The advent season is upon us and to countdown, the Keep Calm and Read On Blog will be hosting 4 weeks of Fictional Liturgy. Fiction, as discussed in a post I wrote for MuggleNet back in October, has the power to create empathy and teach the reader. It requires reflection. Good fiction contains wisdom. In these 4 blogs I plan to focus on a cultural issue and a specific work of fiction ranging from novels to films, while sprinkling in some personal notes from time to time. I wrote them as one would write a sermon…or at least how I imagine one writes a sermon. I do not claim to be a Biblical scholar nor do I claim these pieces of fiction I reference to carry more weight than the Bible. These posts will reflect my beliefs but I hope they will also reflect the message of Jesus and his vision of the Kingdom. Merry Christmas.
“Miss Caroline Krafft seriously needed to pluck her eyebrows. Her outfit looked like it was picked out by a blind Sunday school teacher. And she had some [cheap] lip gloss on her snaggletooth. And that’s when I realized, making fun of Caroline Krafft wouldn’t stop her from beating me in this contest…Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.” – Lindsay Lohan as Cady, Mean Girls
A few weeks ago a scandal swept the nation. Starbucks had removed their Christmas graphics of snowflakes and decorations in place of a minimalistic plain red cup. Many Christians were furious. First they have to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, and now symbols of the faith were being removed from holiday cups! How dare the establishment take away Merry Christmas and snowmen, all of which are key parts of the Bible?
It seems that there are a good amount of Christians in America who feel like they are under attack. Whether it be the minimization of religious symbolism around the holidays or the government legalizing gay marriage or not having prayer in school. In some respects, they have a right to feel this way. America is becoming anal about political correctness. As a Christian myself, I understand the place in which fundamentalist Christians are coming from.
But I see more good in the world. I see people helping one another and being innovative and creative with how they help those less fortunate. In fact, I see more people who aren’t Christians doing good deeds and loving their fellow neighbor. They aren’t freaking out about the design of a cup but are doing their best to create a better world (example – Relevant Magazine, Claro Candles). The truth is, there is a lot of hypocrisy in American Christianity and I feel there is a big disconnect between what the majority feels is morally wrong versus their own actions.
We all have a general understanding of Luke 6:42 from the New Testament:
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
I think it is safe to say that what Jesus says is a universal truth, whether you claim Christianity as your faith or not. This isn’t the only time Jesus speaks of hypocrisy in the Bible. So why do so many Christians fit the shoe of hypocrites? That is a question I can’t completely answer. I can only attempt to try and make sense of it all.
One day when I was in middle school, I was walking down the hall alone when up ahead was a girl I knew named Brooke. The two of us had shared classes together, shared the occasional hi and goodbye, and sometimes worked as pairs in chemistry class, but weren’t friends. As I went to pass her, she inclined her head to the person walking behind me who I hadn’t noticed beforehand. When I turned around I saw a girl named Sally. I never interacted with Sally. We shared no classes together and virtually never came in contact with one another. I’m not sure if she noticed me turning around but when I turned back to face forward, Brooke chuckled and said to me, “Boy, is she ever ugly.” She didn’t whisper but spoke loudly. We were the only three people in the hall. I can remember my heart jumping in my throat and the pressure I felt to go with the flow of things. My discomfort must have shown. I can remember sort of giggling because I felt so awkward, which made matters even worse. By the time I got back to my class, I felt like a complete jerk. How could I have let Brooke get away with saying something so rude? I hadn’t stuck up for Sally. I had laughed. What kind of person laughs at something like that? Why hadn’t I said something? Did I not have a back bone?
I can’t look back at this moment in my life without cringing. The memory is so fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. I always saw myself as a good person yet there I sat, the class around me oblivious to my self-reflection and concentrating on what the teacher wrote on the whiteboard ahead, in misery because I wasn’t a good person. I hadn’t stood up to a bully but had cowered and went along with her game. Suddenly I was hyper aware of my own hypocrisy. What I preached didn’t seem to be what I practiced. The thought of that didn’t make me feel any better, but at least I was able to recognize the issue. It doesn’t excuse my actions but the realization was an important one.
In the movie Mean Girls, the main character Cady also displays her own shades of hypocrisy. Allow me to give a brief summary to those who haven’t seen Mean Girls and who have been living under a rock for the last several years… After living in Africa for her entire life, Cady (pronounced Katie) moves to America when her parents want her to live a normal teenage existence that includes going to high school. Once Cady arrives at school she makes two new friends, Janis and Damian. After a series of events in which Cady interacts with the school’s top mean girl, Regina George, and her two sidekicks (a trio known as “the Plastics”), a plan is hatched for Cady to hang out with the Plastics and spy on them. She will then reveal all the dirty information she gathers to Janis and Damian. But what starts as a seemingly innocent prank turns into a war which then leads to Cady becoming just as plastic as the people she claimed to despise. Once Cady recognizes how much she messed up, she takes steps to suck the poison out of her life.
What makes Mean Girls such a powerful and comically moving film is its understanding of human psychology. We watch Cady’s slow downward spiral from good, honest girl to plastic, mean girl. While her intentions started out good, she was always in the wrong and recognizes this in the quote that I provided at the start of this blog. She recognizes that pointing out another person’s flaws won’t change her own.
That is an extremely profound message coming from the same film that has lines such as, “Boo you whore!” and “Dawn Schweitzer made out with a hotdog.” But truth is truth.
In my last blog series I talked about my distaste for Christian media, specifically fictional books which avoid the reality of the world in place of a clean cut message and a saved by Jesus moment. Mean Girls, which includes vulgar language and behavior, doesn’t shy away from the dark reality of high school. Sure it may generalize and be overdramatic for comedic effect, but it gives the viewer a good look at our own hypocrisy. We are quick to criticize those who gossip yet we talk about each other in private.
Just like Cady, Christians seem to have good intentions but their actions say something entirely different. With Cupgate we see Christians getting mad about lack of Christmas symbolism on Starbucks cups yet none of that symbolism points back to Jesus. The materialism they claim to hate at Christmastime they are now fighting for? Is that standing for Jesus? Is that standing for good? And more importantly, what God are we fighting for when we act this way? Is our God what material possessions say he is? Or is our God the God in the Bible who is not deterred by what man thinks?
When I see Christians acting this way I understand why so many people hate us and leave the church.
It seems that at Christmastime we need to suck the poison out of ourselves just like Cady and truly unite as a community. Instead of worrying about what is on the Starbucks cup or what Regina George is saying behind everyone’s backs, let’s focus on what truly matters this Christmas. Let’s not be fake or plastic. Instead, why don’t we just be honest with each other and unite with one another?