Friday, 16 September 2016

The Christian obsession with celebrity has to stop

Commentary by Carey Lodge of
You can't have missed it. Mission resources being advertised by TV stars, conferences headlined by musicians famous – gasp – in the 'secular' world (Switchfoot doesn't count), and rumours abounding about celebrities who have supposedly converted to Christianity.
This website certainly isn't immune – Christian Today regularly reports about celebrities and their faith; but what does it tell us that these articles are often among the most popular?
Why do we appear to value the faith of celebrities more than we do 'normal' people?
There's something really unhealthy about a church culture that holds celebrity in such high esteem, and uses it to somehow validate faith.
We've got it into our heads that this is what people want: this will entice people to church. Offer them a celebrity who affirms a Christian worldview and somehow that might make it seem a bit more true. A bit more tempting. We're not so out of touch after all – look! It's not all old ladies and weirdos! Come and see for yourselves!
But in doing this, have we bought into the same narrative the world offers? A superficial culture that values fame – sorry, 'influence' – more than anything else? Are we justifying a slide into where culture leads by claiming that we're just being 'relevant'?
The church has to offer something different. The narrative of our culture celebrates ostentatious success – measured in very narrow terms – fame and fortune. None of that speaks of what Jesus valued, and the way he conducted his ministry.
He actively avoided taking on celebrity status; retreating from crowds and refusing attempts to make him "king by force" (John 6:15). And he had little interest in surrounding himself with important people to boost his own profile. He hung out with fishermen and tax collectors; prostitutes and sinners. Not the rich and powerful, even if hobnobbing with the elite may have given him a 'wider reach'. He had no interest in that.
Instead, he commissioned the 12 to spread the gospel to all nations. A motley crew of slightly dim (and not all together loyal) teenage boys, who hadn't proved their worth or influence with a six-figure TV deal or magazine spread. Most of them weren't even very good at fishing. They were simply captivated by the message of grace, and were trusted to tell other people about it.
Two millennia on, with that first 12 becoming more than two billion Christians around the world, it's starting to look like not such a bad plan after all.
Of course, it's brilliant when people in the public eye come to faith, but because they're people, rather than because they're famous. There's no doubt that celebrities talking about Jesus may engage people in discussions about faith who would usually avoid going anywhere near a church, and it's commendable when people want to use their platform for good. But is that the best we have to offer? If it is, surely we've lost our grip on just how good the gospel actually is.
We don't need to make it more palatable. The gospel isn't attractive because a handful of good-looking, famous people have sanctioned it. It's attractive because it offers a message of forgiveness, love and grace to all people, regardless of their status.

Friday, 26 August 2016


SINGER Nick Cave, 59, has recently spoken movingly about the loss of his 15-year-old son, Arthur, who fell to his death in 2015 while high on the drug LSD.

It was a devastating blow for the lead singer and founder of the Bad Seeds – best known in the UK, perhaps, for Where The Wild Roses Grow – his 1996 duet with Kylie Minogue.

And tragically drug addiction has been no stranger to Cave. A gifted songwriter whose lyrics have at times tellingly revealed his personal struggle with faith, and his addictions, Cave now openly admits: "I was a junkie. I would wake up and need to score, and the first thing I would do is go to church."

Drug-free for a while now, he frankly admits that he would "sit through the entire service, listening to the priest and then immediately hit up local dealers to score drugs.

"I really felt on some level that I had a kind of workable balance in my life," he says. "I mean, it was mad." During his Australian childhood Cave would attend his local Anglican church, sometimes twice a week.

A ‘seed’ was being planted – memories and impressions that would influence his prodigious creative output for many years to come. His preoccupation with Old Testament (the earlier half of the Bible) ideas of good versus evil culminated in what has been called his signature song, The Mercy Seat (1988).

Even if returning to church as an adult did not immediately quell his addictions, Cave believes that "any true love song is a song for God. Song is a form of prayer."

