consume, critique, create | culture & the Kingdom

There's a difference, isn't there, between evaluation and fault-finding? Discernment and cynicism? Critical thinking and a critical spirit?

We all have people in our lives--teachers, family, bosses, friends--who've judged us and found us lacking. Sometimes, this makes us feel like trash and puts those relationship on ice. Other times, their tough love or gentle truth-telling is the kick in the pants we need to become our best selves. 

Some critique is constructive, firming foundations and helping us grow. Other criticism is destructive, bent on tearing down. When it's personal, it can be hard to distinguish the difference. When I perceive an attack, I can launch into defensive mode, closing my ears to where I need to change. On the other end, I may righteously pretend to offer dispassionate critique, oblivious to my own tones betraying resentment or arrogance.

But thoughtful critique is a far cry from attack, and we shouldn't be so quick to conflate them. While it is true that we are asked to "Judge not lest ye be judged," there is a place for cultural criticism among Christians, and I'm not talking about the kind of finger-pointing or fear-mongering we've engaged in before.

For so long, Christians have told each other what to think that sometimes it seems like we've forgotten how to engage scripture and culture for ourselves--and the pendulum swings both ways. Those who've questioned fundamentalist framework and narrow boundaries can easily come out on the other "I do what I want" extreme, a path that can be just as unexamined and incongruous with the gospel.

We talked this week about how chick flicks are not "emotional porn", and a few people worried I could be swapping legalism for libertinism, but that's not my intention at all. My goal was not to prove the genre worthwhile but to show that the metaphor is flawed and a poor substitute for the work of engaging media through the lens of the Kingdom of God.

Passive consumers are susceptible to messages embedded in narrative and packaged in shiny glamour or gritty realism, but we are called to lives of more than mindless consumption. Christians who approach entertainment, advertising, art, or life without reflection should be wary of insidious messages. When our guard is down, we are easily influenced, but engaged critics can identify conflicting worldviews and hold them up to the light. We critique cultural messages, testing everything against the gospel.

But we never need to be the kind of critics who expose sin in every corner but ours or perceive holiness as a line dividing Us from Them. That criticism burns much and builds little, least of all the Kingdom of God among us.

What if instead we resolved only to be the kind of critics with fewer answers and better questions, the ones who listen closely for words, meaning, and the still, small voice of God? What if we said no to small gods and yes to grace? Could we learn to keep step not with church or culture but with the Spirit's lead? 

Could we find Jesus in everything true? Could we heed the whisper, the one that says, Turn it off. Make something better.

Could we train our critical eyes to see stories of redemption everywhere? Could we write them with our hearts and our lives?

Let's be critical like that. Let's critique by creating something new.

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