In PRISM's Book Bag: A MATRIX OF MEANINGS – Finding God in Pop Culture by Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor
Reviewed by Rick Bonn
Like a traffic cop, Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor's book, A MATRIX OF MEANINGS: FINDING GOD IN POP CULTURE, holds up a hand – demanding that we stop, look, and proceed with new assumptions. We won't begin by condemning pop culture, they say; we'll search there for revival. We won't shun pop culture's creations; we'll celebrate them. We won't erect barriers; we'll cross bridges.
Detweiler and Taylor lay it all out there – the mysterious mess and paradox of pop-culture creation that others want to box or burn. Their view is new and important: a postmodern critique from within pop culture, not a modern treatise from without. They suggest that a religious awakening is upon us and insist that we pay attention to the marketplace of pop culture where children sing funeral marches and wisdom pours from those labeled demons or drunks.
Listen to the cries of their preface: "God shines through even the most debased pop cultural products; "Pop music has helped us hear the Psalms as prayers, formed in frustration, offered to a sometimes hidden God." Where some see doom and many see caution, these writers see "…a renaissance, a new dawn, the stirrings of a profound spiritual renewal."
We can't ignore the crucial debates in pop culture, they contend. Whether it's fashion or film, we must be present on the front lines, watching and responding, learning and reinventing – not just because lost ones need to be found, but because a healthy spiritual debate often rages without us.
The book outlines 10 arenas of pop culture that present a challenge to traditional theology and offer insight for emerging theology. Among the 10 are the following: celebrity is about hungering for the eternal; advertising addresses the question of what it means to be human in ways that theologians often fail to do; developing a theology out of television would help us better connect with culture; contemporary fashion is sacramental, reflecting the pain and suffering of those on the outside; and extreme sports were created by kids as a subversive form of worship.
A primer rather than an exhaustive study, this is a book to crawl into and experience, not a pill to ingest. It's like an art gallery with hundreds of works – though you may not connect with or care about every one of them, there's something here for all. The 44-page introduction alone has enough wisdom and passion to make it worth reading.
Though some may criticize the book for a lack of analytical rigor, to condemn it solely on this basis is to miss its uniqueness and renewing call. This is a new view of old lands and a prophetic pronouncement of hope. This book looks to the future with joy. Things are changing, the authors say, but for the good. The issues are challenging and they do raise tough questions, but our future theological survival hinges on how we understand and interact with pop culture – even in all its gaudy and glorious forms – today. Otherwise, we might be the ones Jesus condemns in Luke 7:32, the ones who ignore the children in the marketplace who are saying "We have piped, and you did not dance. We have mourned, and you did not weep."
Former development director for ReelSpirituality, Rick Bonn is a freelance writer living on the Oregon Coast.