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A View from the Altar / Painting idylls at the landfill
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Painting idylls at the landfill

Business buzzword

Business managers for a long time have been overusing the word “excellence” in an attempt to get their employees to think in terms of doing their best.  Ford Motor Company tried this a few years back with their “Quality is Job One” slogan.  Zenith, the TeeVee manufacturer, used to advertise that the quality goes in before the name goes on.  These efforts were as much for internal consumption by the workers as for advertising value to the customers.  It was supposed to create in the workers a habit of mind that accepted nothing less than the best, and in the customers it was to create an expectation of products that do what they’re designed to do, don’t break down, and are worth the added expense to get something better.

There have been some notable successes along this track.  The Japanese economy of the 1970s and 1980s was built by people who made products that were way better than comparable American goods.  Sony led the way with stereo and hi-fi equipment that was the best, period.  If you buy a Honda car, you expect, and virtually always get, a well made, long lasting, trouble free car. 

There are some companies still doing this in America.  If you’re into hunting, Leupold rifle scopes and binoculars are the best you can buy.  You can pay way more and get German made Zeiss or Swarovski optics, but you’re just buying overpriced German workers and marketing snootiness.  Nobody makes a better riflescope than Leupold no matter how much they charge.  They make and sell excellence, right here in the USA.

Counterculture grunge

There is an equally large counterculture out there which is deliberately running the opposite way.  This accounts for the fad in tattoos, the weirdball connection between motorcycles and obesity, gangsta culture with its pants on the ground and hat on sideways, the resurgence of the hippie look with men sporting pony tails and leprous women who shun bathing.  For every secular man who is trying to get rich by producing the best widget, there is another secular man giving the finger to the establishment by looking like a derelict. 

If you want to see just how ridiculous this whole thing can get, check out the movie stars who are patchwork composites of every social trend.  The men carefully muss their hair to look like schizophrenic people yet wear sunglasses that cost $1000.  The women deface their bodies with tattoos and then spend a fortune on dental veneers.

Wave catchers

One of the central features of modern evangelicalism is this matter of trying to “catch the wave,” sociologically speaking.  They spend a great deal of effort trying to identify the next big thing so they can run out in front of it trying to fake leadership.  The idea is to look hip so the Secular Man will be naturally attracted to the church.  Once he’s in there, we whip the Gospel on him and, gotcha, so to speak.

The problem with this approach is that the world system is not a monolithic bloc all marching in lock step like so many storm troopers in a Nazi parade.  Two of its big divisions I’ve described here, the Establishment and the Antis, are opposed to one another.  Whatever the next big thing is among the Establishment will be the object of contempt by the Antis.  So which trajectory should we try to hurl ourselves in front of?  The real world is infinitely more complicated, divvied up by every sort of thing that makes humans what they are.  There is not one “wave” for the church to get hold of.  To think this way is to misunderstand both the world and the Gospel.  And if you think about that for a minute, you realize we’re talking about being as dumb as it’s possible to get, being stupid in both kingdoms.

Wiser children

Jesus said the children of this world are wiser in some respects than the children of light.  At least some units of the Secular Man’s kingdom are committed to doing their very best.  In whatever field of interest it may be, they have cultivated an interest in being the best.  You have to respect that, I think.  It wasn’t the kingdom of God that built the Hubble telescope.  Whatever you think of the expense of such projects, those guys did a good job.

I’m thinking here in terms of comparison of how we do things corporately in worship.  Try this: Go to a church that is considered successful and try to summarize your observations.  In most cases, you’ll see people getting as far away from excellence as they can.  In the manners of the people, in the music, in the dress, in the preaching, in the whole enterprise, there seems to be a deliberate embrace of whatever is low, base, common.  What seems to have happened in the uber-casual churches is that people have picked out one tiny aspect of secular culture, which is the anti-establishment crowd of grungy people going around looking their worst, and they’ve figure it’s got to be the Next Big Thing.  So, what to do?  Catch that wave, brutha!  And that is why church after church is, as Spurgeon might have said, getting on the down grade.

Music

Nowhere is crud culture more evident than in the world of music where being countercultural is, in its own paradoxical way, a form of the establishment.  Secular musicians adopt a look which might best be called chic-n-scrounge, studiously neglect either to shave or grow a beard, embrace uniformly leftist views on just about everything, dress in sport coats over tee-shirts, wear flip-flops with their dress slacks….  You know the shtick.

And now the church has embraced that and made it the new standard.  It’s not simply that the new music is bad, which it mostly is.  By glomming onto a culture of cruddy clothes with three-day beards and brainless, tuneless music, the musical leadership in our churches as bought into the whole countercultural approach to life and advertised it to the world.  Instead of lifting up Christ, the predominant message to the world is more like hippies-R-us.  That’s not good, because we’re teaching people to serve Christ by deliberately offering him their worst instead of their best.

Music is a central part of worship.  God gave us the ability to sing and make joyful sounds because it better expresses the deepest things of the human soul.  What would David have been without the psalms he wrote and sang?  Isaac Watts was a good poet, but set his lyrics to a suitable melody, and you have hymns that will continue to be sung for all time.  But what will be said of this generation except that they sought to associate themselves with the slouchiest subset of a decaying civilization?  Crudely banging around on amped up electronics with slapdash lyrics and two or three phrases sung over and over and over and over…   Saints of God, call me a music prig if it makes you feel better, but this trend is not going to strengthen the work of the Kingdom of God in America. 

Music and worship leaders, you need to get over this infatuation with sleaze and get back to the real business of using music to exalt Christ.  Christians need to leave the worship service feeling as if they’ve been to the mount of transfiguration.  Aping the manners and forms of the worst icons of American culture is no way to serve the King.  You can’t paint idylls while looking at the landfill.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

3 Comments

  1. Dad

    Amen, Amen and Amen

    Posted on 02-Mar-10 at 20:53 pm | Permalink
  2. Steve,

    Your observations made me think of recent interview I did with my friend, Craig, a former mega church pastor:

    http://dailyweaving.blogspot.com/2010/02/interview-with-craig.html

    and also related, Podvig – http://dailyweaving.blogspot.com/2010/02/podvig-lesson-from-russian-orthodox.html

    By the way, I’ve been thinking of your family — how is the adoption process going?

    Posted on 04-Mar-10 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  3. The bureaucracy is grinding along slowly, thanks. We hope to finish all the paperwork this year…. yes, it really does take that long!

    Posted on 04-Mar-10 at 20:52 pm | Permalink

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