I like baking desserts, so I’m excited the spring is upon us because I can finally start making fruit pies. A few weeks ago it was strawberry rhubarb, a delicious pie, though mine was not elegant. I don’t struggle making the actual dough, or the filling. I can bake it and pull it out at the right time without a soggy crust, and wait for it to set before preemptively cutting into it. But what can’t I do? The crimping. I just can’t crimp the sides. I mean, I can crimp them, but they look rather mauled by the end of the process. The pie is delicious, but it’s not beautiful.
Of course, this isn’t a post about pie. Don’t get me wrong, I could write thousands of words on pie, but what I’m getting at is the difference between superficiality and substance, between the commercial and the content, between the steak and the sizzle.
It doesn’t take much to notice the cultural importance of aesthetic, of appearance, if you will. The shining examples this week are Beyoncé and Radiohead. I love them both and I’m glad they are producing new music—that music is the content, it’s the steak, it’s the substance. How they deliver it, advertise it, and talk about it is the commercial, the sizzle, the superficiality. And the presentation is the name of the game, it seems. For Beyoncé is was dramatically dropping a surprise visual album, “Lemonade.” Radiohead deleted their entire Internet presence in order to prepare the universe for their debut of “Burn The Witch” and probably an upcoming album. My friends groaned over the melodrama and self-importance. “Why can’t they just release music normally?” Another said, “Band is boring.”
I guess that summarizes it, doesn’t it? With so much stimulation, so much entertainment, so much instant-access, everything and everyone suffers from the disease of boredom and it’s up to the artists, the producers, and the kings of the market to stimulate our interest in a new way. We have an endless appetite for consumption, yet we’re never truly satiated. Nothing looks good. It tastes as bad as it looks. With so much content, how do we make a difference? How do we stand out? Why is this blog any different than the hundreds of stories shared on your news feed? Why did you click it? How do you keep up? Isn’t all this overwhelming?
There is so much content out there. To be noticed you really have to make a huge deal. Beyoncé and Radiohead are trying to do that. They both got my attention. In fact, I noticed I had barely listened to new music this year, but I was sure to listen to “Lemonade” and “Burn The Witch” (if you care, I think the latter was a little boring). I think the artists are ultimately bringing something to the table, but they are marketing it and getting our attention, and I actually laud them for it.
Much of the time there is little beyond the curtain, though, and that’s the rub. It’s just all superficial. It’s all crimping and no flaky dough or sweet-tangy filling. All sizzle, and no steak. We’ve become accustomed to selling ourselves that by the time we actually get to the real stuff, there’s not much there. And honestly, even what Beyoncé and Radiohead are offering? Pretty good, but not revolutionary. (Even though Beyoncé is kind of the perfect revolutionary.)
Jesus is giving us real stuff, real substance, to change the whole world. But oftentimes, the Christians with the best sizzle aren’t really channeling that life—just the same basic church, repackaged. New-look, same boring taste. And the ones that are really doing it, are sometimes too into the community and its mutuality to really share it with others in a substantial way. We may need to learn how to present something that is beautiful beautifully. The crimping matters. But only if the filling is good too.
That’s a big lesson for me, not just because my confectionery skills are lacking, but because I’m not really into the whole aesthetic thing. Life in Christ can be delicious, but we’re missing something if we aren’t presenting it as beautiful.
Despite some self-consciousness, I am generally more concerned with deeper matters than physical appearance. So, I dress pretty boringly. After 30 years of life, I finally got a consistent style. I have to be reminded to clean my office, and I always wonder why it’s so important because it’s the meat that matters. Well, not in this day-in-age. Appearance matters too. In fact, if we’re going to help someone follow Jesus, the aesthetic of the operation may be important. We are dealing with discipleship—we want people to be long-term followers of Christ, but they may not if we can’t sell the sizzle. So how clean the living room is matters when you are hosting cell. How presentable your space is for worship matters too. How tight the music is, how well-organized the speech is, and even what you’re wearing matters.
And one thing we’re learning at North Broad is your building matters. Our building kind of looks like it’s straight out of North Korea, so it might be time for a change. We’re doing it because we have something real to offer, so we want to free the path of obstacles. Because, Lord knows, it’s already riddled with them. We want to stand out among the noise not because the product is good, but because an identity and life in Christ and a practical way to live it out matters, and is rarely found. We’ll need help, so join us.