: I had to look this up on Wikipedia [so you know it's true] because I’ve honest-to-goodness never watched an episode and I don’t say that with any sort of culture snob pride because I love pop culture, it’s just not my type of thing [which I guess is a type of cultural snobbery in and of itself]).
When it came out, my wife and I lived in Louisville, KY, where I was a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (thought we weren’t “Southern Baptist” when we moved there, but that’s an entirely different story). I was surrounded by people either trying to ignore popular culture, minimize it or “Christianize” it. That is to say, it’s not uncommon for Christians to very publicly demonize anything and everything that’s not explicitly “Christian” in message, or to try and make it more “Christian” than it was ever meant to be. So, it’s no surprise that much air was displaced about how much the show revealed about Americans trying to make entertainers “idols” and what this revealed about the spiritual tendencies of the human heart.
I agree that the show was poorly named, even though it did reveal just how many people have an unhealthy desire to be famous. And, while I agree that mankind was created to love God more than anyone/thing else, I don’t think the show’s true tragedy is that it taps into the idol-factory of the human heart.
Though the show has aired for 12 seasons, I can name for you exactly two winners: Kelly Clarkson and Phillip Phillips. The first one, I know because I do pay attention to pop culture (you can see that I stopped paying attention to American Idol right after the first season). The second name I know because I value originality in artistic expression. Which brings me to my rant.
I loved Mumford and Sons‘ first album. In fact, it was my #2 favorite album of 2009. My wife had the chance to see them at Phoenix’ Rhythm Room, before they were the next Dave Matthews Band. I didn’t care as much for Babel, but that’s not really the point. Anyways, my wife and I sometimes listen to Pandora around the house and there were a couple of times when we had on the Bon Iver channel and this song would come on. Both of us would swear it was Mumford and Sons and then Shazam it. It wasn’t Mumford and Sons. It was Phillip Phillips.
And it turns out, Mumford and Sons doesn’t remember recording the song either. And herein lies my real problem with American Idol (as a Christian and lover of art): it reveals a different tragedy of the American heart: we’re willing to forgo originality for the sake of popularity. We are willing to water things down so that they are more palatable. In fact, we are encouraged to do so.
American Idol has revealed that, for so many, the goal is not actually creative, original artistic expression: the goal is to be famous. And how better to be famous than by finding what’s already popular and just trimming the edges off a bit. Make it a bit poppier. A bit more polished.
I fully admit that, since I can only name two winners out of 12 that this may not be a fair characterization of the show at all. And if it’s not, I’m sure I will hear it from people. After all, if there’s a true creative diamond in the rough buried in that other batch of 10 winners, I’d love to hear them!
But I am reminded of a quote from John Irving’s A Prayer For Own Meany:
“I will tell you what is my overriding perception of the last twenty years: that we are a civilization careening toward a succession of anticlimaxes – toward an infinity of unsatisfying, and disagreeable endings. ”
It seems to me that the real tragedy revealed by American Idol is that American idolatry is so shallow.
Last week, we took all eight kids to the beach. Kristi and I did not anticipate this trip being much of a vacation for us. We were determined to go to the beach with 8 healthy kids and come back to the desert with 8 healthy kids.
When we first got our newest three foster children, I noted that if you go to Target with eight kids, “you will get stares. And comments,” so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that we got stares. And comments. I mean, we could literally see people counting with their fingers in the air (. . . 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 . . . 6 . . . 7. . . ) I would spot them as we walked by and help them finish: “Eight. We have eight kids.” This, of course, was always greeted with a look of astonishment and a chorus of WOW! That’s a lot of kids! or Well God bless you! or, Well you’ve sure got your hands full, don’t you?! Like I don’t know I have a lot of kids!
How have we come to this, that a large family is looked at like some sort of spectacle. Now, I’m not saying every Christian family should be a large family. Not by any means. We never intended to be a large family. But, what I am saying is that there is something very backwards, very idolatrous of a culture which frowns upon large families. Have we really lain so low on the altar of self-worship that we can’t imagine being put out by raising the next generation? But I digress.
Each time (and it happened more than once) we got the looks, the stares and the counts, I have to confess: my first thought was something along the lines of Yes, I know it’s a lot of kids, but if only a couple of you gawkers stepped up and helped the orphans, I might not be such a spectacle! Hear me: I am not defending my initial thoughts. Nor do I believe that every single family is called to foster or adopt. I’m just saying that continually strikes me as odd that we have opened up our home to help with one of our modern blights and we are continually rebuffed by society for not fitting in.
