I would like to share with you something that happened to my wife at her work. She is blessed to work at an evangelical (Baptist) institution with a large staff (circa 400 employees), as the CEO’s personal assistant. While she is the CEO’s assistant, her immediate superior is the General Secretary of the outfit. The General Secretary is a lady a little bit older than me; I worked with her in varous capacities since 1997 or so, and she always impressed me by her professional attitude, her friendliness and her commitment to excellence in service. Thus you can guess that this lady gets a lot of respect from me.
My wife and me share a liking for that 80’s music (well, that was our golden age…). I suggested her to get a boombox at her office, so she could hear one of the many “retro” radio stations of Asunción, and she did. She played the music softly, keeping the volume low enough as to ensure that the music would be audible just to her and to no one else.
Now, you must understand a little about Paraguayan Evangelicals. Since we are a minority, many of us still have the marks of a ghetto community. Now this is a hindrance: our country is ready to embrace the Gospel in unprecedented ways, and yet our brethren are a little reluctant to be bold in evangelism. Conversion is not only a spiritual event; it is also a socio–cultural one, where you come to identify yourself with a ghetto by displaying the same token attitudes that would brand you as “one of us”.
It looks like one of these tokens is the choice of radio stations. In 1992, the Mennonite Brethren founded the OBEDIRA FM Station as an all–around evangelical radio, broadcasting some Christian music (almost all of it contemporary), and some sermons. OBEDIRA grew to became currently positioned among the Top 5 radios of all Paraguay, with an impressive broadcast range measured into the hundreds of kilometers.
However, growth in market positioning was inversely proportional to quality: while OBEDIRA already started in the “bad” sector of the quality meter, it only grew worse. Now, the programming is a crass and gross mess of really bad music (for example, some Tex-Mex Christian music that only says something against Satan, and other equally profound and theologically insightful stuff), and worse talk–show, where the deepest subject tackled is Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez and how it will give you the best blessings.
I thought that my fellow brethren would chose to stay away from such low depths, but I was wrong. Wherever I step into some evangelical realm (a fellow believer’s home, some evangelical institution, the office of some evangelical worker in a company, etc.), the radio loudspeakers are booming OBEDIRA’s crap as obnoxiously as they can get away with. It is almost like they’re flaunting their faith unto any passersby by inflicting them the aural torture of such bovine dung. I never understood it, and every day I understand it less. As for myself, well, the second I found that it was all bollocks I switched the dial away to something better (nothing difficult, by the way).
One day, my wife came home from office, and as soon as I greeted her I saw a look of deep disappointment in her face. She then told me that earlier in the day, the General Secretary send her a note that said, succintly:
Furthermore, in her weekly evaluation, the G.S. told her: “Here in the General Secretariat we are on the eyes of everybody and we must be very concerned about our image. We must set the example for others to follow. Since we are a Christian organization, we must bear Christian witness even in our choice of radio stations. Therefore I instruct you to listen only to Radio OBEDIRA during office hours.”
I was taken aback, very disappointed. I suggested my wife to return the boombox home, and get done with it. Both of us agreed that silence is better than such crap. But deeper questions remains.
What disappoint me the most about OBEDIRA and my fellow brethren is how ugly the programming is. We understand that the Lord created the world (Hebrews 11:3; Genesis 1:1) through Jesus Christ, who is radiant and glorious (Hebrews 1:2,3). And everything that God created was very good (Genesis 1:31).
Thus, it should be pretty evident that beauty –goodness and truth expressed in the realm of the senses– is deeply rooted in the creative activity of God; and it is out of the question that the quest for beauty, when put in its right priority, is a way to honor and glorify God. As redeemed men and women, we should work out to restore the beauty of God’s world. We must do it because God is beautiful; what He has done to us in choosing and predestining us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4,5) is beautiful beyond expression; and we are commanded to hope something that it is described as “riches of glorious inheritance”, an “immeasurable greatness” (Ephesians 1:18,19). We also know that the gifts of God are “good and perfect” (James 1:17). It is a serious call: If we are to behave like children of a beautiful, glorious God, we are bound to seek ways of filling this world with His beauty and glory.
