Article Jun 9, 2015

10 thoughts about the Christian and entertainment

Recently, my son (and pastor) Jedidiah asked me to preach on “ the Christian and entertainment” as part of a series touching on our work, money, politics, relationships, and more as Christians. I had a week to prepare, and I thought it was doable, but like the fellow who reported on a curious new fish he’d landed and cooked, the more he chewed it, the bigger it got. There were some anxious moments as I negotiated the range of pertinent Scripture in the evenings of a week filled with teaching. Time ran out on Saturday, and I emailed these 10 points (with no poem) to the PowerPoint man for the Sunday service. Here are the points, which are a start for what I take to be a work in progress.

1. Unstring the bow (Exod. 20:8-11): As Melville wrote in Moby Dick, the harpooner did a better job when he arrived at the whale when he hadn’t had to suffer the strain of rowing along with the others. We can’t endure endless striving. We need a break with refreshments. Still, given the Commandment’s weekday prescription, we rest to work rather than work to rest.

2. Gravitate toward light (Phil. 4:8): Paul urges us to dwell on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, morally excellent, and praiseworthy. But, of course, he doesn’t say we should focus only on these things. He himself didn’t. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been able to talk about the unlovely snit involving Euodia and Syntyche. As for pure, the purest of books, the Bible, presents truthfully a lot of murky stuff. So we don’t need to limit ourselves to “sweetness and light,” refusing to watch replays of a cheap shot in football or covering our ears when the Sheriff of Nottingham starts to speak. But, as Paul says, edifying fare is our special love.

3. Don't overdo it (Prov. 23:20-21): Gluttony isn’t limited to food. Don’t “pig out” on diversions, whether playing endless rounds of golf or movie binging, such as the sort comedian Patton Oswalt chronicles in Silver Screen Fiend.

4. Don't be a mope (Eccl. 3:1-4): Some default proudly and frostily to the royal, “We are not amused.” But as “the preacher” tells us, there is a “time to laugh”—not the defiant laugh of bravado or the cruel laugh of Schadenfreude, but the tickled laugh of delight.

5. Love the entertainer (Gen. 9:20-23): When Noah claimed his “Miller Time,” rendering himself drunk and naked, his son Ham got a kick out of the spectacle and invited his brothers to have a look. They refused to join in the fun, but rather backed into the tent and laid a garment on their father, showing him love and respect. Similarly, we should not delight in performances requiring the performers to debauch or otherwise injure themselves. (Maybe we should have a special Humane Association disclaimer on movies, “No humans were harmed, physically or morally, in the making of this film.”) This was the impetus for the newspaperman suspending ads for late-19th-century prizefights in the Charles Sheldon book, In His Steps (cf., WWJD).

6. Neither a nitpicker nor a nitpickee Be (Luke 6:41-42; Gal. 2:1-5): Jesus warns against the hypercritical search for specks in others’ eyes while ignoring planks in one’s own eyes. And Paul bristled at legalists who made a stink over Titus’s non-circumcision. Go easy on judging others’ playlists and letting them judge yours, even if it includes a Johnny Cash song celebrating workplace theft, as in One Piece at a Time.

7. Mind the gap (Rom. 12:1-2; Acts 17:22-34; 2 Cor. 10:5; John 17:15): The Bible tells us to be “untransformed transformers,” to “take every thought captive” while we are “in the world.” We hold our own on Mars Hill, drawing on both consecration and cultural information. When the gap is too small, we’re compromised. When it’s too big, we’re ineffectual. Consider Weird Al Yankovic’s parody of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues video. We delight in the play of palindromes, but also in the way it makes light of dark forces, including 60s rebellion, beat poets, and rock videos in general. Some knowledge of background culture makes the lampoon richer.

8. Grow up (2 Tim. 2:22; 2 Pet. 1:3-8): You don’t have to convince kids to act impulsively on whatever they feel like doing, no matter how dumb. What a shame it would be to stay stuck in this frame of mindlessness. So we need to “flee youthful passions,” adding “goodness . . . knowledge . . . [and] self-control” to our faith. If you see a business labeled “modern,” it ain’t. The same goes for “adult” entertainment.

9. Love your neighbor (1 Corinthians 8): It’s one thing to have One Piece at a Time on your iPod and quite another to play it over the sound system at a church fellowship when a new believer, a “weaker brother” fresh from prison for running a chop shop, is present. (Note: Loving a weaker brother is not the same as indulging the Pharisaical agenda of a “stronger” brother.)

10. Love God's reputation (1 Cor. 10:31): When I worked in the SBC Executive Committee PR office, a colleague in the world of Baptist journalism mentioned the “New York Times test,” whereby one asked the question, “How would you like this deed to appear on the front page of the Times?” It’s a good question for our entertainment choices. If published and if people knew we were professing believers, would our picks “embarrass” God?

In the 1990s, Old Milwaukee beer ran a series of ads wherein sportsmen would kick back with a brew and some fresh caught fare (Louisiana bass; Alaskan king crab) and exult, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Sometimes I’d observe for my kids that, for the lost, it pretty much tops out at alcohol and fish. I think the same thing when I read Woody Allen’s recent reflection on life and art in an interview at the Cannes Film Festival: “We live in a random universe and you’re living a meaningless life, and everything you create in your life or do is going to vanish, and the Earth will vanish and the sun will burn out and the universe will be gone.” In this context, you might find relief “if you turn on a baseball game or you watch a Fred Astaire movie or you do something that distracts you.”This is a sad instance of “dead man talking.”

But for the living in Christ, a baseball game and a Fred Astaire movie can be a “lovely” refreshment, a time of recouping one’s strength for the good work ahead according to one’s divine calling. And watching Steph Curry entertain us with his artistry on the basketball court can provide us with a glimpse of the goodness of God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17).