November 20, 2006

The Gospel of John, Paul, George and Ringo?

I had an otherworldly experience at B&N the other day. Beside (literally) two volumes of the Philokalia was The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family. It was the clash of the Titans, ancient Orthodox wisdom up against Homer Simpson. Doh! It was surreal. No wonder our culture is confused and finds it easy to look dismissively at Christianity.

Two shelves down was an even more astonishing tome entitled, The Gospel According to the Beatles. Why are we not looking to the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John instead of John, Paul, George and Ringo? Does Hey Jude count? What’s next, Gospel Girls Gone Wild?

I know the argument can be made that The Simpsons are for the most part harmless fun and I understand that under all the bluster and one-liners Homer (despite himself) is a loving father. And I understand that The Beatles were revolutionary and brought unprecedented depth and virtuosity to popular music. But we have gone too far when we start diluting the Gospel and looking to secular culture for our spiritual guidance.

These examples are just a proverbial drop in the bucket. There is a whole wall stacked high with Christian books, thousands of them (not including the Bibles, that’s another large section), Christian history, Christian apologists, Christian critics, even Christian fiction. There is a lot of good to be said for this. Trying to make people feel better about themselves, to help them cope and to encourage them to explore a spiritual dimension are in and of themselves good things. It’s when the message gets lost in the medium that the trouble starts. I believe that the ELCA congregation with which I used to worship eventually folded the tent (at least partly) because we tried too hard to accommodate everyone. We changed everything including the name and even the liturgy to try to meet people “where they are” instead of letting them bump up against Truth and began to conform to it. Too many people dealing with spiritual issues try to find a creator, a higher power, a life force to suit their tastes. Sometimes we are left with no choice but the path that leads through the narrow gate.

Society is like a bell curve, with some people on each end of the spectrum and many meandering in the middle. I may not know exactly where I am on the graph, but I do know where I am going.

What I eventually found to read I found at our own church bookstore. It was exactly what I was looking for, Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism by Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

1 comment:

King of Peace said...

Perhaps all of this is why C.S. Lewis wrote,

"Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity, you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke, or St. Paul, or St. Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas...But I would advise him to read the old....

"The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity ("mere Christianity" as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be aquired only from old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones."

In choosing Schmemann, you no doubt chose wisely. His For the Life of the World is one I would put against any work of 150 pages. But then you wouldn't have gone with the Philokalia either. I love Evagrius the Solitary, Maximus the Confessor, John the Damascene and others in that collection. And while I find The Simpson's was at its peak the most theologically astute TV show, it doesn't hold a candle to those greats. Everyone knows that, but we sometimes go for something light or easy instead of something worth exploring.