Cave has ascribed the mellowing of his music to a shift in focus from the Old to the New Testament of the Bible. He says: "I think as an artist it's a necessary part of what I do, that there is some divine element going on within my songs."

Understandably, the death of his son, Arthur, has irrevocably changed him: "You change from a known person to an unknown person. So that when you look yourself in the mirror, do you recognise the person that you were?"

Perhaps only those who have had the misfortune to suffer the loss of a child can truly identify with this acute wound. The love of a father for his son is one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith. We know to some degree the enormity of the Father's sacrifice when his Son, Jesus, died on the cross.

"With my voice I am calling you," sings Cave in Jesus Alone, the opening track on the band’s acclaimed 2016 album Skeleton Tree. Although mostly written before Arthur’s death, he died during the recording and the album seems poignantly filled with grief.

In the lyrics, Cave never seems to get an answer to his cry, but if we have a relationship with Jesus, we are never truly alone. He is at our side through good times and bad. No matter the load, he will help us shoulder the pain. The good news is that when we call out to him, he hears us, hurts with us and we are never alone again.

Quote Christian Free Press Limited on reprint.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Bono challenges Christians to be more realistic

"Why I am suspicious of Christians is because of this lack of realism. And I'd love to see more of that," urges U2 singer songwriter Bono. "In art and in life and in music. Inspire people who are writing these beautiful gospel songs, write a song about their bad marriage. Write a song about how they’re pissed off at the government. Because that’s what God wants from you, the truth. And that truthfulness .... will blow things apart!"

Thursday, 14 January 2016

God-quest and the support of media workers' rights

Sometimes the vibrant cut and thrust of the corporate media world, particularly regarding revenue focus, can seem cold and callous.

People often take second place to profits.

For many Christians working in the media, the daily search for profits can seem at odds with a need for a calm and reflective search for God.

Newsquest Plc has been in the trade press a great deal over the past 12 months, as it tries hard to streamline its regional publishing operations to combat competition from fellow giant Trinity Mirror. The latter recently absorbed Local World and this dominance could well threaten Newsquest's market growth in regional news.

Newsquest's business strategy seems to be one of making savage cuts of staff. Last year several longtime employees were shown the door, photographers were axed and journalists issued with camera phones and told to multi-task. News reporters were issued with strict quotas and ordered to deliver a targeted number of scoops per week. Not easy.

Even paperboys/girls were not immune from this profit streamlining, as their tiny wages were made monthly rather than weekly so as to cut payroll accounting costs.

While it may seem unfair to single out Newsquest as an example of corporate pruning (there are others wielding axes) the double standards of the current local press agenda does deserve highlighting.

On the one hard regional media makes great play of saying they are all about helping support, promote and enrich the locations their newsbrands cover. Yet at the same time they exploit and disregard their own staff, who are usually themselves local people.

The big decisions, of course, are often made far away, safely in boardrooms in other larger towns and cities.

In Newsquest's case, in other countries, as this UK regional publisher is, in fact, American owned, part of the US giant, Gannett Incorporated.

Boardrooms, or at least, good conscience exist for all of us. In one way or another, we are all answerable to boards or to other people. Good Orderly Direction (GOD consciousness) is a necessary fact of life.

Even a traditional church service is something like a shareholders meeting - no, vicar, I don't mean it's boring, although this sometimes could be the case!

A good sermon sets the agenda and we listen, evaluate and choose weather to invest, or not. We search ourselves and search for God, and His will for us.

As Christians working in media, it is this key Sunday meeting that can set the pace for the working week.

True streamlining is made by finding, then actually following a path God has mapped out. The result of a successful God-quest.

Regional media (and as far as a Goliath organisations such as the Gannett Corporation/Newsquest are concerned, the UK is just another of their many regions) offers lucrative rewards. Corporations know this well. Communities welcome their investment. But they won't if profits are ruthlessly placed before people.

The good news is that the vicar's weekly sermon repeatedly assures us that God is not lost.

Sadly, corporate media responsibility often is.


Duncan Williams has a background in faith publishing and is a researcher and part-time lecturer church and media communications.