#WildGoose13: How can Christians transcend celebrity culture?

Wild Goose has been an interesting phenomenon so far. The theme of this years’s festival has been “re-membering the body.” To this end, there have been several random people going around passing out cards inviting us to engage in random acts of hospitality like sharing food with strangers. But it’s such a hard thing to transcend the well-trod paradigm of American culture where we sit in our lawn chairs as a crowd of individuals who aren’t making any effort to know each other and only share in common our adoration of the rock star on the stage. What would have to take place to create an environment in which strangers really could re-member the body of Christ together?

It’s possible and perhaps even likely that the body of Christ is happening in smaller venues that I just haven’t been privy to. One of the distractions I’m struggling with is the implication of the orange wristband I was given to wear. It means that I’m supposedly one of the rock stars (people who aren’t performing on a stage other than the open-mic tent have yellow wristbands; volunteers have blue wristbands). So I thought my orange wristband meant that when I introduced myself to other rock stars that I only know from cyberspace, they would give me a big hug or something.

Yeah not so much. It was more like “Hey great to meet you in person; let me catch up with you later.” It was kind of similar to the experience I had when I was so excited to get my own login at Huffington Post and quickly learned that hundreds of religion bloggers have logins. It’s one thing to have an orange wristband at Huff Post. It’s an entirely different thing to get a featured post (which are the ones that sometimes viralize, especially if it’s a topic like the top ten stereotypes about evangelicalism that we haven’t already covered before). You only get a featured post when you’re a real rock star. An orange wristband by itself doesn’t make you a Christian Kardashian.

I don’t fault any of the famous dudes I tried to talk to. I suspect that it’s some combination of genuine busyness and exhaustedness on their part and perhaps an emotionally needy vibe that I’m putting out which causes them to think “Oh dear” when they see that I’m a little too excited about introducing myself to them. So why the hell do I need for the orange wristband people to accept me? Why can’t I just enjoy the music and the speeches?

Celebrity Christian author Philip Yancey was talking earlier today about the way that we shouldn’t want to be celebrities because the celebrities he knows (other than himself) have become who they are because of a desperate need for affirmation from other people on account of a void that they feel on the inside. I’m not sure that completely describes me; I’ve begged God over and over to crucify that part of me. And what I keep seeming to discern is that I have a legitimate tenacious hunger to speak a truth that I’ve been given to share with a wide audience. It seems that I have a genuine prophetic vocation. So I feel like I’m supposed to try to network with the big dogs, the orange wristband people who are actually legit, as part of how I pursue my vocation. And it ain’t working so well.

It’s hard to untangle my personal junk enough to ask the right analytical questions about what’s going on here. But what would a national progressive Christian gathering look like that was intentionally anti-celebrity? What if we got our books signed by the yellow wristband strangers sitting next us whom we actually got to know instead of the celebrity authors for whom we try to come up with some intelligent comment in that ten-second window when they ask who they should write it out to? What if the “conversations” that we’re supposedly having at these gatherings weren’t panel discussions between orange wristband people but actual conversations in which yellow wristband people interacted in small groups? What if marginalized people themselves really were in the vanguard at these types of gatherings instead of just the “experts” who study them? I almost want to take back everything I wrote in my last post defending the emergentsia for its whiteness.

I realize I haven’t looked closely enough into the more intimate venues where the body of Christ might actually be re-membered here. But whatever is going on with my personal sensitivities, I couldn’t help but notice two juxtaposed images as I was walking down the road at Wild Goose earlier today. At the open mic tent, a woman was playing guitar for a single listener who seemed like he was probably her husband. Just up the road I saw the most massive line I’d seen the whole time I’ve been here. It was for a book-signing, presumably by someone wearing an orange bracelet. I didn’t see who it was, but it must have been a real rock star.

6 thoughts on “#WildGoose13: How can Christians transcend celebrity culture?

  1. “Mainstream” Christianity seems to be fast becoming just that – mainstream, as opposed to the harder, straighter, less lime lit, narrower and more obscure path that Christ has called us to. Assimilating (read blending in with) into the secular culture around us will never garner the accolades normally associated with being PC because the un-churched know that our motives are mixed as we try to gain market share with them. Their BS meter is pegged out. Yes we can be accepted by “them” as long as we keep our morality (read holiness) to ourselves and simply wear our crosses and point to the sky. It is sad that celeb status is creeping into Christian culture as such an alarming rate and frankly creepy is the right word for it as Christ exampled and spoke of a very different tact to reach the un-churched. Only time will tell if the church will be able to regroup and reclaim (if we ever really had it) a status as honorable, loving and holy people who the world admires from afar and secretly wishes they could be like.

  2. Whenever I pray about my own message and writing, God says the same thing: “let them come to you.” Which is really terrible advice for someone with a message to share. But over the last couple of years I’ve come to understand a few things. First, what people need to hear and what they are able to hear are often far apart. Sometimes we’re just planting seeds or waiting for people to be ready to receive the message. Second, like Mr. Yancey Yancey says, a surprising amount of big success is due to the need of the messenger . And I don’t mean this as an insult, bit rather than it seems that fairly often God is giving a person who achieves great success what they need as much as he is using them to convey a message. Third, we place far too much emphasis on numbers. At his peek Jesus was quite popular, but the majority of people in the area he was teaching in never heard him speak. At his death he left behind a few dozen followers at most. And look what he was able to achieve. Mostly I think it’s best to let go of the results orientation we have and simply do what is given to us to do. The people in the huge lines may miss out on the one word which needs to be heard from a woman singing to herself in a tent, but as long as the one person who needed to hear her did, that’s enough. Which is trite and simplistic and often not much comfort. But I’m do think it’s more true than we’d like it to be.

    On a more practical note, I do think that the big names need to do a better job of modeling a willingness to venture off the beaten path to listen to the unknown, unrecognized and unheralded. Sure, much of what they encounter might be less than stellar, but it’s a good habit and there are gems out there. Plus, others might follow their lead.

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