Avoiding the Silence, Filling the Space: Entertainment
Rest, recreation, and having fun is not wrong. In fact, it is mandated by God and was practiced by the people of Israel and by Jesus and his disciples. Our difficulty is that we do not really know how to rest and truly recreate. We fill our time with countless and extremely expensive activities so that we can be distracted, titillated, and stimulated. Sometimes some of these activities lead to rest; at other times they are simply activities of a different kind used for simple distraction.
The billions of dollars and millions of hours spent on sports, music, movies, eating out, concerts, video games, gadgets and toys reflect a cultural obsession. Moreover, it is an obsession that only begs for more. More sports leagues than ever, and when that is not enough, we create fantasy leagues. More amusement parks, which “generate $12 billion in revenues each year.” More ways to spend money on entertainment in all kinds of: cable television (“estimated revenues of $74.7 billion in 2007”), listening to music (MP3 players alone “generated $5.4 billion in revenue in 2007”), movies (“more than $10 billion in 2009”), video games (“Americans spent $13.5 billion on home video and computer games in 2006”).  Apparently, the entertainment industry is a very profitable one and is scratching a cultural itch.
Related to our obsession with entertainment is the American (global, really) obsession and near worship of celebrity. People magazine, The National Enquirer, the Star, and multiple other tabloids; TV shows like TMZ, Entertainment Tonight, and Extra, and a countless number of talk shows that major on celebrity visits and stories – we are fascinated by the lives of the rich and famous even when their lives are messed up and they have nothing of significance to say. In fact, nothing really fascinates us more than a celebrity life gone haywire: a messy divorce, an arrest for DUI, or a movie set meltdown. It seems as if we can’t help but be attracted to celebrity “train wrecks.” This obsession with every detail of a celebrity’s life, the inability to separate reality from the fantastic life of the celebrity, and the projection of inordinate knowledge, wisdom, influence, and even a sense of “normalcy” to that celebrity that is idolatry.
Free Love at Last: Our obsession with sex
Among all of God’s good gifts to humans, perhaps none has been as misused, abused, and perverted as that of sex. He created us as sexual beings, an identity that far exceeds the mere sex act. It was part of his original design for men and women, to be perfectly expressed within his plan of the permanent union of one man and one woman loving each other, learning to understand each other more and more every day, and procreating to fill the earth. Obviously, the fall of Adam and Eve distorted the gift: both the security and stability of God given sexual identity and the fulfillment of the physical act of sex have been stunted, corrupted, and manipulated according to sin’s twisted desires. The result throughout history and across all cultures has been frustrated, abusive, and self-centered relationships. Certainly, not all humans have expressed their fallen sexuality in the worst of ways; however, the potential, the temptation, and the threat simmer just under the surface in all of us.
This is not just an American problem – it is global. In fact, there are many cultures where sex, either overtly or covertly, is perverted almost beyond belief. The sex markets of Bangkok, the red light district of Amsterdam, the world sex slave business, the abuse of women in Muslim countries, pedophilia in Mormon polygamist sects, the explosion in online pornography, the sickening growth of child pornography, worldwide prostitution – no society or culture is free from the effects of sin on God’s good gift of sex.
We use sex to market and sell cars, beer, perfume, clothes, vacations, and even milk. We hesitate to talk about how much money we make, for that would be ill mannered, but are willing to publicly talk about our sex lives. Magazines at the grocery store checkout lines have scores of articles on how to improve your sex life, how to turn him or her on, or new secrets about what he or she really wants, and they publish the same thing every single month. Television ads appeal to male insecurity offering all kinds of remedies, prescription and natural, for all kinds of ailments, real or perceived. It seems that every television sitcom that eventually runs out of good writing ideas (and they all usually do after a couple of seasons) turns to storylines full of raunchy sexual situations, some of which may be funny to a twelve year old just discovering what sex is about. And, it seems as is every television show has to introduce either a gay character or couple just to reinforce the view that such is perfectly normal.
American society is moving through three general attitudes toward sex: One, from an era when sex was a taboo subject that was practiced in private, and when even sinful acts were kept private. Two, through an era of “open and free love” in which sex has been “freed from its shackles” and idolized. Three, toward a rapidly developing era in which sex has become so open, commonplace, routine, and marketable that it carries no more meaning to people than having lunch together, an attitude already common in some European countries and found in such shows like “Sex and the City.” Then, our slavery will be complete. We will think we have achieved full freedom regarding our sexuality and our sexual activity, but the truth is that the idol will have achieved its purpose: it will no longer even be noticed, its control complete.
