When faith and pop culture clash

Written by Adam Kline

Whether we’re aware of it or willing to admit it, we all seek to make sense of our reality and experiences through story. It’s inherent to our species, and as Christians, we might suggest it’s inherent to the divine DNA, the image of God imprinted upon us since the very beginning (I wrote about this for our July issue).

When conflict arises, when life brings about unexpected twists and turns, when we’ve experienced some healing and hindsight, we often strive to articulate a narrative, a rise and fall in our testimony. In clinical circles this might be referred to as narrative therapy. Thus, storytelling and the arts are the most accessible harmonizer for the human condition.

As film critic Joanna Robinson shares on The Big Picture podcast: “As someone who understands their world through film and television…I want [insert movie or series] to help me understand my own human drama, as silly as that might sound, that is how I move through the world.”

But what happens when we feel betrayed by the art we consume? Whether it be an album, a book, poem, movie, series, or YouTube channel, what are we to do when our own faith perspective or worldview comes in conflict with our stories of choice? That show, book, or movie we’ve given hours of our life to, those characters we saw ourselves in and could relate to, when they made that change or took that turn, it upset us.

Sometimes we want to own the stories we consume, and sometimes we hold those creatives or artists (or studios even), to an unrealistic standard. We forget that art has always, and will always, be a reflection of the society it emerges from. The arts are an account or time capsule. For better or worse, the arts are a reflection of our society and not necessarily our own values.

And that’s OK.

As Christians, there’s no reason for us to get up in arms about some “controversial” new show or film franchise, because it was never ours in the first place. We can take it or turn it off. And even if it is an artful rendering of our sinful nature, as long as it’s not harmful, we should be grateful, because it gives us a reason to reflect and maybe even repent.

As disciples called and commissioned, when we find ourselves in a pluralistic or nominally pious society, the arts and pop culture have the potential to educate us and help us grow in empathy for those we’re called to serve in the name of Jesus.

When the stories we love lose the thread, rather than shaming or shutting them down, we should probably review Paul’s words in Titus 3:1-8: “At one time we too were foolish…” We can take the apostle’s incentive to dive deeper into God’s greater story and our role in it. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his essential work, Life Together:

“What we call our life, our troubles, our guilt, is by no means all of reality; there in the Scriptures is our life, our need, our guilt, and our salvation. Because it pleased God to act for us there, it is only there that we shall be saved. Only in the Holy Scriptures do we learn to know our own history.”

So, as followers of Jesus, continue to enjoy shows and stories. Permit their artistry to help bring resolution and clarity to your reality. And when they take an unfortunate or upsetting turn, agree to disagree, graciously, and take the opportunity to learn. What you glean could enrich your role and responsibility in sharing the story of God’s work of redemption for one and all.

Adam Kline is pastor of the Marmora Free Methodist Church and leader of the Intercultural Engagement Team for the Free Methodist Church in Canada. He is deeply passionate about discerning the divine nature through narrative and the complexities of communication across cultures. He loves to sip a freshly roasted dark roast and to spend time in the kitchen both cooking (and eating) his grandmother’s sweet and sour meatloaf.

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