Meditations: Creating Culture with Care

One of my childhood memories was that of my mom placing a plaque of Philippians 4:8 over the family television. At this point in his letter to the Philippians, Paul uses tells the faith community to focus their attention solely on positive things:
“Finally, brothers, 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.”
In our house, Philippians 4:8 was used as the official filter of the Hollywood cesspool that threatened to seep into our minds. Maybe my mom hoped that placing the plaque next to the rabbit ears would somehow block interfere with the television reception if one of her children tried to sneak an episode of an unworthy show. More likely, she just wanted us to be thoughtful TV consumers.

The plaque, combined with the fact that we used rabbit ears and not cable, seemed to have its desired effect. We laughed at the Cosby Show and Home Improvement, but in the back of our minds we knew that corruption was just a turn of the dial away.

I’ve never challenged our family’s use of Philippians 4:8 until recently. The problem with using this verse as a filter to censor movies, TV, and literature is that the artist loses permission to describe the world as it is. Dostoyevsky couldn’t have used murders to propel the conflict in Crime and Punishment and the Brother’s Karamozoff. Melville wouldn’t have been able to write about Captain Ahab’s desire for revenge. Law and Order couldn’t bring criminals to justice. The Bible itself couldn’t hold up to this use of Philippians 4:8.

When I look more closely at the context of this verse, I see Paul is writing to the church with advice on how to handle anxiety and adversity. Paul tells first tells the church pray. And then he instructs them use a sanctified imagination. I have a theory: What if Paul is telling us that in the middle of adversity we are to visualize what the situation could look like if we were to bring God’s kingdom order into the situation?

How can I communicate truth here?

How can I demonstrate honor and bring justice to those who need it?

Am I influencing those around me to purity?

Can I create beauty here?

What could I do that would cause people to notice God and provoke them to speak highly of him and his followers?

What if Paul is not admonishing me to be careful with how I consume culture, but instead is encouraging me with how I create culture?


Larry Shallenberger is the pastor of Next Generation at Grace Church in Erie, PA. He’s the author of several books including Divine Intention: How God’s Work in the Early Church Empowers Us Today.

1 comment:

  1. (hey Larry - it's "plaque" not "plague")

    Also, My church has been going through the book of Philippians this entire year. We finally got to 4v8 last Sunday and it was SUCH a great sermon!

    That book is full of good stuff!