“We don’t believe what’s on TV,
Because it’s what we want to see,
And what we want, we know we can’t believe,
We have all learned to kill our dreams.”
In their song, We Don’t Believe What’s on TV, Twenty One Pilots captures an element of truth that is lacking in much of Christian media. Life isn’t peachy. It isn’t perfect. We are flawed beings with flawed friends. We make horrible mistakes and suffer hurts that last for years, and to be a follower of Christ does not equate with a happy life.
Most of us who grew up in a Christian home know the story: the prodigal son returns. The marriage gets restored. Cancer goes away. The woman finally has a kid. The ending is happy and the glory goes to God. The problem with Christian media today, is that it often omits the reality of suffering and the perpetual battle of humanity against the difficulties of the world. And in doing so, it makes itself inaccessible to a large portion of the population.
After forty days of consuming nothing but Christian media, this blogger writes, “Faith-based films should be allowed to go mature and dark in order to truly show the light.” We are drawn to the stories of the downtrodden and the depressed because that’s what we are and that’s what we face. When the deep turmoil of the soul is neglected, so is our theology. It is the juxtaposition of doubt and faith that allow us to have hope.
Most people don’t know that Mother Teresa had a prolonged period of spiritual darkness. The now saint wrote in a journal: “Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony.”
Her writings echo that of the psalmist: “But I cry to you for help, O lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?”
And those of the Twenty-One Pilots lyricist:
“Fear might be the death of me, fear leads to anxiety,
Don’t know what’s inside of me.
Don’t forget about me,
Don’t forget about me,
Even when I doubt you,
I’m no good without you, no, no”
And my own: “I’m degenerating at a rate so increasing the spiral I’m climbing is now sliding and I’m on my face. Flat. Don’t know how to get back up. I pray. I talk. I write. I read. I eat. I don’t eat. I think. That’s the problem, I think.”
The problem, I think, is that Christian media is unimaginative in the way that it portrays the hope of Christ in the midst of human suffering. Madeleine L’Engle writes: “There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.” Christian media tends to put Christ in a box. But he will make himself known in all the unlikely places.
L’Engle continues her argument, “What is a true icon of God to one person may be blasphemy to another. And it is not possible for us flawed human beings to make absolute, zealous judgments as to what is and what is not religious art. I know what is religious art for me. You know what is religious art for you. And they are not necessarily the same.”
I think this is why I find hope and a prayer so much more readily in Twenty One Pilots than I do in Christian media. The words are reality and the cry of my soul and the souls of many others. We must acknowledge and embrace the potential of the Incarnation as we engage with art and media of all forms and genres. When we leave it to the Lord, we will always be surprised.