I mean, come on. It’s not an easy thing to even get licensed to foster. It takes months and lost of intrusiveness on the part of our government. It costs; time and money. And you don’t stop sacrificing once you have the foster kids. That’s only the beginning. You are literally opening your home in ’round the clock service. You have visits by “first responders.” Visits to pediatricians. Visits from CPS. Visits from your licensing agency. You have continuing education hours. You have to re-certify your license. You have to feed the kids the state has asked you to care for. If you’re lucky, the state will help pay for food. If you’re lucky, the state will help pay you to keep the child(ren), though they will look for every opportunity to not pay.
And yet, none of that matters. We are compelled to serve in this way, so we are compelled to sacrifice in order to sacrifice. It would just be nice if we weren’t gawked at in the process. It would be nice if we didn’t have to seek people’s approval because of our sacrifice. And, thankfully, we don’t.
Thankfully, we have all of the approval we could ever hope for, and more. Do you remember when Jesus went out to his crazy cousin to be baptized? And, as He came up from the water, the Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove and a voice came from Heaven, saying “You are my Son in whom I am well pleased?” What if we knew that, when God looks at us, He says the same thing of us. What if we trusted that Jesus was, even now, interceding on our behalf? That we were free from seeking man’s approval, so we are all the more free to love sacrificially. Because we now that e have everything to gain and nothing to lose?
Then, and only then can we walk along the pier, under the lighthouse, and, without pause, say, with a smile: ”Eight. We have eight kids.”
I was not in the courtroom, so I don’t know the jury’s decision-making process. I, like you, don’t know what actually happened that fateful night, though the initial sketch of events leaves me questioning Zimmerman. I don’t pretend by any stretch of the imagination that our “justice system” is always just. Far from it. And this case has made us all the more aware of this truth.
I wonder if the reason this case has received so much attention is because it actually makes us aware of what’s always bubbling under the surface. Racial tensions are real whether we live in their reality or not.
This has been something I’ve thought a lot about over the past few months, especially as my family and I have entered the foster care process. We have been the recipients of a great deal of privilege. Privilege which we are not always aware of and privilege which we certainly take for granted.
Many people wanted this case, like so many that have gone before, to deal with the underlying issues. but the jury was not asked to deal with privilege and racial tension. They were asked to deal with the “facts” surrounding Zimmerman and Martin; nothing more. And yet they cannot help the fact that people are asking much bigger questions. Questions for which no one may have an answer.
Louis C.K. expounds just a bit on this idea for Jay Leno (yes, there are some bleeps, sorry):
I don’t have any great conclusion here other than the fact that I am glad to not only hear complaints of injustice but questions of privilege as well. This is an issue American Christians must own and explore.
- Read Ed Stetzer’s piece for Christianity Today: “3 Things Privileged Christians Can Learn from the Trayvon Martin Case.”
My wife and I were tremendously blessed last night by one of Church of the Cross’ Missional Communities who watched our kids so we could have a date night. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but remember, we currently have eight kids (yes, I know, All Aboard The Crazy Train)!
We went to an Indian restaurant that used to be a Black Bear Diner and was still decorated as such. For most of the time, we were the only customers there, which was both nice and semi-creepy. The food was great, but I digress. I say that we were tremendously blessed, and that’s true, but not just because my wife and I got to spend some much-coveted time together. It has reminded me about so much of what we as the Church of the Cross family value and hold dear. I was reminded of the importance of community in discipleship. Consider just some of the ways this is true even when we watch one another’s children for a date night:
We are tangibly bearing one another’s burden. When that Missional Community offered to watch all eight of our children, they were indeed helping to bear our burden. I don’t mean that kids are a burden, but come on, eight kids is a lot. We are simply tired. All of the time. So, for our church family to give us a break, even for a few hours, is something more tangible than it might initially seem.
We are being reminded of the importance of marriage. By watching our kids so we could go out, everyone involved, even the children, were reminded of the importance of marriage. One of the things I often talk about with couples in pre-marital counseling is that, once they marry, they are a family. They don’t have to wait until they have children to “become a family,” children enlarge the family, but they do not make it. And marriage is at the center of the family. If the marriage is suffering, odds are the home-life is also suffering. Our Church of the Cross family recognizes the importance of marriage so much that they are willing to help make dates happen for others.
We are learning to parent better by doing it with others. Though we are not always as conscious of this as we maybe should be, when we come together as a group of several adults to watch a large group of children, we are continually watching how others do it and we’re talking notes. Or at least we should be. Not everyone parents the same way. And frankly, some are just naturally better at it than others. So when we come together and care for children in community, it is a great opportunity to learn from those who do it better than us, and to humbly admit where we might improve.
Though there is much more that could be said, I’ll just leave it at this for now. When community comes together, even for something we might not think is a big deal, like to watch children, we grow stronger. We get a glimpse into the daily routines of others and we get a better idea of how to serve one another.
Thank you to the Church of the Cross family for living this out.
The question is who is most offensive, right? Who shows more grace? I shouldn’t have to say this, but please do not confuse Westboro with actual Christianity.