When I played the music video for the song of the summer, "Blurred Lines," topless women sashayed across my screen to the delight of Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I., and my heart sank.
It was my fault. I should've noticed the "unrated version" warning in parentheses before I clicked on the link, but when my friend told me about her new summer jam, I hurried to check it out.
It sank even further when I watched on the "rated" version, which somehow managed to be even more offensive—"degrading" according to Thicke himself. No longer caught up in the boobs on my screen, I noticed the performers' leering, creepy eyes that couldn't unglue themselves from the female dancers' (covered) butts.
My heart sank because I recognized the song. Without knowing the name or artist, I'd already gotten hooked on Thicke's "Blurred Lines," with its infectious melody and dance-a-licious groove. My kids and I had raised our hands and wiggled our bodies to it in the car. We'd thrown dish-washing dance parties in its honor!
That said, after seeing the video, I realized my own lines toward the song had been quite blurred. As brilliant as its melody and groove are, the idea behind the song—prodding a "good girl" to give in to Thicke's come-ons ("You know you want it")— sent me over the edge... or, to be honest, made me want to send Thicke over one.
So I faced the conundrum: What to do when a message is at odds with the medium? More specifically, how could I live out Paul's instructions in Philippians 4:8 think about "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…excellent or praiseworthy…" when the music was those things but the intent was not?
To the strictest adherers of this verse, the answer would be easy: Ban it. Shun it. Listen only to "Christian" music.
But in this broken world, that answer means we'd miss so much of the nobility and righteousness and purity and loveliness around us. A strict, no-holds-barred adherence to this verse would mean missing out on much of the music we listen to, the books we read, the clothes we wear, the art we savor, the food we delight in, and the nature we enjoy.
I can't take my kids to our local park (excellent and praiseworthy!) without worrying if that clutch of bullies will be hanging around the equipment again. I can't head off for a bike ride through our local forest preserve (pure and lovely!) without wondering if the quick-sexual-thrill-seeking folks will once again be overrunning the parking lot. I can't enjoy the songs I loved from my youth—or my parents' youth!—without now thinking, Really?! That's what this is about? And I can barely pick up a book without stumbling over the unholy or unexcellent.
Just last weekend I read David Sedaris's Let's Discuss Diabetes with Owls. It's hilarious, and the writing sparkles ("His voice had snakes in it. And dysentery, and mangoes." Come on.). I came away a better woman, a fuller human for having read this. Yet, in its pages were passages I could not read to my kids—because of language, sexual situations, jabs at Jesus, or at least, the people who love him. In the middle of all that bookish goodness ran a strain of wicked in this world we just can't seem to shake.
In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior writes that "books were the backwoods path back to God, bramble-filled and broken, yes, but full of truth and wonder."
And that's what I found in Sedaris—and in so many books, in music and the arts and nature. Perhaps this is why I don't believe I must run from all things worldly and embrace only the sanctioned Christian to be in keeping with Paul's dictum—especially not when clinging to my Reformed tradition of "transforming" the world.
Transforming this world requires an engagement with it, a twisting and tangling with it. It means even when words make me raise my eyebrows even as I'm shaking my tail feathers, still, transform—redeem—it, I must. And the only way we can do this is by training ourselves to see, to hear, taste, smell, feel, and know the true, the lovely, the admirable, the pure, the excellent, and praiseworthy, even in what is so blatantly marred with sin.
So for "Blurred Lines" (or "The Wanderer" or "Grease Lightening") this means hearing the music for what it is—excellent and lovely, as is anything that gets my whole family up and dancing—without dismissing the ick of the lyrics by engaging them through conversations with my kids about the things being sung—and how they carry over into and matter in life off the radio waves.
For trips to the park or the forest preserve, for the space between book covers, for the scenes between opening and end-credits, for the conversations that occur between difficult people: transforming this world means the same thing. Not all is good. Some cultural elements—like pornography or dog fighting—cross lines rather than blur them, as they are so base and depraved there is almost zero redemptive value. But not most things.
Not as long as God is the God of it. As long as that's true, we can see and celebrate the holy in all we see and hear and taste and feel and smell and know. And in that make the lines of life quite brilliant and clear.
Caryn Rivadeneira is a Her.meneutics regular contributor and author of Known and Loved: 52 Devotions from the Psalms(Revell). She lives outside of Chicago with her family.
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