Thus, beauty in the world became by creation; and we are called to restore it by redemption. However, Fall complicated things. For one thing, our sense of beauty became deeply flawed. What should be an absolute emanated from the archetypal source of all beauty –God Himself– became the hotbed of relativism. The beauty in the eyes of one beholder is boredom or ugliness in the eyes of other. And not only that; but nowadays so many sins come under an appearance of beauty. The grass is greener on the neighbor’s side of the fence. The strange woman might appear more enticing that one’s own, at times; or what is most pornography but something beautiful put to misuse?
How can we overcome such crippling relativism and deception? Hans–Georg Gadamer, speaking about Kant’s “Critique of Judgment” and the exposition about aesthetics that you find there (in his seminal work Truth and Method), points out that for Kant and for many of the ancient philosophers, this could be overcome by training and education. If you are an uneducated person, you will have tastes pointing out to the crass and the kitsch. However, a good classical education had as one of its goal to equip the budding scholar with tools that would enable him to appreciate the “real” beauty. That is, in order to appreciate a lot of the riches of, say, Homer’s Illiad, one must tackle the study of Classical Greek; if you really want to appreciate the works of Jorge Luis Borges, you must master the Spanish language, and have a working knowledge of English, English protestantism, and the Protestant Bible; and so on.
However, the main thrust for beauty should be the Enlightenment; no, no that one of Leibniz and the like. I am talking about the enlightenment of the “eyes of our hearts” (Ephesians 1:18), that is, the “spirit of your mind”, which can happen only by putting on “the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23,24). In other words, the implications of the theology of redemption strongly suggest that it is the redeemed, regenerated Christian believer the one who should be at the forefront of the quest for beauty. Sadly, as my wife experienced, this is far away from realized among ourselves.
I wonder, why my brethren continue to obnoxiously push such crap as if it were the sum of all that is good? This question also perplexes me in the issue of worship, where the same crass attitude is all too evident. Do they perhaps venture to think that such sacrifices are pleasing to God? Are these sacrifices worthy of a holy priesthood, living stones of the spiritual house of God? I think not.
And thus we have our little situation in my wife’s office. The worst thing of all is that this became a scandal to her. You might now that my wife is Roman Catholic. She is born-again, and the Lord Jesus Christ is her only Savior, but she was raised too Catholic that she would not consider leaving the church at any time. While she and I have true spiritual communion, I agree that the situation now is less than desirable. I am praying so that we could find a good solution to the issue.
The boombox came home, and everything returned to normal. But deep inside my heart, I feel like I hear stones crying out to heaven, because we have become too silent or lazy in so many crucial questions. Do you think that my wife would be inclined now to request membership at my local church? The only certain thing that my lady friend the General Secretary accomplished is to reinforce my wife’s deep notion, that all Protestants are zealots and fanatics and unable to see a camel in front of them because they’re intent in nitpicking each others’ lives. We might be a devout people, but our devotion smacks of fanaticism and ugliness; and truly so.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Update: Catez from Kiwiland wrote a fantastic post on a sligthly related question: Why Did God Give Us Intellect?. The whole post is filled with solid gold in insights, and it relates very well to my musings on the Evangelicals’ aesthetic failure. Here’s an especially great passage, only that what she says about women, I would say about Paraguayan evangelicals:
Finally, and this is important, many Christian women have not been encouraged to develop and use their minds in service to God. If any group of people within the wider church have suffered from the anti-intellectualism that has eroded evangelicalism, it is Christian women. When Jesus advised us not to hide our talents but to invest them he was not being gender-specific. If God has given us minds then we are to develop them, exercise them, and use them.
Go there and read it. You won’t be disappointed. Promise!