Christian Sarcasm, Parody, Satire, Mashups – Appropriate?

kinnon —  March 16, 2007 — 12 Comments

My blogging friend, Dan Edelen commented negatively on the Emehging Chuwch YouTube mashup in my previous post:

This video doesn’t do anyone any good. It only looks vindictive. No matter how off the original might be, a better response can be found here:

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
—1 Peter 3:9

I hold Dan in high enough regard that I was actually tempted to remove the previous post and have been thinking about it for the last couple of hours (since reading it around 6am this morning). That post is still up, although I remain troubled by Dan’s comment. Which leads me to ask some questions?

Is sarcasm, satire, parody or even a video mashup (that is sarcastic or an attempt at parody) appropriate for Christians? In this context, was it appropriate for emehgingchuwch to poke fun at (or perhaps skewer) lucaslabrador’s ill-informed comments on the Emerging Church – by editing lucaslabrador’s statements in an obviously out-of-context manner to parody said comments? And do Peter’s strong words in First Peter apply here?

In light of the scriptures, perhaps Peter had Paul in mind when he wrote 1 Peter 3:9. Maybe he was commenting on Paul’s letter to the Galatian church where in chapter 5 Paul sarcastically recommends that the circumcisers (who frustrated the skubalon out of Paul) should go all the way and emasculate themselves.

I do believe that the power of parody and satire is in their ability to highlight truth – and this power has been practiced as an art form by enumerable Christian artists including two of my favourite writers, GK Chesterton and Evelyn Waugh. (Not that I am in any way suggesting emehgingchuwch is in the same league as these two writers.)

Which still leaves me asking the question from Dan’s response – was emehgingchuwch’s video mashup an appropriate response to lucaslabrador’s The "Emerging Church?"

Perhaps, though, I suffer for not listening to Dan’s good advice. But then, as Chesterton put it,

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.

What ever success that might be, in my case.

UPDATE: Dan engages in the comments.

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kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

12 responses to Christian Sarcasm, Parody, Satire, Mashups – Appropriate?

  1. Bill,

    I very much believe that sarcasm, parody, and satire are appropriate forms of humor for Christians. I use them myself.

    What matters is how they are used, when, and in what spirit.

    As you well know, the Internet lacks in many ways as a personal communication form. You and I recently had our own communication breakdown. That happens all too easily on the Internet.

    Scientists claim that almost 80% of our communication is visual or non-verbal. The Internet takes that away in large part. We try to substitute smilies, but they’re a marginal solution at best.

    We Christians carry the standard for interpersonal communication because our Lord was the ultimate communicator in this regard. He rocked people’s worlds by continually stressing face-to-face communication and relational responses that broke all the molds.

    How do we respond to an enemy? We pray for them and love them. We bless them rather than curse them.

    How do we respond to someone who has wronged us? We go to them and forgive them in person, seeking restoration of our relationship.

    I can’t read the NT and not constantly stumble across ways of dealing with our foes that fly in the face of what normal human reaction would be. The problem is that normal human reaction is fallen. Christ offers the better way.

    The truly Christian approach to all those who would despise us and persecute us is to bless, not curse. Do not repay evil with evil. We heap burning coals on our enemies heads by proving our ability to love them in Christ outdoes their ability to hate. That is the truth of the Gospel, and we cannot avoid it.

    That thinking will cost us. It means we won’t be able to get in the last jab. We won’t be able to justify ourselves to the world. We will bless rather than curse, forgive rather than retaliate.

    No one said it would be easy.

    When is barbed humor appropriate? I think it’s best left to talking about systems, not individuals. Or it’s best when we talk about the silly things we ourselves do. I think it’s best within groups that are closely bonded, when we can laugh at each other in the right spirit, the spirit of friendship and love.

    But it’s not right against enemies, particularly when those foes are individuals. Our winsomeness in Christ is geared to break the hardhearted. Attacking them with the same viciousness that they attack us is eye for an eye. But the Lord moved us on to something better.

    I’m continually discouraged by the in-fighting between Christians that I see on the Web. I try very hard to avoid this since it gets us nowhere. Our very public squabbles on the Web only serve to drive the lost away from us because they see our vindictiveness and retaliation as proof that Christ and His Church offer nothing different than the same old, same old. But if we respond in love when we are crushed, that speaks the right word. Then perhaps they would see that Christianity offers something more, something filled with life and not death.

