If you know me at all, you know one thing about me: I. Love. Taylor. Swift.
And on November 10th, 2017, her new album reputation is made its way into our hands, fellow fans.
Now I can give you endless reasons on why I think her career has been an exceptional one, but in reality, I love all art that’s raw and word-oriented. I love that people can jumble a bunch of letters and spaces on a piece of paper, and it’s as if they’ve read your mind. I love that you can almost experience others’ lives when it’s put down in ink. I love that we can empathize with each other as humans simply by using words.
And all these thoughts, words, and ideas manifest themselves in artistic media.
So, of course, comes the ultimate question: should I listen/watch secular media at all? If so, how do I, as a Christian, engage secular art without becoming captive to an unbiblical mindset?
Well, I’m so glad you asked. I have some rules/boundaries that I have placed on myself, and you might find these important to incorporate in your own art-tasting endeavors.
- Have the right mindset when participating in this art by considering the context. The important context here includes the w’s you probably learned in elementary: who, what, when, where, and why. Let’s take reputation as an example. The who is Taylor Swift. The what is a musical album. The when is over the last year or so (specifically, while she was being hammered by the media.) The where is sort of irrelevant here. She has a long explanation of why in the album, but in general terms, it’s to express her thoughts to the world. From this break-down, I am reminded that this is music written by a human who has fresh feelings about some relatively semi-traumatic events that have occurred very recently. I am also reminded that she does not seem to claim Christianity or align herself with Christian values, and is therefore, not being guided by the Word. This context is vital. It reminds us that, though well-written, this is a worldly perspective and not an eternal one. We must remember that music and all other art is a human expression of an (often emotional) experience and not ultimate truth. Remember that most lyrics are written in great angst or great highs. Most movies depict very dramatized moments, even fictional ones. These are human inventions.
- Be skeptical. This relates to what is said above, but I think it’s more-so the next step. So now that you have reminded yourself that this is a human expression, don’t just take what is said in a book, or actions done by a character to automatically be the “right thing.” We are all broken, so broken people are those producing art. Does it mean that we shouldn’t read it and analyze it or even enjoy it to an extent? No. Art helps us empathize with one another and understand other’s experiences. It can also help us understand the perspective of the many nonbelievers we interact with on a daily basis. There is much research suggesting that reading has been linked to empathy. (I’ll let you look it up for yourself.) And Christ encourages us to empathize with our fellow humans. So much so, that He even took on our human experience himself, expressing great commitment to this empathy. But we need to understand that we are people, people are sinful, and sinful perspectives can often lead to unbiblical advice, especailly from those that are not Christians. Therefore, you should always compare the message suggested by an author to what you know to be true from the Bible. Read articles that analyze the narratives and themes, such as this one I read (and agreed with) on the theme of vengeance in Swift’s new album and how revenge is not the agenda of the gospel. (The gospel’s theme is actually the opposite.) So read counter-opinions, read other Christians’ reviews, and compare what you know to be true to the misconceptions/claims of the media.
- Take necessary breaks. If you feel yourself becoming too caught up in a particular media outlet, if you find yourself day dreaming about it often, if you start thinking about the characters before the friends in your real life, if you use quotes from a book/lines from a pop star’s song more than scripture and prayer to get you through hard times, then it’s time to re-evaluate. You need to fast from whatever has grabbed your affection, and ask Christ to take it over instead.
- Always wake up and go to sleep with the Word and Prayer. This one is so huge for me that you might see an entire post on it at some point. You know the quote that goes like “The first thing you think of when you wake up and the morning and the last thing you think of when you lay down at night are where your heart lies”? (Something like that– I couldn’t find the exact quote.) I believe this is so true, and making myself intentionally spend time with God immediately before I shut my eyes to sleep and as soon as I hit my alarm in the morning have made a HUGE difference in my spiritual life over the past two months. Don’t go to sleep or wake up and immediately engage in secular media. Try not to even look at your texts that you received in the middle of the night or what the weather is going to be like that day. Start by grabbing a copy of Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening or download the app for it (link here). Go to bed reading a Psalm, meditating on it, and telling Christ about your day. The thing that you rise to and the thing that you (literally) rest in needs to be Christ. In the same way, read the Word much more than you read books. Make an effort to play more praise songs than secular songs. These things are ways of “tuning [your] heart to sing Thy grace” and prepping your soul to understand a secular culture, but simultaneously being fully convinced that Christ is where we will find all of life’s questions answered.
- Lastly, I recognize that not all artistic media is appropriate for a believer to engage. Where do we draw the line of what is okay and what isn’t? One of the questions the church likes to ask is “how far is too far?” However, as one of my favorite bloggers often says, this should not be the question we should be asking. On the contrary, the question we as believer should ask is “how holy can I be?“ Instead of wondering where we can push the boundaries, we need to ask what would draw my heart closer to Christ? What would give me a better understanding of my neighbor and help me serve them better? What would give me a greater appreciation for the gospel? If that looks like turning the radio station, putting the book down, or changing the channel, then so be it. No art is ever worth growing apart from Christ. And from my experience, you need to make sure that you are viewing the world through the lenses of the gospel and not the gospel through the lenses of the world. You can do this by making sure that you are not engaging media that only portrays the seemingly “glamorous” aspects of sin, but that is authentic about the consequences of our actions. (A really great TV show that does a great job of this is This Is Us.) Ultimately, the only story that really matters is the story of the Bible, the story of Christ. So if you “miss out” on a TV show because you believe it will take your focus off of Christ and onto this world, well, you’re really not missing out after all. And I applaud you for that.
So feel free, Christians. Read some secular books with wisdom and skepticism. And if it would inhibit your growth, don’t feel “deprived” because you “can’t” participate in a particular fandom; feel excited that you will know Christ better by not participating. Don’t be afraid of all secular media, but if you feel so called, engage it with a mind set of “I want to understand the personal experience portrayed in ___________, but I know that one experience doesn’t speak for the entire human condition. Only real truth is found in Christ.” Artists can offer great pathways for empathy and feel so free to celebrate their work and talents, but remember
that author/director/musician doesn’t know every hair on your head; Christ does.
They don’t know every detail of every experience of every human being that ever was; Christ does.
They didn’t die to win you; Christ did.
He’s the only one we can really trust with our affections, hearts, minds, souls, and bodies.
So I’m here to say I have loved listening to reputation. But I also listen to her album realizing that she’s an emotionally driven person, she’s not the God of the universe, and she’s terribly flawed. I will not listen to her words as truth, even if there are some hints of truth in them.
Truth is only found in one Book, through one Author anyway.
An Author who loved us so much that He died to win us.
If nothing else, that’s one reputation I can trust.
Suggested apps/podcasts/secondary sources:
The Gospel Coiliation’s podcast on secular fiction
Morning and Evening book or app
This is Us (GREAT secular TV show that portrays sin problems in a light that points out their problems, but also allows us to emphasize with the characters.)
In the comments: what do you think, reader? Should Christians refrain from all secular art/media? Where do you draw the line in the sand? What rules do you use to govern your art input?