In the High Holy Days of Popular Culture

In Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith speaks about cultural liturgies that form the identity of those who participate in them. Cultural liturgies create a vision of “the good life” and give shape to our desires. They orient one’s life toward an object to be loved and valued above all others.

Tonight we stand on the cusp of one of culture’s high holy days: the Academy Awards. Friends, it is Oscar Eve! Tomorrow, the priests will be dressed in their finest sacerdotal regalia as they process into the temple. The laity worldwide will watch as the liturgy unfolds. The chosen priests will instruct us in the truth when they are called forward to raise the golden idol in the air. Even apart from the spoken word, the spectacular visuals will capture our imaginations.

I am a child of television and a grandchild of the movies. These are my people.

So why I am I thinking of the ancient Christian text commonly known as the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. It describes, in part, the requirements for those who wish to enter the catechumenate and prepare for Christian baptism.

If someone is an actor or does shows in the theater, either he shall cease or he shall be rejected.

Way back when, when I was younger, I heard about some crazy people called “holiness Christians” who didn’t go to movies or listen to popular music. Boy, am I glad my parents weren’t part of that group!

But maybe those early Christians and later holiness types were on to something. With every passing day, my awareness of the truth grows stronger: the images that capture our imaginations and the music that plays in our heads are not always friendly to the gospel. And with every passing day, the culture’s technical ability to immerse us in the words, sights and sounds of secular group-think grows ever stronger, as well.

The world wants to shape us in its image. I want to know how I can have my cake and eat it, too. How can I enjoy the fruits of this culture without letting it capture and reshape my loves and desires? And maybe, the way I just phrased the question is part of the problem.