Faith Talk: Choosing crap over Christ
Last year I decided to give away doing Cosmopolitan's book reviews page. For a few reasons: I had no time to wade through four books as I juggled lecturing, tutoring, eating and sleeping; I found it hard to encapsulate my thoughts on said books into 150 words a piece; writing critical thoughts can be depleting; the books were getting in the way of my love life (not now, I must finish this book!); and, most importantly, they were filling my head with crap.
As we all know, garbage in, garbage out. As I struggled through misery memoirs and stories of sexual fetishes and vacuous girlie tales, I felt my spirit deplete its then-fragile reserves. It wasn't the fault of Cosmo, nor its editors, nor the book publicists, or the authors. To Cosmo's credit, they had commissioned me with writing smart reviews; more than fluff. And the books were my edit, with some changes recommended when I popped one in there that was more me, less Cosmo.
Some months, there were seriously slim pickings; other times a bounty of great books I'd happily recommend. But I had an inner restlessness. No longer willing to compromise, I got out. And now the book page is a blessing to another writer (Nicole Robinson, who does a fine job and probably doesn't experience the same angst as I did). Alas, when you become a 'Born Again Christian' (if there must be a label I'll wear it), your discernment concerning your spirit becomes super-charged; hyper-sensitive.
Protecting the integrity of your faith becomes instrumental to your daily life, your work... it's posed many challenges for me on the work front. And in my life outside work, too. I have not always made wise choices. In fact, I've more than once hindered my spiritual walk because of my stubborness, rebelliousness and compromises. When you're called to live a righteous life by Christ, to pick up your cross and follow him, well, that really won't do.
As a Christian, you do have to make changes to how you live your life. What was once okay, world-endorsed behaviour no longer cuts the mustard. But Christ, I believe, does not require you to abandon your work, or all life's pleasures, or your personality. I tried that. And feeling desolate, diminished and lost, I, quite literally, like Phillipa Finch, almost disappeared off the face of the earth.
In our efforts and striving, God is watching on going, "Um, hello, I sent Christ to suffer and die for your sins; 'twas a gift, not to be earnt by you. Who do you think you are, little missy, to take away my glory and blessings? I'm the one who runs the show, not you; you are simply required to play the role I have allocated you. So quit whining, get with the program you signed up for and get the heck on with it – there's not much time!"
(I'm sure God, who is profound and eloquent beyond human words, wouldn't say "heck", but you get the gist.)
This means making choices in a practical way that meet with the expectations God places on you as a follower of Christ (with enough grace to let you stuff up occasionally); importantly, as Jesus himself said, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbour just the same. How do you love the Lord? Be who he created you to be. You immerse yourself in his Word through the Bible. You respect his church. You fellowship with his children (big and small). You obey his good and perfect laws; you make life-giving choices, as apposed to life-diminishing ones.
How do you love your neighbour? You show them love in the way you were created to love, just like God (again, we were made in his image, and he sent us Jesus in the form of a man so we would be in no doubt how to do this life thing). But we are not all Jesus. We were each created to serve Him in a unique way. For some, it's giving gifts, others an encouraging word or smile, others by helping out with their money; for Fergie it might be sharing her abundance of clothes. Some people are relational, others academic, others communicators, others creative...whatever your 'thing' is, there is a way to serve.
Like the Cosmo books page, I've often struggled with editing my very own blog: can one serve both God and man? Yes, I think one can. Have I nailed it? Not just yet. But as my faith matures, and so too my understanding of God and my acceptance of Christ, I see my role as serving you, the reader, with an edit of material I believe to be worthy of discussion: to be both salt and light. Not always frothy and bubbly and frivolous; but not always negative, either. It's not my role to condemn. I see that now. Nothing reeks more than the judgement of the self-righteous. But there must be discussion; conversation starters; critical thinking. We were created for dialogue, for ideas, for self-development. We cannot all shut ourselves off from the world and live like Buddhist monks (Elizabeth Gilbert showed us how we are not all cut from that mould).
The thing I'm most passionate about writing now is about my faith and God. But such words are like receiving a knock on the door from a Jehovah's Witness (or a pamphlet in the post box) to those of you who are closed off to God and Christ. That I now understand, too. And so, I think, 'Well, I also like to write about media and books and such things; why on earth would God have put me through university and given me that job on Girlfriend and given me a blog if not to also work in that way?' He gives you everything you need for the work he wants you to do and the life he wants you to live; people, resources, time, knowledge, skills.
But beyond this, I think God puts something on our hearts: an anguish to see something put right. God uses our experiences for good. I am passionate about filling those holes in girls' lives, created by the world and filled with crappy things, with the unconditional love of God; about not seeing any girl, or woman, experience the things I've been through in my personal life by choosing the wide and popular path or making poor choices; about ensuring best media practises that enable, rather than inhibit, women to lead wonderful, full, flourishing lives.
Social commentator Mark Sayers posted his thoughts yesterday on churches who lure young people to their doors with false teaching and fancy-schmancy entertainment. (Just like the Oprah show, there's a prize under your seat!). This gave me pause to think about indulging my passions for print (and digital), what might be deemed superficial window dressing, even a hindrance to spiritual development, as well as publishing stories that potentially conflict with my Christian values. Sayers writes:
Marshall McLuhan was both a believer and prophetic analyst of media, and coined the term ‘the medium is the message’. McLuhan noticed that during the Nixon vs JFK Presidential debate, those who listened on the radio felt that Nixon had clearly won the debate hands down, his arguments and content was the strongest. Yet those who watched the debate on TV, felt that JFK had won.
When asked why, viewers felt that JFK was more youthful, tanned, good looking, and energetic. In contrast Nixon was seen as old, pasty, stressed and tired. What the watching audiences did not know was that JFK had a team of make up artists working on his image. Nixon made the crucial error of passing on the option of make up, believing that people would take him on the strength of his content. No politican makes that mistake anymore.
McLuhan noted that in the age of television, and imagery, that content cannot be separated from the carrier, that the medium is the message. Therefore it is impossible to give away cars, playstation and plasmas and then tell people to give up everything and to die to self in order to follow Christ.
In simple terms I discovered this the other day, when I told my three year old daughter that she could not have an Easter egg, while I was munching on one myself. She did not buy it! My actions worked against my message. So it is the same with our outreach. We must constantly ask how our actions and communications can work against the content of the gospel.
While I now use my discretion more intelligently in terms of what I am prepared to subject my mind and spirit to, writing about glossy magazines – and the mission of "finding the good in gloss" – doesn't change the foundations on which I, and by association this site, are built. Unlike Helen Gurley Brown's Cosmo, that's a belief in Christ alone – my light, my strength, my peace, my comforter, my song, my everything – and "living a good and Godly life".
Happily, I think that while we will conflict, if we each stick to what we're best at, and honour our beliefs, we can coexist. And take pleasure in some of the best things life has to offer. Like this spread of printed matter, no longer by the beside, but in the satchel along with my Bible.
Girl With a Satchel