The last couple months have been a whirlwind as we’ve tried to prepare for our transition, so I am way behind writing and posting my thoughts on the final chapter of Christian Scharen’s outstanding new book Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God. Nevertheless, here’s the final installment. Thanks again to Chris for providing a copy of the book.
Chapter 7 of Broken Hallelujahs (“Practicing Surrender”) is aptly named, as it turns from a proposal of a way to counteract the constricted imagination to the working out of that proposal in relating to popular culture. While Scharen acknowledges the value and importance of Andy Crouch’s call for Christians to make culture in his book Culture Making, he emphasizes that his purpose is quite different. There is a time and place for Christians to make culture, but there is also a time and place for Christians to learn to discern the cries being raised throughout the culture. Whether they appear to be “Christian” or not, the testimony of scripture seems to suggest God is present both in the cries and with those raising them (think for instance of Amos 9:7, in which God speaks through Amos to tell the people of Israel theirs are not the only cries to which God has responded by performing an exodus). Here Scharen makes perhaps the most challenging claim of the entire book: that “cultural creations cannot be Godforsaken” (142). While this may be exceedingly difficult to swallow at first, is it not in response to the most hopeless cries (of the slaves in captivity in Egypt, of the exiles in a foreign land, of a homicidal zealot of his faith) that God responds in significant ways? If we shelter or protect ourselves so as not to hear those cries, what hope do we then have of responding in God’s name or on God’s behalf?
Having made his strongest case for practicing surrender in relation to popular culture, Scharen takes turns reflecting on three cultural offerings which would typically be labeled “secular,” demonstrating how each can enrich the ability of Christians to live faithfully in the world. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series becomes for Scharen and his family a window through which to see lived out some of the deepest Christian values, such as self-giving love. The music of Sigur Rós provides through its musical soundscape a glimpse of the kind of beauty and majesty in which the Bible repeatedly insists God is interested. Lastly, the prophetic lyrics of Arcade Fire “[open] up avenues of reflection on some of the issues that matter most in life–who we serve with our lives, how we live, love, and create with the gifts we have been given, and what is worth fighting for and against” (155).
Regarding this final chapter, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I wish Scharen had chosen for reflection cultural offerings in which it might be more difficult for the average churchgoer to find anything “good.” As best as I can tell, there aren’t many Christians who would object to listening to the music of Sigur Rós or Arcade Fire, and while there are certainly more who would object to reading the Harry Potter series, they tend to be an extreme minority. Far more Christians, however, would object to listening to rock bands that occasionally employ “explicit” lyrics or reading books that describe more “explicit” acts. It might have been helpful, then, for Scharen to reflect on a band or a book that would be the subject of more widespread objections. On the other hand, my sense is that if Scharen’s approach to remedying the constricted imagination is to take hold, it will be a gradual process, and many readers might need to be eased into this approach by way of rather non-controversial cultural offerings. In choosing this approach, I believe we get a glimpse at Scharen’s pastor’s heart, which seems truly to long for all Christians to reject the constricted imagination for an imagination that can handle anything and everything popular culture has to offer. And indeed, having been shaped by the book, I feel I’m more equipped than ever to answer the calling of God as Scharen put it so wonderfully at the end of the first chapter: “God calls us to join in as broken-but-beginning-to-be-healed coconspirators in the great unfolding of our lives in God” (25).