    Blessings.

    Reply
  2. One final thought:

    The call of Christ is to become a servant. We serve Him. He asks us to serve the lost, broken, and hurting.

    The proper response to this man’s video is for the emerging church to serve him so lovingly that his argument crumbles in the face of that loving service. Show love for Christ, the kind that can’t be faulted, by serving, serving, serving.

    The response we should ALWAYS have to any foe is to ask how we might better serve them in Christ. If every Christian on this planet who was wronged would ask, “How might I best serve those who have wronged me?” we’d see the kind of revival that many of us are praying for.

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  3. Okay, so my last thought wasn’t final:

    I don’t like the “mashup” thing because it’s a lie, a purposeful deception, and we shouldn’t be sponsoring lies. We confront lies with greater truth, not by descending to the level of fostering lies ourselves.

    Think the Golden Rule here, too. Would we want to have our words twisted in this way? No. Therefore, we should never twist the words of others.

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  4. Yikes, Dan. Three comments and I’m about to run out the door to have lunch with an old friend (my cameraman for the last 26 years). So let me respond to two points – the 80% visual communication line and mashups.

    Whilst acknowledging our own miscommunication from a few weeks ago, I would strongly suggest the “80% of communications is visual” line is a myth. As my friend, teacher and brilliant marketer, Roy Williams puts it:

    Have you ever been told that “93% of all human communication is non-verbal”? Or that “One picture is worth a thousand words”? Or that “some people are visual, some are auditory, and some are kinesthetic”? In truth, each of these statements is utterly incongruent with everything that is known about the brain. According to leading neurologists such as Alan Baddeley, Steven Pinker, Ricardo Gattass and Silvia Helena Cardoso, every human is uniquely gifted to attach complex meanings to sound. It’s the one area of sensory perception in which we are superior to the animals, thanks to a dramatically oversized auditory association area and a highly developed Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area. (The brains of deaf people access the visual association area and the somatosensory cortex to supply the signals that are missing from auditory association.)

    Calling a mashup a lie is completely over the top, Dan. A mashup (or at least the one in discussion) is so obviously a heavily edited piece that makes no attempt to hide that fact. It is parody. A lie would be editing lucaslabrador in a manner that was not easily detectable and making him say something he hadn’t actually said. Kind of like the Photoshopped versions of “the truth” that AP and Reuters have been noted for of late.

    And a third point, since I have a moment more (I’ve just heard my friend is running late) – I wouldn’t consider lucaslabrador to be an enemy. Rather, I would consider him to be a misguided brother whose art form, YouTube videos, worthy of critique – even parody. 

    Gotta run. I’ll be back in about four hours. 

    Reply
  5. The “mashup” (what a name) is, within the culture that produces them, ambiguous in its meaning. One of the most popular mashups on the web is John Piper’s “I’m Bad.” Piper likes it.

    This particular mashup does a couple of things:

    1) It recognizes that the discussion, on the level of the original, isn’t a serious discussion because the “expert’s” pretense of knowledge parodies itself.

    Think of it as “Don’t take yourself quite so seriously, mate.”

    2) It uses a technology of the “young and stupid” to point out that its not very hard, using video, to make someone look badly. That is, in fact, what the original video did. It took the “weight” of a talking head on Youtube” and used it to make ridiculous assertions.

    I agree with Bill: this man isn’t the enemy, and such responses aren’t debates. They are attempts to differ with humor, and differing with humor is something the Wittenberg Door taught me long ago is much needed in an evangelicalism that takes way too many things too seriously.

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  6. I hesitantly have to agree with Bill. Those videos are placed online as public statements for a public audience, not a private conversation. Growing up in a family of journalists I came to learn that when you put yourself out there as an authoritative voice on anything, it becomes fair game. This goes for Bill’s response too.

    That being said, I also agree that the spirit ones intentions needs to be examined. Bill seems to have done that, so I will trust he has gone forward as he sees fit. Further, I always wonder if we give more attention to dangerous and offensive voices (which I think Lucas represents, though not so much on the EC topic) by paradying them. Food for thought.

    Peace,
    Jamie

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  7. Jamie,
    Thanks for the “hesitant” support. 😉

    The question is fair enough – whether we ever should have engaged Justin Hughes aka lucaslabrador in the first place – beginning at Bob Hyatt’s blog. With the apparent audience (YouTube stats) that Brother Hughes has – I would suggest that it was necessary.