Cultural and Missional Implications
How do we remove these idols from our lives and demonstrate to American culture what it means to be free as a slave of Christ?
- We must unmask the idols by naming them. The challenge is to unmask false gods. That starts by naming, and thus admitting to, the idols in our society. We do this naming, which implies and includes confrontation, through both word and deed. Doing it by word does not mean we stand on the street corner (or in a television broadcast) and yell out that our neighbors are idolaters. It means that we continue to preach and teach that idolatry is anything that interferes with, distracts from, or takes the place of, on a regular, patterned basis, our faith in and dependence on God. More difficult, and more importantly, is to practice what we preach! We have the opportunity to demonstrate in our lifestyle what it means to be a slave to Christ, which is the true definition of freedom. Practically, this may mean simplifying our lives materially, reducing our obsession with, and maybe even participation in, “accepted” diversions, and cutting back on our addiction to busy-ness. This is not a call for a return to a legalistic view toward “wordly” entertainment; it is a call for an honest examination of priorities and investment of time and resources.
- We must be willing to give up our individual rights. We can demonstrate appreciation for our American political, economic, and social freedom, and especially the individual rights that come with those. We can also demonstrate what it means to stand up for justice – for the rights of those who cannot speak and fight for themselves. At the same time we can demonstrate that being a slave to Christ means being willing to give up certain rights for the sake of Christ and others. We don’t always have to be right. We don’t always have to win. We don’t always have to be compensated for a loss.
- We must articulate and practice a Biblical theology of life. At the same time that we passionately argue for the rights of the unborn, our greater missiological challenge is to present a comprehensive Biblical theology of life. That is, we need to carefully articulate a pro-life stance that addresses not only the unborn, but the aged, victims of crime and war, and even the disconcerting number of wrongful convictions that have led to misapplication of the death penalty. We have done well in providing life affirming options through crisis pregnancy clinics, adoption ministries, and other counseling. Our growing aging population may demand similar “right to life” action for the growing numbers who will not be able to care or speak for themselves.
- We must articulate and demonstrate how rights demand responsibility. For many of us this was modeled and taught to us by our parents. That does not appear, unfortunately, to be any longer the common cultural experience. To the contrary, the common cultural experience is that of entitlement and little conception of consequences. The “right” to have promiscuous sex includes the consequences of disease or pregnancy and the responsibility of an unexpected child. The “right” to free speech includes the consequence of being rejected or not liked for what is said and the responsibility for the hearing rights of others. The “right” to have a job includes the responsibility of showing up on time, working hard, and paying taxes. The “right” to use this earth includes the responsibility of taking care of it. And so on. What would seem to be so elemental is lost in our idolatry of radical individualism.
- We must practice simpler lifestyles and demonstrate generosity. We can demonstrate appreciation for our abundant material blessings, but also demonstrate what it means to generously give, to live simply, and to live by faith. As believers we can model staying out of debt, purchasing and owning less, and not pursuing the latest gadget or fad. Preachers often bemoan that contemporary Christians don’t stand out from the world, and mainly point to hair, tattoos, and dress styles. They may have a point, but what if Christians were known for those who live simply because they give most of what they make away? That would really stick out.
- We must keep science and technology in perspective. We can make full use of science and technology, especially for the sake of the gospel. We need to be fully aware, however, that they are human constructions and temporary – they will fail us. The opportunity exists to appreciate what science and technology have to offer us, in spite of scientism and Darwinism, but yet preach, teach, and demonstrate that our faith is ultimately in God’s provision and plan.
- We must learn and practice what the Bible means by Sabbath rest. We need to learn and then demonstrate that Biblical rest and re-creation need not be a burden financially, on our families, and on our time. We need to learn to model a weekly Sabbath rest, moderation in family activities, and regular re-creation times that don’t require exorbitant expenditures.
- We must practice sexual purity. This is perhaps the most difficult challenge. We must learn to demonstrate sexual purity while speaking the truth about God’s plan for sexuality. We must continue to speak the truth in love about adultery, pornography, and homosexuality, but always with compassion and grace for those trapped in these idolatrous sins and humbly guarding against our own failures. Essentially, we must practice what we preach.
You gotta serve somebody. There is no person who is totally and absolutely free. What freedom we do have is oriented towards service to someone or something, whether we know it or admit it. The myth is that freedom means no shackles to anyone; the reality is that true freedom is only found in being free from sin, from idols, and from self, and being shackled to Christ. That freedom, however, is not be used “as an opportunity for the flesh,” but in service to “one another through love” (Gal. 5:13). That freedom is also to be used to express in word and deed the truth of the One who has set us free.