Saturday, October 22, 2011
Catholic kitsch is easy to spot. Open the pages of nearly every church supply house and you find tacky rosaries, art works, gauche crucifixes, plaques that plague us with all sorts of trite and trivial sentiments, etc. The Romans may excel at this but Protestants are not immune from it either. Visit any individual or chain Christian or Bible book store and you will have abundant examples of the genre.
Sadly, kitsch does not only exist on the walls of the well meaning, it happens in churches as well. It happens in the liturgy. It is the poorly chosen choir anthem or the throw away hymn that is cool today and lukewarm tomorrow... It is vestments that embarrass rather inspire, children's sermons that are meant more for America's Funniest Home Videos than the faithful, PowerPoint because we have the technology rather than for salutary purpose...
Some find it rather benign. I once thought that way. Like the Elvis on velour, it was something better ignored than noticed. I don't think that way anymore. Kitsch has diluted and distracted what is real and genuine. It has contributed to the sense of the moment, lost from the frame of time, without reference to that which went before or the best to be commended. Kitsch has come to define what Christianity is for too many people tired of well meaning but tasteless analogies that do not teach, or at least, do not teach well. The singing group Lost and Found once had a lyric in which they likened their parent's church to the YMCA -- devoid of mystery or presence or eternity. They rejected such plastic portrayals of Christianity and insisted that they wanted the real palms and wine of something that was an is real instead of pale imitation, a symbol instead of sacrament.
I wonder if we don't drive off as many folks with the kitsch we tolerate as we do the other factors so often named by those who pay attention to those who leave. Honest ritual and ceremony is not an end but that which points to what it the end, or should I say, Who is the end. Our kids are being run off the real religion of the cross with a fake and tacky religion of sentiment without power, feeling without fact, and reality stripped of mystery. We explain everything away so that there is nothing left to behold. We throw out reasonableness as if God were merely a riddle to be solved and religion mere morality or path to your better life now.
I enjoy art and humorous art and good copies of great art. But I get sick at the thought that Santa kneeling at the manger is what we have come to or that the best we can offer our people is a Beanie Baby Nativity Set. Yes, Christmas seems to bring out the worst in us. I am not appealing to taste but to that which is authentic, real, and true to the faith. When St. Paul calls us to focus on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, he is not appealing to taste or speaking snobbishly. He is appealing to us to offer our best, to seek the best, and to honor what is good for its goodness. Our kids are calling us out. They do not want trash. They want reality. If we believe that Jesus is more than a metaphor, let us give them the reality that is Jesus... in word, in action, in art, in worship, in song... In the end we will also be the better for it. Really. We will.