    Whether emehgingchuwch’s parody should have been created is open for critique. My 16 year old daughter called it an “immature response” when she saw it. At 51, I thought it was rather amusing – but no one ever accused me of being mature.

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  8. I still don’t like the mashup:

    1. It misrepresents the speaker.
    2. It’s done to mock.
    3. It does not reflect the Golden Rule.

    Christians should have none of that. In fact, if I were an Emerging Church sympathizer, the LAST thing I’d do is throw a taunt like that mashup out there since it only proves the original speaker’s point.

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  9. I’m not buying the “he’s not the enemy” thing, either. That’s how he’s being portrayed here–as a foe. He’s certainly not a friend to the many Christians out there who sympathize with the Emerging Church.

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  10. To your points, my response:
    1) It parodies the speaker – using his words and style of “argument” to poke holes in what he is saying
    2) See point 1
    3) If I framed my arguments in the manner that Brother Hughes had/has, I would hope that I would get the kind of pushback provided by emehgingchuwch. Again, going back to the Scriptures – how would you respond to Paul in Galatians where he sarcastically recommends the emasculation of the circumciser’s. The Golden Rule is a wonderful thing to teach – but it is not what all the Law and the Prophets hang on. (Loving one’s neighbour as one self does not preclude vigourously debating that neighbour.)

    Dan, whether one is a friend or not, certainly does not mean that one is a foe. And your post today, regarding the lack of emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the Emerging Church would certainly suggest that you are neither well schooled in an understanding of the Emerging Church nor a particular friend of it. I would not, however, characterize you as a foe.

    Dan Kimball and Andrew Jones would certainly be shocked at your characterization of the Emerging Church as “flesh-centred hogwash” as it “leaves out the Holy Spirit.”

    And am I to take this form of overstatement as how you see practicing the Golden Rule, Dan.

    Reply
  11. Bill,

    A few responses:

    * I don’t think the parody punches holes in the argument simply by existing. It has to say something valid. It simply fails to do so. Therefore, it’s extraneous and simply mean-spirited. It doesn’t pass the “Would Jesus be happy with this if I gave it as a gift to Him?” test.

    * As to the Golden Rule comment, I don’t see the originator of the video being debated skillfully. I agree that debate may be done in love. I simply don’t see the debate or the love!

    * My post today – I said that any Christian reform movement that leaves out the Holy Spirit is operating out of the flesh. Yes, the Emerging Church is a reform movement. Is it operating out of the Spirit or the flesh? Well, Andrew Jones, whom you mentioned, has lamented the woefully underdeveloped pneumatology in the Emerging Church. I’m only repeating what he and some other leaders have said. Their assertion is not new. However, I see very little action toward fixing this lack. Indeed, many emerging churches seem to ignore it altogether, even when leaders within the movement ask why so few truly emerging churches are charismatic or even sympathetic to a continuationist position. Again, when leaders within the movement are wondering why their theology of the Holy Spirit is so underwhelming (and their experiences with the power gifts so tepid)are they, too, foes?

    I’m not a foe of the Emerging Church, Bill. Much of their criticism of institutionalized Christianity is dead-on, and I agree with it. I do, however, have serious issues with some of the theological mangling I see happening in some sectors of the movement. That too few are willing to distance themselves from that mangling is one reason I do not support the Emerging Church as a whole, though I do support more orthodox churches within it.

    As for my experience with the Emerging Church, I was a vocal and ardent contributer to the conversation over at The Ooze, been a reader of Next Wave, have read perhaps two dozen books by a variety of respected authors within the movement (even now, I’m reading The Forgotten Ways), have relationships with other Christians in well-respected emerging churches, and generally keep up in the subject. So no, I’m by no means ignorant on the Emerging Church. I’ve defended some portions of it in some places and questioned some of it in others. Considering the flux that plagues the movement, I think that’s the wisest position any of us can take.

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  12. Sarcasm, etc. should only be used when its funny. When it is funny, it usually reveals a fragment of truth. I didn’t find the “mash-up” overwhelmingly funny. It tried to be a bit too clever. Cleverness fails when it tries to be complex when it should be simple, and simple when it should be complex. Cynicism also corrupts the humor in these things.

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What do you think?