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The Great Satan

TV, Media & Defining “Normal”

I have, for years now, advocated for Christians to cancel their cable

and satellite TV, to dumb down their smart phones and un-plug their iPods. We are increasingly a nation of brainwashed people, and the joke is on us as prices for cable and satellite TV, broadband Internet and mobile service continue to skyrocket. You cannot convince me it actually costs Comcast $170 per month to beam the Steelers game into your living room. Yet most of us pay that without blinking. We’re hooked. We’re junkies. The mere thought of turning off your TV, of just being quiet for any period of time at all, is daunting. It is, for many of us, looked upon like fasting: a great sacrifice we dread doing and need to prepare for. And the mess just drones on and on and on day and night and day. We fall asleep to it. We pop it on first thing when we wake up. we blast music in our cars. There is no quiet. At any time. In any way. We leave absolutely no room to think, zero quiet space to consider the universe and our place in it.

I blew a fuse in my car stereo about three years ago and, frankly, keep forgetting to fix it. I have, over time, become accustomed to quiet in my car and now prefer it. When I ride with friends, it amazes me how they crowd out every moment with their blaring stereo and cell phones. How every moment in that car crowds out contemplative thought and instead leaves only the noise of Other People Defining Who You Are. Even “Gospel” artists—many of whom are nether Christians nor artists: their music being awful, derivative knock-offs of much better secular music and their grasp of even basic Christian doctrine being sadly remedial—are defining “Normal” with their awful music and simplistic, damaged grasp of Christian doctrine. Christian TV is simply awful, riddled with money-grubbing phonies pushing their shoddy wares, seminars and cruises to gullible grannies and their AARP Visa Gold cards.

Beloved: turn this mess off.

There is no quiet. No alone time. No reflection. No you-and-God. No room to think, to learn, to question, to grow. There is simply, 24/7 noise. And we have grown so accustomed to it, that my advocating silence, un-plugging from this nonsense—seems extreme and strange.

And, maybe it is. I leave open the possibility that I, with my TV rabbit ears and no car stereo, am the strange one. That I live in isolation and quiet more than most. That my iPod is loaded with oldies because I have no idea (and no interest) in who the current “hot” artist is. That last month’s Grammy awards meant absolutely nothing to me because I had no clue whatsoever who any of those people were beyond the obvious depravity of their lifeless, expletive-ridden, morally bankrupt music. Which makes me sound like somebody’s grandpa and, gasp like my mom. My gosh, I sound like my mom. But I dare you—I double-dare you—to do a Pepsi Challenge between, say, Aretha Franklin in her prime and Lady Gaga, between Sam Cooke and Usher. This is not a matter of social growth, of media becoming more “sophisticated.” It’s about media becoming overwhelmingly more corrupt. There simply is no balance. Sin sells, and everybody knows it. Even remotely harmless media is outgunned, no kidding, a thousand to one by this cussing and fornicating, even on relatively (and arguably) integrative fare like the award-winning Mad Men.

Which is not to say don’t watch Mad Men or Grey’s Anatomy or House. Art is art. Limiting ourselves to only “Christian” fare is simply another form of brainwashing. What I am advocating here is not censorship. I’m saying, stop allowing this stuff to define you. Find some balance between the noise and alone time. Inside your head time. Meditation is a complex expression of a simple idea: just think. The more you know about who you are, Who God is, and what the relationship between the two is, the more effectively you can appreciate art—including TV shows and movies—as an observer of art as opposed to being subject to it. Unplugging from the chaos gives you the power, returns that power to you, and allows your own choices to set your own bar about what is Normal and to reject concepts and philosophies which do not meet the standard you’ve set for yourself. All that noise just ricochets off your force field and you become more centered, more planted, more rooted in your own sense of self and your own decisions about who you are and Whom you serve.

How many hours per week do you spend in quiet? How often do you turn your cell phone off. Not silence the ringer, turn it off. Toss it in a drawer. The drive to work, to school—how often do you make that trip in silence, giving over your mind to peaceful, contemplative thought? To communing with God, to allow Him to speak to you? Now, compare that to how may hours you have media—in some form or other—blasting at you. I don’t care if it is so-called “Gospel” shows or music—how many hours per week is that stuff on? Versus how many hours of quiet?

