Monday, September 13, 2010 at 10:40AM
Yesterday at Veritas we began a 3 week series called "Finding God in Culture". We took a look at the TV Show Desperate Housewives and how it connected to the value of being a safe place for a spiritual search. Below is my message from Sunday and the discussion questions that followed. (We'll be posting the audio from the sermon soon.)
Today we begin a 3 week series entitled “Finding God in Culture.” Throughout our 3 weeks we will be taking a look at media (TV, Movies, and Music) and seeking to find God’s fingerprint in them. We’ll also seek to find out what we can learn about being a disciple of Jesus through these various mediums. We’ll also talk about how we can be formed spiritually through our encounter with pop culture.
But before we truly dive into our 1st encounter with finding God in culture, we need to do a little background work on understanding the pop culture and media that is all around us and how it works in our world.
When we look at the culture around us, especially pop culture and media, we need to see these things as both a map and a mirror. Think about what these two things do for us. They allow us to see where we are going and where we currently are, as well as reflect our current “condition”. Or as Walt Mueller, president of Center for Parent and Youth Understanding in E-Town says, “Youth culture is a map and a mirror. It is both directive and reflective. We watch it to see where it's sending us and our kids. We watch it to see where we are. We monitor, deconstruct, and exegete it to know how to bring the map of the Biblical world and life view to bear on the realities that exist.” This is the very reason that we are looking at pop culture in our 3 week series, to understand where our culture is heading and where it currently is, and also how it reflects where people in our world are, and where they are heading.
In today’s clips taken from Desperate Housewives we see the main character going to church and desperately seeking answers to her questions about life, faith, and God. If we look at these clips as a map and a mirror, we realize that there are many people who are seeking answers to these very spiritual and existential questions regarding life, faith, spirituality, God, and the kingdom. I believe that as a map, this points to that fact that the more we go along in our world, the more questions and wrestling will be happening in our world. I also believe that all too often the last place people are and will look towards to help them wrestle with these huge issues is and will be the church. Why is that? Why are Oprah, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and the Deli Lama on the forefront of people’s minds when it comes to the spiritual questions and issues of our day and the church is the last option or no option at all? I have some inkling that I know why.
The other week I had received a copy of a book called “Colors of God” in the mail from the Ooze Viral Bloggers. I read the book and then write a blog about it. There was a part of the book that I believe opens up, to me, the reason people look elsewhere when it comes to spiritual questions. The authors tells the story of a woman who was having some very real questions and doubts about faith, but didn’t feel like she would share it with anyone at all. Here is a quote from the book, “I sat there thinking, Are you kidding me? She had some very reasonable questions about God and faith in the midst of a real tragedy and had to keep it completely to herself, feeling like a Judas.” The author continues, “She said that she started to ask a few questions about this or that at her woman’s prayer group, and they all began to lay hands on her and pray for her and give her verses- this confirmed to her that she could not be safe: ‘The church is not a safe place for the questions I have.’”
And so that is what it comes down to. People believe that the church is not a safe place for a spiritual search. But how have we gotten here? Let’s look at a story in which Jesus was asking questions and it was encouraged and helpful, not discouraged and not helpful. The story is found in Luke 2:41-51 and is the only story told in the 4 Gospels of Jesus life as a child (except for the birth narratives).
“Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
Let’s look at this text and see how it applies to our encounter with Desperate Housewives.
So here we see Jesus coming of age and going to the Passover feast. When the feast was over and everyone headed back home, Jesus stayed behind but no one knew it. After traveling for a day, they began to realize that he wasn’t with them, so they turned around and headed back to Jerusalem to find him. They probably looked everywhere they could think of, finally coming to the temple and seeing him sitting among the teachers of the law in the temple courts. It’s what he was doing in the temple courts that I want to focus a bit of time on. The Scriptures put it this way, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” He was curious about the faith and wanted to ask the learned men questions about it, even though he was the answer to the men’s questions. This picture of Jesus found in this story is the picture of a precocious learner and not that of a teacher of the religious leaders. Jesus was proposing questions to them all the while respecting the law and the prophets. There is no reason to suppose that this was for the purpose of perplexing or confounding the religious leaders. The questions were doubtlessly proposed in a respectful manner and the answers listened to with proper deference to their position within the religious community. In other words, Jesus didn’t set them up so that he could show off his wisdom and answers. I believe there was a true curiosity and hunger to learn that Jesus had, even though he was God in the flesh.
The other interesting thing about this situation is that this question, answer, discussion format was the way that the Rabbis of Jesus day taught. It was normal for people (maybe not 12 year olds all the time), especially religious leaders, to sit around, ask questions, and dialogue around texts of the Old Testament, especially the 1st 5 books called The Torah. Sometimes this process was called Midrash, when they sat around and debated and tried to get at the meaning of a text. They would bring up opposing viewpoints for the sake of discussion. And so probably what was taking place that day when Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple was that he was participating in a midrash around the Jewish faith, traditions, and beliefs.
Something else stands out in this text which I believe is connected to what took place in the temple is the statement found in verse 52, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” I believe that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature because of the questions, answers, and dialogue that took place on that day in the temple. I believe that there were intrinsically linked together. To gain learning, wisdom, and understanding in all of life, not just in our faith journey, requires us to ask a lot of questions. Or put another way by the German Jewish inventor Charles Steinmetz "No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions."
One of the core values of what we are about as Veritas is that we are the kind of community that creates a safe place for a spiritual search. The kind of community that is open to questions, doubts, and struggles. That we can be open to each other about the things that we are wrestling with and that no question should be off limits. The kind of community that Lynette in Desperate Housewives needs. The kind of community, which I believe, many people, who are represented by Lynette, need and desire. The kind of community which I need and desire and I believe you need and desire. A safe place for a spiritual search.
So let’s continue our discussion together around Finding God in Culture, the clips we have just watched and will watch from Desperate Housewives, the questions we have in our lives, and how we can be a people and a community that is a safe place for a spiritual search.
3 Discussion Questions:
1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, reflections, etc... concerning the 3 clips that we played from Desperate Housewives?
2. What questions regarding God, spirituality, and faith do you hear from those around you? What questions do you have regarding these things?
3. How can you and I be "safe" towards those with questions? How can Veritas continue to live out our call to be a safe place for a spiritual search?
Next week we'll look at the movie Avatar.