I’m really not sure how to put into words the cascade of thoughts, confusion, concern, and sadness that began last night shortly after Shakira took the Super Bowl Halftime stage. . . and which have continued up to this moment.
My years in youth ministry and culture-watching have, I hope, been marked by growing skills in both the exegesis and interpretation of Word and world. At least that’s what I have endeavored to move towards. And, I hope that the fruit of that journey has been an ability to develop some kind of discernment that might reflect a growing commitment on my part to things that are good, true, right and honorable. It’s a journey that I’m still on and one that I believe all followers of Christ are called to pursue. I say this purely as a precursor to sharing some thoughts sparked by my ongoing study of Word and world, specifically how that all played out in an unsettling manner between halves last evening.
In case you are tempted to miss the significance of last night’s halftime show, remember that culture is both a map and a mirror. It serves both directive and reflective purposes. As a map, it tells us what to believe and how to live in the world. It’s an especially effective map when its pop culture forms are consumed by children and teens. . . who are in developmentally formative years which make them especially vulnerable to blindly following the maps with dedication and without question. What we watched last night was not at all benign. It served as a signpost pointing in a certain direction. As a mirror, last night reflected back to us our collective cultural heart. . . at least what the entertainment moguls desire and expect our collective heart to be. If we’re not all there yet, we at least know that our cultural leash is pulling us in that direction. As William Romanowski has written, “Culture refers to the way that we define and live in God’s world. It is a collection of ideals and beliefs, values and assumptions, that makes up a kind of master plan for living an interpreting life.” Last night that “master plan” played out on the halftime stage.
Rather than using this space to jump into a complete overview of the lives, careers, and worldview messages communicated through the entertainment brands known as Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, here are some thoughts prompted by last night’s cultural moment. . .
First, let’s never diminish or deny the reality of talent and where it ultimately comes from. We saw great talent on display last night. There were the players who have been given athletic talent. The performers. . . Yolanda Adams, Demi Lovato, Shakira, and Jennifer Lopez. . . those ladies can all sing! There were dancers who have been given the ability to move. . . something that I’m totally void of myself! The list of talented people who went into making last night’s Super Bowl game and broadcast a reality is long. . . coaches, producers, owners, administrators, graphic artists, videographers, marketers, etc. . . . all of them incredibly gifted and talented. And lest we forget, when all of them develop and pursue their talent, they are imaging the God who made them by exercising their creativity. The result might not be God-glorifying, but the talent in and of itself always is. Which leads to the next thought. . .
Second, let’s never forget that talent always moves in a direction of glory and praise. Our creativity. . . whether in work, play, academics, or the arts. . . always points in a direction of glory and praise. When talent moves in a direction that promotes the beauty of human flourishing, it gives honor and glory to God. It serves as a signpost where human eyes are not invited to stop and stare, but where human eyes and the hearts they lead to look beyond the creation to the Creator. But when it invites us to settle on the things of the world, the flesh, and the devil. . . then talent leads to the spread of cultural beliefs and behaviors that undermine our human flourishing and are ultimately idolatrous.
Third, we must endeavor to teach our kids how to discern media’s messages and maps. Here at CPYU, we’ve been relentless in our three-decade pursuit to help youth workers, parents, and kids alike learn how to process media critically and Christianly. Our popular tool to facilitate this is our How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart 3(D) Media Evaluation Guide.
And this is where I jump off into my great concerns and sadness over what was mirrored to us last evening. . . and the map that was laid out before the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. My thoughts during the halftime show unfolded in a short series of three social media posts.
When the children came on stage I couldn’t help but think, “Isn’t having children in this halftime show some kind of abuse?!?
A few minutes later I registered by dissatisfaction with Pepsi for their sponsorship of the halftime show: “I’m giving up Pepsi products.” And yes, I will be doing that.
And finally, I wrote these words: “I am currently reading Rachael Denhollander’s book, What Is A Girl Worth? I’m going to send copies to Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.”
If you are unfamiliar with Rachael Denhollander’s story, she was one of the main victims and whistle-blowers over physician Larry Nassar’s systemic molestation and abuse of young girls. As I’ve read, I have been reminded of how women are objectified, trafficked, and abused. I couldn’t help but notice the great irony last evening, as we viewed multiple commercials and messages touting the value of women. All humans are divine image-bearers. . . and we are served well when cultural outlets remind us of the value of the marginalized. But there were the reminders of the dark under-belly of the Super Bowl. . . an event that is now recognized as one of the main hubs for sex-trafficking. . . so much so that the this year the state of Florida teamed up with the NFL for a “Stop Sex Trafficking Campaign.” And on the half-time stage, there were the lyrical and visual reminders of the fact that we embrace an expressive individualism largely void of sexual borders and boundaries. The hypocrisy and mixed messages were unavoidable.
What is a girl worth? Far more than we saw last night.
Rachael Denhollander shared this quote from C.S. Lewis: “A man does not call a line crooked unless he some idea of a straight line.” It’s a clear reminder of our need to focus on the straight line of God’s revealed will and way, and to view all of life. . . our own and our corporate human endeavor. . . through the lens of God’s Kingdom priorities.
Some have pushed back saying that to criticize Shakira and Lopez is not an option if you understand Latino culture. The reality is that all culture reflects and communicates deeply held values. And where those values stray from the straight line, we need to pray and humbly push for change. . . not for change that results in conformity to one’s own cultural preferences, but for change that leads to fully experiencing the freedom and joy of true human flourishing. The Gospel confronts all cultures and cultural expressions. . . yours, mine, and ours. Last night’s message to me, to you, to my grandchildren, to all of us. . . it was deeply troubling. We’ve been made for so much more.
This morning, I took the time to read and ponder the lyrics from last night’s set-list. I would encourage you to do the same. You will see the map.
One little line from Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny From The Block” jumped out at me. . . “Put God first.” That’s a powerful directive.
Perhaps it was timely that this morning as I continued my journey through the One Year Book of Hymns, I read about Frances Ridley Havergal and a hymn she wrote on February 4, 1874. She wrote “Take My Life and Let It Be” as an expression of “the blessedness of true consecration.” As I read the text of this old familiar hymn (see below), I was struck by what it really means to “put God first.” It’s a complete reorientation of everything. I made a list of what Havergal included in her hymn: life, time, hands, feet, body, voice, mouth, money, mind, will, desires, heart, love. . . everything. . . “Take myself – and I will be/Ever, only, all for Thee/Ever, only, all for Thee.”
As we pursue that end, let’s make sure that it is the One true God, His will, and His way that we have in our sights.
- Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
*Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.
- Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.
- Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.
- Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.
- Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.
- Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.