Sunday, November 24, 2013

Selfie Salvation... for Girls

We seem to be, culturally speaking, in a marathon race to the lowest common denominator. We go however low we must to win fans, be it in pop culture, politics or journalism. It’s as true of religion as anywhere. I was reminded of this when watching the video my daughters watched during a special "optional" event at their school last week.

In the video, a young fella with a carefully-sculpted ‘do steps out onto the stage of an empty auditorium. He’s wearing a beefy T and jeans, and he begins to recite all of the things girls might be.

This message isn’t intended to convert, but rather to empower the already-converted and to further embolden the already-empowered. This is the message of a Christian cheerleader on the sidelines of the game, waving his pom-poms, doing some tumbling, and shouting “GO JESUS! whilst waving his spirit fingers toward the crowd.

It’s an alluring message for young Christian girls. Most of them eat it up like cotton candy.

There’s a fine line between evangelizing and marketing Christianity. In light of Chattanooga’s latest most famous “Christian,” Angela Cummings, also known as “Westboro Baptist 2.0,” also known as a woman who travels the country panhandling in the name of Jesus after having failed utterly as a mother. But being an abject failure as a parent shouldn’t prevent someone from damning the rest of humanity as sinners, right?

Angela Cummings is neither evangelizing nor marketing Christianity. She is shaming it, and she reinforces every negative stereotype real Christians struggle to fight every day. She is, whether she knows it or not, doing the devil’s work.

The “You Are Awesome” guy is troubling on a much less problematic level. He is marketing Christianity rather than evangelizing. That is, he’s trying to make Christianity match his audience. He’s an Oxy Clean infomercial for Jesus.

It would be a fun gender studies assignment to compare and contrast Jon Jorgenson’s messages to boys and girls.

For girls, the message is, "You are beautiful, you are wonderful, and you are loved. Those who make you doubt being loved are evil."

For boys, the message is, "You are strong, you have ability, and you can become something really awesome. In fact, the world needs you to become awesome."

It’s subtle, but there’s a disturbing difference between the messages. The boys have a responsibility to become men and lead. The girls just need to remember they’re loved. Boys have power. Girls are cherished.

In other words, little ladies, here’s the message:
  • Just feel pretty and special. That's the most important thing for a girl.
  • Let the men drive. Don’t give us directions, and don’t ask for the wheel, because that’s not your place. We’ll change the world; your job is to smile by our side while we do it.
  • I’m a cute guy in a beefy T with gelled hair, so my words should mean more than if Sandra Day O'Connor said them.
I’m being overly harsh, I know. History is full of Christians and churches who shuck and jive people into their fold, and this “You Are Awesome” stuff is perfectly crafted for the Selfie Generation, for girls whose notion of introspection requires staring at themselves on their iPad screen.

To the boy: It's a commanding, spittle-busting huffed-up presence. You are "treasured, entrusted and loved."

To the girl: You are "cherished, loved and adored," and I'll conclude by begging you softly, "Please... don't you forget it."

Are they reaching genders where the genders are, crafting their messages in a way that packs more gender punch? Or are they sending messages about where they want genders to be?

As the father to daughters, and as a man who sees more and more women tasked with being the sole parent and sole breadwinner to their boys and girls, I'm not sure I want women pigeonholed. As someone who sees more men than women fail their families, betray all notions of work ethics, lead our country askance in all walks of life, I'd like to think men should earn their power rather than have it by hobbling the other half.

I don't think genders are the same, but I believe they're a helluvalot more equal than they seem in these two videos.

Angela Cummings' version of Christianity is so deviant it's not worth debate, but these "I Am Awesome" videos are (I want to believe) well-done and well-intended. I only question the hoped-for outcome. It's the healthy kind if introspection in which all people of faith should engage. Preferably without the iPad camera pointing at themselves.

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