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Pop Culture, Poop Culture?

I recently heard on a pop radio station that a certain celebrity demanded that her accommodations include a self-flushing toilet that costs upwards of one hundred thousand dollars. This was the same day when our elected government officials decided to axe the payroll tax credit for people who make up to $113,000.

It’s easy to see how a preacher can use pop culture as cannon fodder. Poop culture, indeed!

But that same day, I continue to listen to that pop radio station. (I did have a long drive ahead of me.) What I discovered was that certain lyrics of today’s most popular songs bear a striking resonance to much older material. Note the following examples:

“On a Wednesday, in a café, I watched it begin again.” Taylor Swift

“There is nothing new under the sun.” Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

“Funny how the heart can be deceiving . . . Why do we fall in love so easy, even when it’s not right?’ P!nk

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Augustine

And so, I started listening to these tunes in a new way. I heard Rihanna exhort her listeners to “shine bright like a diamond” and thought of Jesus’ command to let your light shine (Mt 5:16). Alicia Keyes wails about a “girl on fire” who has both her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds. That strikes me as a fitting anecdote to Gnosticism, which divides between good spiritual matters and evil earthly bodies. This is important because there are many modern Gnostics who bless this dualism in new ways. True, many ancient theologians wrote brilliantly against such heresies, but might Alicia Keyes help us make the same points to a new audience?

Then I heard a song about “the way she flips her hair gets me overwhelmed” and was reminded that not all popular culture is profound. I’m not suggesting that we try to mine “here’s my number, so call me, maybe” for some spiritual truth. Some of it is just stinks. 

But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to write off popular culture either. Sometimes the answer really is “blowing in the wind” and today’s pop star may well be tomorrow’s prophet. As Jesus said, we only know the direction the wind blows in hindsight (John 3:8). Therefore we should be attentive to what is going on around us . . . whatever and wherever it may be.

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.

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