Its ironic however, that to many people, "culture" is associated far more commonly in a biological sense - with a little glass dish where you let things rot, decay & grow mold so you can document the process of degeneration and/or attempt to locate beneficial or medicinal propereties as a result of the smelly and toxic growth. Hmm... the similarities are rather striking, don't you think?
While I certainly don't pretend to be a culture expert, I am just like everyone else in that I live in it, and have to figure out ways of dealing with it, both good and bad. Not all things in our culture are bad, i.e., technological and medical advances, but when it comes to the way we think and the way we live as a culture in general, its pretty hard not to remember that highschool petrie dish that held the putrid thing we documented each day in science class. We certainly didn't show up every day expecting it to be better. Quite the contrary - we showed up to class knowing it would be uglier, smellier, and more rotten with each passing day.
Often when I read the news or overhear the conversations of others, I can't help but think of how as a society we are degenerating. The evangelical church hasn't been immune to this either, considering the underpinnings of the emerging/ent/ish/whatever movement are solidly nailed into and compelled by... you guessed it: culture.
Last night as I clicked over to the FOX news site I must admit I was a little surprised to see the news of Heath Ledger's passing, the biggest headline FOX can give it. Complete with a morbid shot of EMT workers wheeling the actor in a body bag, toward the ambulance. Its a rhetorical question but one that I will ask anyway: do we as a society really need to see this?
We're obsessed with the lifestyles and the destruction of the rich and famous. When Britney Spears blows her stack and does something irresponsible, it's headline news. When Hannah Montana is in town, its a media circus. When an actor dies, especially a young one, it's all over the cable news channels, in more depth than you'd ever expect. When a rock star says something profound (I suppose its possible, barring brain damage from years of substance abuse so common to many of them), we get all excited.
I would guess that someone with a big ole pile of degrees could tell us all exactly why we're so shallow and insatiable when it comes to the minute details of the rich and famous - whether they're doing something exciting in life, or checking out of this world in a scandelous way. The only pile of anything I have is laundry, but I'd suggest one of the reasons (especially for young people) we're so bedazzled by such things, would include a large dose of covetousness. We equate success in life with money and recognition - and since that is what the celebrities have, we see them as successful. We want what they have, so we keep up to date with what they're doing, how they're dressing, what they're singing, who they're seen with, etc. so forth and so on. We seem to think that their lives are somehow a pattern for how our lives should be, or how we wish they were.
This couldn't be further from the truth, and by truth I mean the truth of Scripture. The vast majority of Hollywood celebs and artists in the music industry didn't get there by putting God first. No, they put their career first and did whatever they thought it took to see that career go where they wanted it to go. In other words, they put SELF first, and in most cases, they keep self first and make no room for the things of God. This flies directly in the face of the Christian moral character Jesus taught about in the sermon on the mount, but it also lines up perfectly with the ungodly moral character defined in 2Tim.3:1-5, Romans 1:29-32, and Galatians 5:19-21.
Now I realize that many of these people are considered nice, kind, generous and thoughtful. They donate huge amounts of money to charity, they join all kinds of charitable organizations that rally for this cause or that one, and nearly everyone has great things to say about them and so on. No question, in a strict sense of the word, they most likely come across as "good people". If doing good things makes one a good person, that is. The Bible doesn't say that, but culture does, so by culture's standards they're considered good people. Good people that still reject the things of God, most importantly the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So when they die, yes indeed it is sad. Its sad for those who are closest to them and who will feel their loss the deepest, but its sad in an eternal context that they gained the whole world, but lost their soul. Its sad knowing that such gifted and talented people squandered those gifts on themselves, rather than glorifying God with them, and its sad that they step from this life into eternity, without Christ. Its also sad that so many of us still look at these folks in our culture and still equate what they have, to success.