Let us not grow weary in doing good. . . . (Gal. 6:9)
Russell Kirk, man of letters and father of conservative thought in America, once said that it is impossible even to go out to dinner without being bombarded by the vulgarities of the culture. He mostly had in mind the growing propensity of restaurateurs to blare obnoxious music over loudspeakers, making meaningful conversation at dinner all but impossible.
But I remembered Dr. Kirk's observation during an outing to the movies some years ago with my wife. We sat in the top row of a rather small theater. And just prior to the start of the movie, three teenagers walked in, moving past us in the row to take up seats at the far end to our right. There were about five or six seats separating us from these kids. The group consisted of two girls and a boy, with one of the girls and the boy being an obvious "couple."
About half-way through the movie, I noticed some commotion among the group to my right, and when I looked down the row I was surprised to see one of the girls, having removed most of her clothes, sitting on the boy's lap facing him. These two teenagers were, it seemed, entirely uninterested in the movie's treatment of the tension between our personal commitments and our loyalty to the state.
Now, I'm no prude. Neither am I blind to the proclivities of teenagers, but this business of taking off your clothes in a public setting was a new one on me. These kids were perhaps 14 or 15 years old. I don't think the boy was even growing whiskers yet. (I got an up-close and personal look at his face a little further into our story.)
So I sat there in my seat for a moment trying to decide what, if anything, I should do about the activities at the end of the row. At first, I was just really irked. They were, after all, a distraction from what was taking place on the screen. But the longer I thought about it, the more I found another reaction beginning to emerge: fatigue. The cultural decay all around us feels increasingly like a relentless assault, and sometimes I grow tired of the conflict and want simply to withdraw from the
Fatigue & Its Temptations
There was a popular, angst-ridden song current about the time we went to that movie. The song was "Say Something" and it was performed by Christina Aguilera. In the song, she speaks at length about being on the verge of throwing in the towel on some relationship she had hoped would lead to greater things.
Now, when one merely reads the lyrics of the song, they come across as a tad incoherent and more than a little redundant. But when sung, the listener can feel more of the emotional weight of her painful disappointment. She laments that the other person in the relationship is unresponsive and has checked out. In my mind, I picture Ms. Aguilera emoting these words while some young man sits on the couch, obliviously immersed in a video game, or watching ESPN. (As it happens, some poor woman has written an entire book about this very phenomenon: Game Widow by Wendy Kays.)
I confess that I feel fatigued sometimes when I hear one of the frequent calls for Christians to "engage the culture." It is one thing to challenge believers to be a prophetic witness to the impact Jesus has had on their lives. It is quite another thing to flirt with an emotionally needy craving for cultural acceptance. When I consider the recurring drumbeat that I hear from some Christian circles about cultural relevance, I sometimes catch a whiff of that craving. Not always, but neither do I think that the emotional neediness is invariably absent.
If the call to cultural engagement or relevance is accompanied by any expectation that the culture is going to love us back, I'm afraid we may ultimately find ourselves in poor Ms. Aguilera's shoes.
Keith Lowery works as a senior fellow at a major semiconductor manufacturer, where he does advanced software research. He worked in technology startups for over 20 years and for a while was a principal engineer at amazon.com. He currently serves as an elder at Lake Ridge Bible Church in a suburb of Dallas, Texas.
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