Popular culture clouds our ability to embrace Lent’s message of living more Christ like lives.
by Breanna Lynch and Jimmy McLean
A lot of Christians don’t think about why Lent is a thing. They know it is a thing, they know they’re supposed to give something up that is “in the way of their relationship with God”. It has gotten twisted into something to add to the to-do list, as opposed to a time for reflection and growth. What is more important in the eyes of God: Giving up Facebook or pursuing to live in Christ’s image? Lent is not a time to make a public proclamation of your sainthood…you gave up chocolate–so what? These superficial understandings are the opposite of the message Lent begs to convey.
As we sat down to write this and hash out the common ground we share with regards to Lent, we found that beneath the doctrine and structure is the underlying and most important message of Lent: embrace and spread the love of God and then take that into action when you present yourself as a child of God – a marvelous creation capable of boundless wonder and achievement. Contrary to popular opinion, Lent doesn’t always have to be about repairing faults. It’s about recognizing those faults and connecting with our call to live like Christ every day. Try as we may, we are never going to be Christ–but that shouldn’t stop us from striving to be like Christ. Being Christ like embodies decision-making that stems from a genuine heart and employs compassion, grace, and humility. On the same note, that surely does not mean that every decision we make is pure or perfect. There is power in recognizing our weakness and our imperfections; those spots we wish not to reveal to others. It is only when we are in touch with those truths that we may be nourished. Our decisions won’t speak the ultimate truth–we are human. On paper and in conversation, this entire sentiment sounds absolutely magical…so why don’t we actually do it?
We live in a culture that perpetuates hate, exploitation, degradation, marginalization, and alienation. Our culture’s many uplifting messages and genuine motives are too often overpowered by awful, de-humanizing messages that are more readily available in the media. Superficially, society likes to think this culture is to blame. Gloria Steinam wrote provocatively about this very idea following Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s VMA performance this past fall. She sheds light on the two avenues of blame: the person…in this case Miley Cyrus, and the game, in this case our culture. She calls reader’s attention to a change in culture she believes must occur. We say, let’s forget about blame. Let us delve deeper into understanding why we accept a culture that clouds our ability to live like Christ for and with others. Each individual must first recognize what our society tells us is true (i.e. messages about beauty, wealth, and sexuality) and then discern and evaluate what he or she accepts as true or valuable. People need to be critical consumers and interpreters of information.
Culture has the undeniable ability to connect an individual to a greater cohort of people, and that in and of itself is life-giving and fulfills an innate human desire for belonging and inclusion. But people need to distinguish between the beneficial and destructive pieces of the culture they choose to identify with. Popular culture leads us to emulate the self-serving messages it presents. Our society’s selfish obsession with immediate answers, vanity, and instant gratification stand in contrast with the messages presented by the living example of Christ. Engaging in cultural practices out of our perceived need to be cool, stay relevant, and get attention is a complacent approach; it doesn’t beg us to question anything. Therefore in Lent our ability to sift out truth and live justly becomes clouded by the popular messages we hear. We need to rise above cultural ideals and chase what is just.
We think that the best way to live out our Christian faith in Lent and beyond is to approach our culture the way He did. It is not okay to blame society for the way you carry yourself. We are called as Christians to question cultural norms and employ just decision-making that is holy and leads to bringing about the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ literally did this in his lifetime. Take a moment to reflect on how your thoughts, decisions, and actions lead to the greater glory of God: Why do we continue to perpetuate cultural norms that we know do not lead us closer to God? What do we have to lose by breaking from cultural norms and living more Christ like? In the end, isn’t authenticity more attractive than popularity?
Breanna Lynch is a graduate student in the Master of Occupational Therapy program and Jimmy is a senior Middle Childhood Education major. The pair met when they were prayer partners as a part of the Approach Retreat team and now enjoy time spent together in thoughtful and challenging conversations.