I have this pastor friend

who likes to sit across from you, jab his finger and tell you, “Your problem is this, your problem is that, you need to do this, you need to do that.” Which is terrible pastoring. Pastors aren’t here to tell us what to do or how to behave. Pastors are here to reveal God to us. My approach is very different. Instead of pointing fingers, I ask questions, promote discussion. “Well, how do you feel about that choice? What might you have done differently? Was that then most effective way to accomplish that goal?” My pastor buddy practices pastoring o the cheap: Tell People What To Do. When I believe a pastor’s job is to make people think for themselves. Telling people what to do is the laziest form of ministry. It’s much easier to get a guy a haircut than to encourage his thinking to discover things about himself and his motives.

Independent thought is not valued or encouraged. We are told, from birth to the graveyard, what to think, what to value, how to behave. Pastors will tell you This Is Normal, and proceed to tell you how to live. Which is not a pastor’s job. A pastor’s job is to introduce you to God. To, in fact, encourage you to un-plug from the noise, discover God for yourself. That discovery will be life-changing, and God will do the rest. Many of our pastors hit us over the head with the Levitical Code—do’s and don’ts and condemnations thereof the Christian church selectively enforces—and with the Apostle Paul’s teaching—omitting the many places where Paul encourages us to make our own choices; where he says “I wish everyone were like me,” [I Cor. 7] which underscores the fact Paul recognized worship found many different expressions. We hammer people with Paul’s admonitions, homophobia and oppression of women while missing the most important ones, that transformation begins with the space between our ears [Romans 12:2], with changing our thinking. And that, even equipped with his pastoral teaching and guidelines, we each have an individual right and responsibility to discover God for ourselves and to determine our own path, our own thinking [Philippians 2:12-13]. In that context, church can be and often is just as bad as TV. From the moment we walk in to the moment we leave there is no quiet. No place for independent or individual thought. Music going non-stop. Preachers telling us what to think and how to be.

Ministry should not be about brainwashing. Should not be about the church or this ministry or anyone else telling you who God is or how to think about Him. Knowing God should be about discovery, about forming a relationship, about investment. There’s just no way to do that without pulling the plug on all the noise in your life. Without confronting your fear of quiet, of being alone. Alone is good for you. Alone, quiet, clears out the cobwebs. Allows us to do what many if not most of us rarely do: think. Think and, finally, listen. It is only in this context that we can clearly hear God, that w can truly find Him. And, perhaps, that’s why the world works as hard as it does to fill up our lives with noise.

Our entire value system has been co-opted

and corrupted, our focus on acquiring ever more useless junk to pile in a corner, fashion trends to discard soon as the next one comes out. We eagerly digest the bankrupt values of these moronic “reality” TV shows, sporting games flooded with beer commercials and pickup trucks. Would we be so materialistic, so petty, so jealous of one another if we didn’t see these things on TV? Would we even know about the latest gadget, the newest car, the latest trend? Would we even desire these things, place value in these things, if we weren’t bombarded with ads day and night? Would we toss and turn at night, would our self-esteem be tied up in how much junk we own, which credit cards we have, how much cash we have in the bank, if those values weren’t constantly fed to us?

Children’s programming is especially evil, with advertisers bombarding kids and teens day and night with all manner of useless junk they don’t need, with fast food and sugary cereals and drinks, violent games and over-priced, ridiculous-looking clothes? Would your kid think so little of himself because he doesn’t have the latest shoe or cell phone if you weren’t brainwashing him with TV and other media every hour he’s awake?

I cancelled my cable two years ago. It was tough at first, but now I'm so used to not having TV I don’t even miss it. And I've noticed that, increasingly, I have absolutely no idea who these so-called "Stars" are, and don’t care. TV is bondage. It is, by definition, witchcraft: that which denies the holiness of God. Too many of us— especially the poor and underserved— are slaves to it, the thing is on day and night, so hot you could cook on it. It influences our values and routinely out-guns the church— which most of us pay attention to for maybe one hour a week if that much. While the TV is on nearly 24/7.

I don’t know who Justin Beaver is. I don’t care who Justin Beaver is. And I can scarcely imagine how much better this planet would be if we wouldn't routinely allow television to corrupt and distort our values. Prince (of all people) once said, "Don’t let your children watch television until they know how to read." It's amazing how utterly profound that statement is, and how wise.

Christopher J. Priest
10 April 2011

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