Monday, May 08, 2006

exposure and contamination

I am thinking through exposure verses contamination these days. I thought about this today as I drove in my car listening to Christian music. I listen to the Christian radio station because I find that I really do praise God as I sing when that radio station is on.

I remember going through a time when I rejected all forms of Christian music. I had grown up listening to Christian music and really enjoyed it. Then I reached a place where I began to realize that there was other, better music out in the world. And a lot of Christians began to mock Christian music. And they were right to do so for the most part. So why do I listen to it now? This is the question I asked myself.

Well, I found myself listening to the Christian radio station more and more. Not because of some external pressure to do so, but because I found my moods, my thinking and my overall attitude much more "God-ward" when I did than when I didn't. I still listen to a variety of music on the radio. But I must confess that my favorite station is the Christian station.

I know this is heresy for all the other post-modern, emergent church-planters out there. I have crossed over to the dark side by admitting this. But I began thinking about why it is that I feel the need to sing worship songs in my car. Somehow it connects me back to the purpose of my very existance. And so rather than sing along to a love song or an "angry at the world" song, I like to sing along to a "praise God for loving me and saving my sorry ass" song.

Part of me thinks that I need to listen because of my own weaknesses. I wonder if exposure to the world must be balanced out with exposure to God. An imbalance of exposure creates contamination. If I am continually exposing myself to the world through its images and subtle lies in advertising, music, movies and culture then I need to also expose myself to the Spirit of God, scripture, the presence of God in prayer, holy community and the like in order not to be contaminated by the world.

Relevance and love for people demand that I am "in" the world. Holiness and love for God demand that I am not "of" the world. If I seclude myself from the world then I lose my ability to reach out to it. I become contaminated in a different way. I become contaminated with inwardness, selfishness, and exclusivity. But if I am exposed only to the world or even mainly to the world, then that is what I will be contaminated by. I will begin to look more like my culture then I do Jesus. Which, I must confess, is probably the case in my life.

I am over exposing myself to the world like an albino in the blistering Carribean sun. I think we all are. I think this is true especially for those who find themselves, relunctantly or not, in the emergent church. This is of course a reaction against Christianity as an exclusive community. But both have their damaging effects.

So now I attempt to rid the contamination by balancing the exposure. One part God, one part world. And maybe listening to Christian music is a part of that.

Jesus was perfect at this anti-contamination via balance of exposure. He could enter more deeply into the world than his disciples could. He had 100% exposure to the light, so darkness was never too dark for him. He could hang out with prostitutes and not lust after them. Could you do the same with porn stars? Could you enter that deeply into the world and not be contaminated by it? Probably not. I couldn't. Why not? Because that kind of exposure to the world would contaminate me. In my life I don't expose myself to God enough for contamination NOT to happen in a situation like that. Jesus could hang out with drinkers and not get drunk. He could hang out with gossips and not spread rumors. He could be with thieves and not clutch his wallet.

I think many young Christians, many emergent, think they are strong enough to be in the world and not be contaminated by it. They think too highly of themselves. Our pride comes before our fall. We have rejected "churchianity" and "christianese" in favor of diving headlong into the world. And maybe this is where Jesus calls us to be. But many of us are not ready to be there. We are over-exposed to the world and under-exposed to the voice, presence and power of God. And so, right and left, we are being contaminated. And instead of spreading the gospel, we are infecting the next generation of disciples with eight parts world, one part God.

So what do we do? Do we run back to our exclusive Christianity, shuting the doors behind us as we go? No. Our only option is to dive headlong into God. To expose ourselves to Him every day, all day. And our hope is that His piercing Light will burn away the darkness that fogs our life.


At 4:47 PM, Blogger Charlie said...

Great post...some of the same exact things I've been thinking a lot about lately!


At 9:05 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Best dang post ever. :)

At 8:39 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...


Good post, I am constantly thinking about this. Finding the fine line between reaching out to others of the world, and compromising our faith and beliefs. I feel some get wrapped up in it and don't even realized that they may be getting sucked in.

You make a strong point that we as Christians need to continue to dive into God's word and direction so that we will be prepared and as you put it, less contaminated.


You mentioned music, christian and secular. I couldn't agree more, and prefered to tune into the Christian channels as well. So tell me, when others are riding with you, do you feel a need to switch channels?

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Mark said...

You know its funny. I usually want to turn it to a station that my passanger will like. So if people are riding with me I either turn it to a rock station or a mix station.
What I tend to do most often is turn it down to the point that you can bearly hear it. I find that conversation flows better when I do this.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Jeff Mount said...

Mark, you said "I think many young Christians, many emergent, think they are strong enough to be in the world and not be contaminated by it. They think too highly of themselves. Our pride comes before our fall. "

This is the story of my life as a bartender. I went in, thinking how edgy and revolutionary it would be to serve up drinks and be right in the thick of the world, and be a light for it. But as you and lots of other people know, a lot of the baggage got thrown on my shoulders as I stayed in that world for too long without clinging to Christ in the midst of it.

How can we continue to teach those in the emergent movement, that sometimes being seperated out from the world is not a bad thing, but a necessary thing for our spiritual health? And not just seperate in a metaphorical/internal/attitude/
perspective sense...but in a real manner?

At 8:21 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Yours is a good question. Maybe somehow we can model a lifestyle that admits our weaknesses. Maybe then people will understand that we are not running from the world in order to be exclusive but we are submitting to Christ our own places of sin.

We are admitting that a stronger brother should go into those dark places. But also admitting that we are not that "strong brother" as we once thought we were.

Maybe then those coming up after us will think hard and examine themselves in Christ before diving headlong into the world.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Kelly said...

"I am over exposing myself to the world like an albino in the blistering Carribean sun."

that is an awesome quote. I definitely think this was an accurate post concerning Christians and the battle within ourselves to how much exposure to the world is too much. Definitely something I have struggled with time and time again. And, although I would never admit it anywhere else but on the privacy of the internet..haha, i too maintain a better mood and God-centered mindset when I listen to christian music. As much as I really dislike CCM, the focus shines through dramatically.

I also think it is interesting that on some levels, especially in the postmodern/emergent church movement, some followers decide to lend themselves more to the ways of the world in an extreme opposition of the christians most emergent church goers are afraid to affiliate themselves with. Just like talking to someone who isnt a believer and as soon as the subject of christianity comes about, there is a lot of apology almost...and "yeah, I'm a christian, but I stil...(fill in worldly activity here)"
One of the saddest things is that I know so many people affiliated with the emergent church who are deeply passionate for God and Hos word and will, and yet are so bogged down with trying to break through the stereotype of a christian (i.e. conservative, republican...etc) just so they feel they can talk to people outside of their faith, but then they get so caught up in the mismatch and misunderstandings it becomes much more than one person can handle without relying on God to really do the work.
Our society focuses so much on image, and the Christian realm of pop culture is an offender of this as well. So we have people in the world worried about acceptance because they dont know the love of christ, and then we have christians...afraid of not being accepted either, by the world, because we want to reach the world, right? Not be some uncool, kid who goes to church and sings all that...worship music...right?

i mean, after all...thats why i got tattoos.

and the hardest part is that of all people, we that know the love and unconditional acceptance of Jesus--sometimes struggle with it worse than ever.

you are one smart cookie Mark. i enjoy your writings.

At 6:53 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Thanks Kelly. Good thoughts.

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