I am travelling today so thought I’d take the opportunity to post an article from just over a year ago.
I used to watch a lot of the show “King of the Hill.” For those who don’t know it, it is an animated show targeted at adults (like The Simpsons and any number of other shows these days, most of which are not worth watching). The main character is Hank Hill, a proud, Republican Texan who has dedicated his life to selling propane and propane accessories. He loves country music, football, Willie Nelson, Sweet Lady Propane, and of course, God. His love for God is presented as real, but somewhat inconsistent, as we might expect for a Texan who has lived his life amidst one of the strongholds of institutionalized religion. While it is a fun and usually innocent show, I stopped watching it a few years ago.
One episode from a few years ago caught my attention. It was called “Reborn to be Wild” and was nominated for an award by The Writers Guild of America. This episode continues to come to my mind these days, especially as I read Phil Johnson’s posts about the Fad Driven Church and Steve Camp’s articles about “God is my Girlfriend Songs.”
While my memory of the show is getting hazy, I found a substantial number of quotes from the show at various web sites, enough to provide a good summary of the episode. In this particular episode Bobby (Hank’s son who must be twelve or thirteen) becomes involved with a youth group and the far-too-cool youth pastor, Pastor K. Hank is reluctant to have Bobby involved in this type of group, where all the kids skateboard, listen to loud music and generally try to make God cool. Bobby becomes captivated by the group and seeks to impress his parents with his new friends.
BOBBY: These are my friends from the youth group. They’re cool and they’re totally Christian.
Bobby begins to absorb the message of this youth leader and begins to wear a “Satan Sucks” t-shirt.
PASTOR K: To be tight with the Lord, you gotta take your faith to the limit. You know what I’m talking about?
KID: The power!
PASTOR K: That’s right! Nothing runs without power. Your amp is useless unless it gets that juice, and so are we. So you gotta test all things to find the good.
BOBBY: But how do you know what’s good?
PASTOR K: It’s whatever sticks to your spirit, man, whatever God tattoos on your soul. We’re all searching for that eternal ink.
Bobby begins to show the influence of the pastor and the other kids.
BOBBY: And then Cain was all like “I ain’t s’posed to be lookin’ out for my bro, yo.”
LUANNE (Bobby’s Cousin): I didn’t know that was in Genesis.
Hank expresses his concern to Pastor K.
PASTOR K: Dude, you don’t have to act or dress a certain way for God. You can hang with him any way, anywhere. Don’t you think Jesus is right here in this half-pipe?
HANK: I’m sure he’s a lot of places he doesn’t want to be.
Meanwhile, Bobby has started collecting all the Jesus Junk that seems to be part-and-parcel of this little Christian subculture. His mother tries out one of his video games.
PEGGY (playing an “Exodus” video game): Whoo! I’m out of Egypt! And look at Moses dance!
Hank and Peggy talk to Bobby and express their concern with what he is learning and how he is acting. He pulls the “you just don’t understand” card that is always popular with teens.
BOBBY: You guys just don’t understand how I feel about Jesus!
A few days later Bobby ends up on stage, leading the crowd at a wild Christian rock concert.
BOBBY: I’ll say holy, you say ghost! Holy!
PASTOR K: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want! He make me lie down in green pastures!
BOBBY: They’re green, y’all!
Hank confronts Pastor K one more time, expressing his disgust with the music, the look and the lifestyle.
HANK: Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock n’ roll worse.
PASTOR K: You people are all alike. You look at us and think we’re freaks. Come on, even Jesus had long hair.
HANK: Only because I wasn’t his dad.
Jessie (I cannot recall her relationship to Pastor K) encourages Pastor K.
JESSIE: Never come between a kid and his dad. If the man doesn’t want his boy praising like you, that’s cool.
PASTOR K: Yeah, but —
JESSIE: Now go finish the show before they start moshing out of anger instead of jubilation.
The show wraps up with Hank teaching Bobby an important lesson.
BOBBY: When I turn 18, I’m going to do whatever I want for the Lord. Tattoos, piercings, you name it.
HANK: Well, I’ll take that chance. Come here, there’s something I want you to see. (Hank takes down a box from the shelf and opens it up) Remember this?
BOBBY: My beanbag buddy? Oh, man, I can’t believe I collected those things. They’re so lame.
HANK: You didn’t think so five years ago. And how about your virtual pet? You used to carry this thing everywhere. Then you got tired of it, forgot to feed it, and it died.
BOBBY (looks at a photo of himself in a Ninja Turtles costume): I look like such a dork.
HANK: I know how you feel. I never thought that “Members Only” jacket would go out of style, but it did. I know you think stuff you’re doing now is cool, but in a few years you’re going to think it’s lame. And I don’t want the Lord to end up in this box.
BOBBY: Hey, what’s this picture? Mom used to have blonde hair?
HANK: Farrah Fawcett was very popular back then.
This particular episode was written by Tony Gama-Lobo & Rebecca May. I don’t know if they are believers, or merely outside observers, but they made some astute observations. Hank’s concern is one I share when I look at the way some Christian kids are encouraged to behave. Too often it seems that God is treated as just another product. Children are unable to seperate Him from the other fads that sweep through their lives when they are young. Beanie Babies and Ninja Turtles come and go. For too many children, God does the same. As long as God is all the rage they are happy to acknowledge Him, but as soon as He goes out of style, they put him in a box like all the other fads. He ends up on the top shelf, along with the Revolve Bible-zines, the “Got Jesus?” shirts, the purity rings and the WWJD bracelets. God is thrown aside as just another fad.
Just a short time ago, someone sent me a clip from a more recent episode of the show. Hank and his family are seeking a new church and have tried church after church. Peggy recommends the local megachurch as a great alternative and goes on to describe all the amenities the church has to offer. Hank’s response is classic: “If I wanted to go that route, I could just walk around the mall and think about Jesus!”
These episodes reveal to me that the world, the people outside the church who are looking in, are increasingly amused by what they see in Christianity. They see the fads, the trends and the kitsch and the laugh. Contemporary evangelicalism has become the butt of far too many jokes.