Does this T-Shirt Fit Me?

Two posts ago I suggested that Mormons are weird.  If you read the post, you know that I also said that all us Christians are weird.  And that got me to thinking about church and culture and . . .

This evening I heard a song by the group CAKE on my XM Satellite Radio (channel 54 – Lucy) called "How do you afford your rock’n’roll lifestyle?" (from the band’s 1994 album, Motorcade of Generosity).  The song bursts the bubble of self-styled rebellious teens who orient their contrarian lifestyle around a large CD collection, concerts and other trappings of a self-obsessed rock’n’roll lifestyle.

The song begins by asking pointed questions that seek to poke holes in the listener’s facade of an alternative, rock’n’roll identity:

Well, your CD collection looks shiny and costly.
How much did you pay for your bad Moto Guzi?
And how much did you spend on your black leather jacket?
Is it you or your parents in this income tax bracket?

Now tickets to concerts and drinking at clubs,
Sometimes for music that you haven’t even heard of.
And how much did you pay for your rock’n’roll t-shirt
That proves you were there,
That you heard of them first?

How do you afford your rock’n’roll lifestyle?
How do you afford your rock’n’roll lifestyle?
How do you afford your rock’n’roll lifestyle?
Ah, tell me.

After another verse of sarcastic questioning about the ridiculous spending and reckless abandon of a "rock’n’roll lifestyle," the singer tells the listener that this trumped-up rock’n’roll lifestyle is a complete joke:

Excess ain’t rebellion.
You’re drinking what they’re selling.
Your self-destruction doesn’t hurt them.
Your chaos won’t convert them.
They’re so happy to rebuild it.
You’ll never really kill it.
Yeah, excess ain’t rebellion.
You’re drinking what they’re selling.
Excess ain’t rebellion.
You’re drinking,
You’re drinking,
You’re drinking what they’re selling.

You are no different than them, buddy.  You, with your crazy "rebellious" clothes and music and clubs and drinking habits, you are just playing into the system and are no different than anybody else.  In fact, your little fantasy of being different simply plays into the hands of some guys in suits who are glad to profit by selling you more of your self-destructive, rock’n’roll lifestyle.

And so, this song got me to thinking – to what extent are we in the church just fooling ourselves like some teenager who is trying to live a rock’n’roll lifestyle?  We claim to have something that makes our message, our witness, our presence in the world unique, and yet we are so darn wed to the world that we are mostly indistinct from it.  We have our CD collection (church hymnody), our leather jackets (vestments), our rock’n’roll t-shirts (crosses, albs, choir robes), our clubs and drinks (church and holy communion), and yet, are we really any different than the rest of the world?  Or is all this spiritual apparatus just allowing us to fool ourselves?

I ask this, too, because our Mormon friends are "weird," as I wrote the other day.  By fact of their dedication to mission, their conservatism, their unique teachings, their strict moral code, and many other unique traits, they stand out in our society.  They wear the proverbial rock’n’roll t-shirt – but unlike the religious posers who wear the t-shirt because they want to be seen in it, the t-shirt really fits our Mormon friends.  It is real for them.  And despite all the reasons a mainline, "orthdox" Christian might look askance at a Mormon, I admire their ability to stand apart in some ways from the world, to stand for something, to bring a distinct message into the world.

I know that I’m falling into the cliched Christ/culture discussion, and that I’m even missing the Lutheran understanding – one that calls us to avoid an either/or discussion about culture, but rather that calls us to seek an embodied God, a Word Made Flesh, at work in and through culture.  I know that either/or is not the only conversation to have.  But in light of my visits with the Mormons and this oddly wonderful song by CAKE, I can’t help but think about who I am, where I am, and what my faith calls me to be vis-a-vis my culture, society and world.

A few songs later, however, I may have heard some advice on the topic in the form of the song "Stand," by REM.

Stand in the place where you are, now face north
Stand in the place where you are, now face west
Stand in the place where you are, now face west
     Your feet are going to be on the ground
Stand in the place where you are, now face
     Your head is there to move you around, so
So stand

Stand in the place where you are.  Be where God has called you to be, in the culture and world and society God has placed you.  In that way, through those means, in those places – that is where we can be who God calls us to be.

I think so, but I’m still wondering if the rock’n’roll t-shirt I’m wearing (or this t-shirt) really fits me or, if I’m just posing . . .

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

5 thoughts on “Does this T-Shirt Fit Me?

  1. Thought provoking posting…
    Random thoughts, somewhat related:
    My husband went to a conference on consumerism and Christianity. It had to do with things like the success theology encouraging materialism. And also about how some churches are becoming like little malls to attract people. [I reserve judgment on this. If getting people in the door to hear a Christian message is “GOOD,” well, OK, but I won’t generalize if this is religion as entertainment or actually preaching the WORD.]
    I watch some of the decorating shows on TV because I enjoy the creative aspects, but on some of these shows the premise is something like, “redoing a (perfectly good, but outdated) bathroom but come in under a budget of $40.000.” Then I think about all the people who could use that money for food, or education, or immunizations.
    Our church might be remodeling/adding on. There is good reason to do this, mostly for accessibility. We are told that people give much more when they can see the results, when it is FOR US.
    As a veteran of the Stewardardship Committee, I know we’ll have challenges to get this money, but I also know that the biggest challenge is educating the members on true stewardship, where one gives of the First Fruits.
    The Lutheran understanding is, I suppose, being in the world, but not of the world. From another point of view, if any of us were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough (ourward) evidence to convict us?

  2. We have our CD collection (church hymnody), our leather jackets (vestments), our rock’n’roll t-shirts (crosses, albs, choir robes), our clubs and drinks (church and holy communion), and yet, are we really any different than the rest of the world?
    No, we’re not. The church and all its trappings are part of this world the same as everything else. What stands apart is Christ Crucified. When He is proclaimed, wherever that may be, that stands apart, and wherever He isn’t (even in the supposed distinctiveness of the church), it doesn’t.
    Let the Mormons pretend to be otherworldly. How clean they look, how neatly they conform to our expectations about holiness and personal perfection. Ultimately, that otherworldliness is all about themselves; it’s the same inversion that the world suffers from, the same sin.

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