In December 2015 I posted a blog about a sitcom in which a Dad, dressed as Olaf while entertaining little children at a birthday party, accidentally exposed himself when his tights tore in the crotch. I asked, especially the 20-30 year olds, if they found this disturbing, because it bothered me. I also then asked, “What does holiness look like in 21st Century North America?” I heard back from several people via comments on the article and on Facebook.
The comments were helpful, so thank you for thinking with me on this. They were also varied and caused me to wonder at a deeper level about my own reaction. It took me some time to sort through my thoughts. I don’t know if I’ve figured it out – of course, I haven’t – but here is the next part in the conversation about culture and holiness.
Question 1 – Did the sitcom incident offend you?
Some persons said ‘yes.’ The ‘yes’ people all agreed that TV is not what it used to be, and that TV continues to be a reflection of secular Western culture. Which is true. I believe we all actually agree on that one. Jeran Marchbanks noted that “the story line reflects the values and attitudes” of our culture and is meant to provoke a reaction of “laughter or horror.” Andy Duffy wrote, sitcoms “enjoy exaggerating traits of American families so as to expose our true concerns.” He goes on,
My understanding of most sitcoms is that they aren’t intended to be moral uplifts of society, but rather to reflect and reveal conscious or subconscious aspects of society and culture that we, as viewers, would normally not consider in literal terms.
In this case, the families’ concern for neighborhood reputation is made fun of, as is the simple solution of appealing to children through what they most love. Then the plan of success is foiled by the ill-fitting costume. An unlikely scenario… but who hasn’t been in an awkward, perhaps embarrassing or humiliating situation, despite intentions to impress and save the day? I know I have. Scenarios like this on TV remind me that I am not alone and actually encourage me to [laugh] and move on.
Andy and Jeran put the sitcom in the context of its secular purpose. So as an exaggerated expression of the common human struggle to try to impress and fail, the sitcom event works. It isn’t about ‘holiness’ at all.
Then Jeran and John Raymond, another contributor, brought up a perspective that I did not expect. John commented on the story as “another example of how the media denigrates the male. As if the male anatomy is a scary thing to be feared by children – of which some were probably male.” Jeran put it this way, “The children’s reaction is evidence of a failure to educate that the human body: female or male is not an object of shame but a reflection of the image of God. One that deserves respect and honor, not exploitation and rejection.”
It is true. I have mixed feelings — most of us do — about the naked body, which was perfectly beautiful and natural in the beginning of Creation. Because of sin, we became ashamed and covered up our bodies. The body is meant to be beautiful, particularly since our bodies were redeemed by Jesus’ bodily death and resurrection. So, I came to understand that my reaction to the sitcom was linked to my life experiences. It was not linked directly to any understanding of holiness.
Since I’ve seen other snapshots of sitcoms with equally uncomfortable material, I had to ask myself why this one bothered me so much. I realized that my own experiences of sexual abuse was the primary reason this sitcom story caused me such discomfort. My moralistic response was a reaction to my own fear and pain. I can’t change the sitcom industry, but I can continue to seek the Holy Spirit’s healing to redeem another thing God called good: the ‘bodied’ human person.
Sitcoms are reflections of our culture. We are no longer primarily a Christian culture. Therefore, secular sitcoms are generally not fodder for discerning a behavior-based understanding of holiness. My reaction was moralistic. The conversation helped me see something about my own need to be more conformed to Christ’s view of us.
Question 2 – What does holiness look like in 21st Century North America?
Even though I now think that the sitcom isn’t a helpful place for a Christian discussion on holiness, there were still some wonderful insights about the topic. For followers of Christ today holiness is a worthy and often-neglected conversation. We are to be a holy people. So in the space left, what is holiness lived, not just thought about? Again some of the input from those who responded to the original blog are included here.
Holiness lived is…
- Believing a Holy God Incarnated in Jesus Christ: “The incarnation of Christ was the most incredible holy act! And yet, it was gross, disgusting. The pure spiritual form of God [as a baby] getting his rear wiped, spitting up…All holy, because God was redeeming humanity…And that is a far more beautiful thing. I think of holiness as a form of Love: divine love that motivates action.” [Andy Duffy]
Christian holiness is understood as sourced in a relationship of love with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Out of devotion to and gratitude for that love, we embrace a counter-culture life of love in action.
- Being with the Person of Jesus: “It is less acts of perfection for the sake of remaining above reproach or maintain a holier than thou image. I see people really embracing holiness as change that happens from being with the person of Jesus. This may compel some to be and some to do. Both are inside out.” [Nita Simmons]
Holiness then requires a clinging to, a bonding to, Jesus our Lord and Savior for the whole of our life journey. We constantly embrace and seek to mimic the incarnated holiness of Jesus, expressed in love and action.
- Being People of Rest: “One element is to be people who rest. People of Sabbath. The addiction to busyness has us bound.” [Pam Braman]
Holiness is the opposite of striving. Holiness is reflected in us as a people of peace and grace rather than frenzy and anxiousness. When we choose the rhythms of Sabbath, worship, work and rest rather than addiction to work and success, we approximate embodied holiness. In our work others experience us differently, as a peculiar people of rest.
- Being People who Pay Attention: “I realized that change begins with me…it takes time, it means paying attention and it requires action.” [Jim Ahasay]
Holiness is the fruit of what happens when we pay attention to Jesus Christ through the Spirit. Out of that place of listening, we are able to say and do what the Lord calls us to say and do. Our action comes out of our attentiveness to God the Spirit.
Holiness is not a lifestyle of right behavior. Holiness is a life of love and action in gratitude to God who created us, loves us, and redeemed us to be the peculiar people of God. Holiness requires a posture of humility. Humility is birthed in submission to Christ as Lord and a commitment to Christ’s rhythms and to listening to the Holy Spirit for the sake of others.
Thank you all for contributing to the conversation about culture and holiness.