Today, I want to talk about church, pancakes and Katy Perry. They all have something in common.
How hard can the church try to be relevant to our culture? Seriously, how much relevance can we squeeze out of ourselves? It seems like your church is nothing if it’s not being “relevant.”
I guess a “relevant” church is one that can walk the walk and talk the talk of people today, one that can relate to people. This week, I was reminded of a couple of ironies in our quest for relevance, and realized we might just have it all backwards.
IHOP is Suing IHOP
Recently, the news broke that International House of Pancakes, otherwise knowns as IHOP is suing the International House of Prayer, also known as IHOP. One serves delicious carb cakes which render you unconcious, although their pancakes are covered with so many dozens of other foods, it really stretches the legal definition of the word “pancake.” The latter offers hours on end of trance-inducing prayer and music that feels kind of like a worship rave, and may also render you unconscious. The prayer house happens to be based in my hometown, but they have locations all over.
The prayer house has been around for ten years, going by the moniker “IHOP,” but for some reason, the pancake house is just now getting around to suing them for breach of copyright, which they’ve had on the acronym “IHOP” for something like forty years.
Don’t the pancake people know that Christians have no original ideas? We have to be relevant and cool by riffing on already popular things. If the prayer house is not allowed to call themselves “IHOP,” how will they ever be relevant through the subliminal association of maple syrup and Jesus?
I’m Too Sexy for This Church
I’m a big fan of The Sunday Morning Show. Something about Charles Osgood’s bowtie keeps me hypnotized and feeling like I’m a senior citizen, but in a good way…never mind.
Anyway, on Sunday they featured a story on Katy Perry for some reason, as if anyone in the AARP is even aware of her. She was talking about her childhood and then it was revealed that…wait for it…her parents are “born again evangelical pastors.” They actually said “born again.” Yea! You saw that one coming. Of course, Katy wanted to be Amy Grant II after her church purchased a guitar for her. But her record label went under, because it couldn’t sell any records. Of course, as with anyone raised by “born again evangelical pastors,” eventually the shackles of sheltered Christian life had to come off, so she could learn about real music, write an anthem about casual bisexual exploration, and appear on Sesame Street in a sketch with Elmo and her breasts. Her parents showed their approval of their daughter’s career by making a cameo appearance in her latest music video.
Well of course they approve of her career. She’s made millions of dollars.
I don’t even know how to approach this. There are dozens of musicians and actors who were raised in Christian homes. Whenever I look someone up on Wikipedia, there’s probably a 50% chance that they were raised in a Christian home. Then there’s the familiar story of how they discovered the outside world, and hit it big once they left the safe confines of church life.
I think what irritates me is how seperated Christian culture is from everything else. We’re a sub-genre. And unless you’re filming The Passion of the Christ, you don’t make nearly as much money playing to that crowd as you would if you would just not mention Jesus at all and show a bit more cleavage. It grinds me that Christians aren’t just a sub-genre, but a sub-par sub-genre. We’re just fine with mediocrity in our Christian culture. We’re okay with imitation. Hardly anyone makes Christian art anymore, but we don’t care that much. We’re surprised when someone makes a quality Christian film, since hardly anyone bothers to spend more than a week’s allowance to make a Christian movie. But in the meantime, we’ll gladly recommend a pretty laughable movie to our church friends because it’s Christian, and it plays to us. It annoys me that Christians are obsessed with sheltering our kids, but it only seems to result in them falling in love with the culture we’ve tried so hard to tell them is evil. Katy Perry’s story is absurdly typical, except there’s a few million bucks that her parents can sell out for.
A Sub-Par Sub-Genre
Suddenly it hit me, thinking about Katy and pancakes. Christians used to create culture. Christianity used to be the force behind the biggest buildings in town, the most beautiful art, the most moving music. We were the center of the world.
Now, Christian “culture” means wearing a T-shirt with what appears to be the Starbucks logo, except it’s got Jesus in it instead of the mermaid. Christian culture means only seeing, hearing and wearing things that have a little fish on them, so we can say we’re “in the culture, not of the culture.”
Meanwhile, we’re trying to be “relevant,” still while not getting our hands dirty with all that non-Christian culture. And we’re trying to be relevant by imitating the culture, riffing on culture, making a parody of culture, naming our churches after places that sell pancakes and whatnot. Finally, our lack of creativity has a cost. I guarantee, some little group will try to be good Christians and stand up for the cause by boycotting pancakes, but I have to honestly say the prayer house deserves what they are getting, and the rest of us should learn a lesson.
And that’s why we’re still behind. We don’t try to come up with original thoughts that much. We’re happy to wait until someone else comes up with an original thought, and then copy it in the name of Jesus. Meanwhile, we’re content to let our real talent get outsourced to the pop music industry, because apparently Christians are too cheap for a talent like Katy Perry to succeed among us. There could literally be dozens of Katy Perrys who didn’t have to lose their faith (or at least deny it in public) if Christians were as serious about creating culture as everyone else is. But for now, Christian culture is just too small to handle more than a handful of people with a lot of talent.
That’s my feelings anyway. How do you feel about today’s Christian culture and our penchant for imitation (even though we’re not supposed to be imitating the world)? Do you think it’s hurting our efforts to be relevant?