The Culturally Savvy Grandma

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Recently when I was bombarded with complaints about being too hard in my critique of Facing the Giants, I received the following from Margaret.

Hi Mr. Staub,

Don’t know where I’ve been, but just now caught up on the Facing The Giants controversy. I just wanted to commend your stand. Don’t back down, and no, you’re not the only one who cares. A higher standard of artistic merit in works by Christians has been a passion of mine since I was a kid (and I’m now a grandmother) when I stumbled across poorly written ‘Christian’ novels. (This was one inspiration for my becoming a writer.) All five of my kids are grounded in faith, and all are highly artistic.

She attached an article she wrote and I asked for permission to post it as an example of a Culturally Savvy Grandma. Here it is!

[ “The Filters and the Salt” by Margaret Mills

Our minister was balanced precariously on a ladder tacking up Christmas decorations in our church auditorium when my outspoken nine-year-old daughter demanded to know why he was preaching against Pokemon. She couldn’t see anything wrong with it. He handed me printouts on the dangers of Pokemon while I sheepishly explained that with five kids, I picked my battles – and Pokemon wasn’t one of them.

What a struggle! If it’s not violent video games, it’s the middle school fad of fake tattoos, leading into the high school fad of real ones. If it’s not PG rated movies that should be rated R, it’s wildly popular children’s books with overtones of horror or the occult. It’s “What on earth are you watching?” Saturday morning as you walk through the family room. Or “That’s Christian music?” to your son’s new CD. It’s persuading your Internet filter, in place to protect your teens from porn sites, to allow you to download a legitimate research article. It’s your daughter wondering if she can get her navel pierced. Nobody said living a Christian lifestyle in predominantly non-Christian culture would be easy. It is called “the narrow way,” for a reason.

But can Christians simply filter out the world’s culture? Or are we called to do more? “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said. (Matthew 5:13) Doesn’t that imply we are to do more than avoid our culture? If so, what “more” are we to do, and how do we do it?

Sometimes it helps to step back and reevaluate. In his popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon & Schuster, 1990), Stephen R. Covey distinguishes between the “reactive” and the “proactive.” We are not, he points out, simply at the mercy of our circumstances. We have the God-given power of choice. Christians are being proactive when they don’t let cultural influences wash over them, when they choose what things they will participate in based on Christian values and principles.

This is good. Philippians 4:8 instructs us to meditate on things that are “true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report.” John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” )I John 2:15).

Deep Sea Fishing

At the same time, if we are simply resisting a flood of attitudes, beliefs, values and images, as though our only choice was defensive, we are being reactive. How can we be salt if we act like the world’s culture will simply overwhelm our belief system if we get too close to it? Let’s remember that we are “in the world, but not of the world” (John 17:15, 16). Think of Christians as deep-sea divers. Some might warn us to “keep away” from the dangerous ocean, but we have been outfitted with wet suits that protect us from the water, the cold, and the sea creatures. We are called to go into the water; that’s where the fish are. We need to maintain our gear. How? By keeping the basic disciplines of a Christian life: fellowship with other believers, Bible reading, and prayer. Jesus surrounded himself with carefully chosen, like-minded friends, and spent entire nights in prayer. He also was known as “the friend of sinners.”

Covey writes, “The proactive approach is to change from the inside out – to be different, and by being different, to effect positive change in what’s out there.”

If we are called to “effect positive change in what’s out there,” how do we apply that to culture? Perhaps we need to change the way we perceive and interpret our circumstances. In other words, we need to change “from the inside out” before we can impact the culture.

As a long-time fan of Christian fantasy books, such as those written by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, I have been interested in the controversy over the Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling. No matter what the verdict on the books, my personal conclusion has been that many in the Christian community need a deeper understanding of literary criticism. Fantasy books deal with a fantasy world ¢€œ a world with its own rules. They are not to be confused with real life. We need to analyze the themes in the story, the underlying belief system. Does good triumph over evil? Do the characters become better people from their struggles? Magic in a fantasy story is not to be equated with the real-life practice of the occult. However, I do believe those who have had a deep involvement with the occult prior to receiving Christ should indeed avoid stories, movies and situations that remind them of their former life.

A Biblical moral tacked on to the end of a story does not make great literature. To determine good literature, themes have to be dug out like treasure. Discovering the underlying concepts in books, movies, TV programs, or even Pokemon, is more work, but it’s worth the effort. To leave ourselves in the dark about the themes and messages in advertising, music, movies and literature, leaves us out of the cultural dialogue. If we are to be salt, we need to be able to intelligently discuss ideas. In fact, we need to do more than that.

A Call to Creativity

In Addicted to Mediocrity (Crossway, 1981), Franky Schaeffer wrote, “Any group that willingly or unconsciously sidesteps creativity and human expression gives up their effective role in the society in which they live. In Christian terms their ability to be the salt of that society is greatly diminished.”

We Christians need to equip ourselves to analyze literature, critique films, and understand the underlying myths of our society. And we need to produce our own creative works that impact that society. Exodus 35 mentions by name the artisans who were called to help build the tabernacle. These craftsmen were called by God and filled with His Spirit for their creative endeavors.

Somehow, at least in some Christian circles, we’ve lost sight of this. Perhaps, as Franky Schaeffer suggests, “We became too pragmatic to appreciate the arts: if it doesn’t directly promote evangelism, what good is it?”

However, God, the Creator and source of all human creativity, has shown Himself to be extravagant, flamboyant and exuberant in His works. We have a vast industry of Christian publishing, Christian music, and Christian film, but are we impacting our culture with our art? Or are we “preaching to the choir?”

Take an informal poll of any adult Sunday School class or Bible study group and you will most likely fine someone who dreams of writing a screenplay or taking up the pennywhistle. Our churches are filled with secret poets and closet painters, not to mention gardeners and chefs. You’ll find people who wish they had the time, the money, and the training to indulge an artistic bent, or those who once composed or painted or wrote, but have “put away childish things” for the adult world of responsibility.

Those gifts, those creative stirrings in believers, may be the call of God to impact the society around us. We need to take these creative urgings more seriously, at least as seriously as we take a call to the ministry.

My daughter gave up Pokemon – not from coercion, but because of a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit. In the end, that is the key to coping with and influencing the world around us. We need to be sensitive to His leading. We also need to listen for the quiet creative nudges, the ones we’ve been ignoring. Those quiet, unique ideas are the salt that will season our society. Go ahead, play the pennywhistle. It just might make a difference. ]

Thanks to Maragaret Mills and here’s my toast to Culturally Savvy Grandmas everywhere!

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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