Olaf, Culture, and Holiness

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Younger leaders…I need your perspective….

As you get older it’s harder and harder to discern between a culture’s normal process of updating norms and values and the idealized values and norms of the past. So, I sometimes ask my adult kids what they think about some music, movie, or event, or person in the news. Their insights are helpful to me.

I saw something on TV, and I can’t get it out of my mind. So I thought, perhaps I should ask for the perspective of the emerging generation of Christian leaders. On some levels this is a no brainer, but on others it seems to me insidiously complex. I know it’s the ‘world,’ but it’s also the world we live in and try to influence.

Here is what I saw. One evening I was flipping channels and stopped on a sitcom I hadn’t seen before (confession, I hardly ever watch sitcoms, except Mash, so you see my point about perhaps being stuck in the past). I stopped because it had an African-American family and a White family working together to provide the show-stopper birthday party for one of their children. When I dropped in on the show, the party was not going well. Neighbors were not impressed; as if that’s really the point of a child’s birthday party, but I digress. So the African-American father had an idea to punch up the party experience. He went upstairs and came down dressed as Olaf, the friendly and funny snowman in Frozen, with white tights and an Olaf body costume.

The little children, who looked like they were around 4-6 years of age, were thrilled and gathered around on the floor to hear Olaf sing. Olaf began singing and dancing. Then in a moment of exuberance his tights split open in the crotch right at eye-level for the kids. Now the ‘censors’ blurred out the area for us viewers but, of course, in the spirit of the show, it wasn’t blurred out for the kids. It was left to the viewers’ imagination whether he had on underwear or not. The children started screaming and running around. The parents were horrified and took their kids and left.

I couldn’t believe I just saw that on national television. I couldn’t believe the canned laughter in the background as the incident happened. I couldn’t believe that anyone would find this funny or fit for viewing. Is this depraved or am I over-reacting? Is this a silly incident or an indication of our culture’s dark confusion? That’s what I really want to know. Do you 20-30 year olds find this disturbing, and if so why and if not, why not?

What does holiness look like in 21st Century North America? Click To Tweet

Then this goes to my next set of questions. What does holiness look like in 21st Century North America? I know what it looked like in the Old Testament. In the New Testament I understand Jesus’ call to a different kind of holiness, a holiness radically imbedded in an embodied relationship with Jesus Christ. I understand that one of the primary ways the Holy Spirit serves us is to guide us into being a holy people, a kingdom of priests, set apart as lights on the hill for the world.

So how do we parse what holiness looks like today, for us as the ‘lights’? We’re so far away from the old adage, “I don’t smoke, drink, or chew, or go with women who do.” But what do we say? And I’m not talking about what we’re not, but what we are? Who do we strive to be and how is that actualized into behaviors that set us apart, but not against culture? I’m going to wait to hear from you, and then after more prayer and thinking I’ll post my thoughts.

Blessings on your Advent journeys, MK

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7 responses to “Olaf, Culture, and Holiness

  1. Thanks MaryKate. I am not surprised by the sense of humor on the show. I would expect it. Now that is not to say that that kind of thing does not bother me, it does. And that’s probably why we don’t have a tv. I don’t have the decades to remember when this was not the norm. I don’t have any expectations of culture. I do see a shift in what holiness is perceived to be by church culture. It is less of 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. I appreciate this bit of acceptance that says it’s ok for people to be where they are and be changed how they are when with Jesus. Some may drink therefore not have the image that was once the goal. They can be inwardly and outwardly holy still because they are becoming by being with Jesus.

  2. Enjoyed the article MaryKate. Being far removed from 20 to 30 I’ll leave it at that but am looking forward to your thoughts on this.

  3. Mary Kate,
    The story line of the show is disturbing to me as a thirty something. The sobering reality of such media is that it reflects the values and attitudes of my culture. I say “my culture” because whether I like it or not, I am of it. To pretend and deny my relation with it would be a lie and therefore unholy. I believe that holiness involves the redemption and not the wholesale rejection of culture. Without such confession and ownership I have no voice into this culture. Holiness must always begin with relationship.

    Though the storyline of the show you saw is staged to solicit a reaction from its viewers, be that laughter or horror, I am going to treat it for what it is; a reflection of my culture. As you stated the show caught your eye because it depicted both white and black families present for the celebration of a child’s birthday. As novel as the idea was it wasn’t quite working out as planned. The one black man (I suspect the father of child being celebrated) had the idea that his incarnation of the “white” savior Olaf would save the day and unite everyone in the celebration.

    The first unholy act is the shame that was projected on to this man by neighbors and “friends” who thought the child’s birthday was about them. The second unholy act was the black man’s choice to shift his focus from his child to his guests by becoming something other than himself in an effort to gain acceptance from them. The fact that the Olaf suit was not tailored to fit the man was not his fault but a reflection of my cultures economy. The true test of holiness is the moment the suit split: the third unholy act is the crowds reaction of horror to the man’s revealed God-given anatomy; a rejection of both the man revealed and the notion that his body is holy. 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.
    If I were to redeem the script of this show, after the suite split and the man stood there awaiting his fate, his child would yell, “Yo’ Dad” and throw a pair of pants across the room, the man catching them in mid air would then put them on over the suit. And the crowd responds with an awestruck smile at the respect and honor the child has shown for his or her father. And in this act all present would exercise both solidarity and holiness: the focus would be returned to the child and all would be free to proceed with the celebration of his or her life.

    1. Jeran, this was such an amazing and thoughtful response. I’ve written a follow-up to this one that will be posted soon, and I included some of your insights. Thank you. And I especially liked your alternative ending to the Olaf incident,

  4. I would be curious in knowing the larger context of the show itself. I am 29, a millennial, who watches TV semi-regularly. Taking simply the story as you posted it, I am not all that offended. I can’t imagine current laws regarding sexual material and children would be waived for entertainment and acting scenarios. So I would assume the father’s naked body parts were not actually exposed, but rather that was the effect the shoemakers desired for the audience to assume.

    My experience of reading the story actually made me laugh reading it. 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 foibled by the ill-feeting 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 move on.

    Many sitcoms enjoy exaggerating traits of American families so as to expose our true concerns. So we find repeated conflicts and stereotypes cropping up again and again. Often they have to do with the way families over-obsess about things that aren’t that important. In this case, children’s birthday parties. I don’t consider this a loss or lack of holiness. Its real. Reality is holy. Facing up to our human obsessions and societal issues is good. Though the line can be fine, and larger contexts should be taken into account.

    The incarnation of Jesus Christ was the most incredibly holy act! And yet, it was gross, disgusting! The pure spiritual form of God getting his rear-end wiped, spitting up, vomiting and defecating? Holy. All holy, because God was redeeming humanity back to himself. And that is a far more beautiful thing. I think of holiness as a form of Love: divine love that motivates action. Too often we make external things signs of holiness, when it is the state of the heart that truly matters.

    I laugh at this story because I can see things happening to me similarly, and it feels cathartic and makes me reflect. Laughter is healing. Especially for embarrassment and failure. Humor helps me to move on.

    1. Andy, your post caused me to think a lot about my original questions. Thank you for taking time to think with me on this. In my follow-up post I included some sections from your post. Your perspective was helpful.

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