Trinity Christian College Convocation Address
August 31, 2007
Broadcast yourself. Allow me to quickly assess your awareness of the tagline, Broadcast yourself. If you know what that tagline is for, raise your hand.
We have something of a generation gap. Broadcast Yourself is the tag line for YouTube.
Although I could have raised my hand—after all, I chose to focus on the words, Broadcast Yourself—I clearly belong to the generation of those whose hands stayed on their laps.
YouTube. From the outset, you should know that I know so very little about YouTube. Maybe 3 or 4 times during the last year, someone has pointed me to a particular YouTube clip.
But this morning, I’d like to check out the notion of broadcasting oneself—what that really means for all of us here engaging in Trinity’s mission: shaping lives and transforming culture.
More specifically, I want to 1) talk about the role YouTube plays in our culture 2) explore briefly self identity in a YouTube culture, and 3) relate this all to our mission of shaping lives and transforming culture.
YouTube in our Contemporary Culture. First, how do we understand a cultural-communication phenomena such as YouTube? As I asked myself this question, I realized I would be stepping outside the comfort of my discipline, so I first consulted Professor Annalee Ward’s book, Mouse Morality. In her book, Dr. Ward examines the messages of Disney films. She considers the proposition of Margaret Miles who claims films are viewed as answers to the questions of how we should live. Answers to the questions of how we should live.1
If films are answers to the questions of how we should live, what is YouTube? Unlike Disney—a huge corporate entertainment voice—YouTube is random, eclectic—as varied as the thousands of individuals who post something there. If film answers questions of how we should live, YouTube simply chronicles the hugely varied ways we live. YouTube is a virtual cafeteria of clips of peoples lives—real and imagined. YouTube is like stopping at a hundred garage sales in a hundred different neighborhoods, picking up old home movies or photo albums from each one.
So, film provides answers of how we should or ought to live. YouTube provides descriptions not of what ought to be, but what is. As such, YouTube is the perfect chronicle for a post-modern age. Never indicating what should or ought to be, but simply a collection of unrelated “stuff.” Somehow it fits today’s mantra: You do your thing; I’ll do mine. Whatever.
Self-identity in a YouTube culture. Second, let’s examine self-identity in a YouTube world. I’d like you to notice that there are two words in the tag line: Broadcast Yourself. I’d like to examine the second: yourself. Some people like to broadcast themselves: Those who like to bare their souls on talk shows, those who like to grab the microphone and not let it go, those who like being on stage.
In fact, our contemporary culture enjoys those who broadcasts themselves. Those of you in psychology will learn about the pathologies of exhibitionism and voyeurism. The first, abnormal pleasure in displaying oneself; the second, abnormal pleasure in watching another—both with a sexual twist.
Yes, there’s a certain exhibitionist quality about our culture: Young women like Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears whose seem to purposely engage in bizarre and even suggestive behavior. And of course, there are the rest of us: watching and somehow getting some weird sort of pleasure from these young women doing crazy things. Of course, this is not just for women. Does any one in this audience remember Dennis Rodman?
When the cameras are turned on, when the reporters from the National Inquirer show up, and the world is watching, it seems the virtue of humility is replaced by exhibitionism—at least exhibitionism defined as outrageous behavior designed to draw attention to oneself. And the rest of us can’t help but become a bit voyeuristic.
But I’d like to suggest that while some in the entertainment industry rush to broadcast themselves, most of us are in no such rush. Sure, Facebook pages open up our hearts to others via the pseudo-safety of virtual communication. And many of us may have tried a Karaoke machine in our younger more foolish days. But, again, we’re not fundamentally oriented toward broadcasting ourselves. It probably has something to do with our identities. Consider this excerpt from the Color of Water—the book first year students are reading:
I tried to explain to them that I couldn’t dance. I have always been one of the worst dancers that God has ever put upon this earth. The white kids in school did not believe me, and after weeks of encouragement I found myself standing in front of the classroom on talent day, wearing my brother’s good shoes and hitching up my pants soul singer-style like one of the Temptations, as someone dropped the needle on a James Brown record. I slid around he way I’d seen him do, shouting “Owww-shabba-na.” They were delighted. Even the teacher was amused. They really believed I could dance! I had them fooled. They screamed for more and I obliged, squiggling my feet and slip-sliding across the wooden floor, jumping into the air and landing in a near split by the blackboard, shouting “Eeeee-yowwwww” They went wild, but even as I sat down with their applause ringing in my ears, with laughter on my face, happy to feel accepted, to be part of them, knowing I had pleased them, I saw the derision on their faces, the clever smiles, laughing at the oddity of it, and I felt the same ache I felt when I gazed at the boy in the mirror. I remembered him, and how free he was, and I hated him even more. 2
In this excerpt, James McBride does a YouTube sort of thing: he puts himself on display. He broadcasts himself in a way that buys into a stereotype. And he hates himself for it.
McBride’s book, at one level, chronicles his journey to identity as a man born of a white mother and an African-American father in a race conscious world. Although there is only one James McBride, we’re all on a journey, each of us at differing points on the journey, each of us trying to put together various parts of our identify—maybe not the same parts as McBride’s, but certainly each with our own significant issues.
I believe, however, that here at Trinity, while we all have various components that combine to form our individual identities, we all share a common task: determining how one’s faith fits in one’s identity.
Professor Van Wyck’s father, Anthony Hoekema, wrote a very important book more than 30 years ago: The Christian Looks at Himself (and I suspect Tony would now change the title to make sure the reader knows it’s both for hims and hers.) 3 Hoekema begins the book by stating his goal: “The main purpose of this book is to examine what Scripture says about the way Christians ought to see themselves and fellow Christians.” (Hoekema, p. 9)
Hoekema states: “We need a positive image of ourselves. It is only when I can forget about myself and my own ego that I can be free to appreciate and honor others. When, for example, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:3 that in lowliness of mind we are to count others better than ourselves, he does not imply that we must demean ourselves or think of ourselves as inferior to others. The point is rather that we must not seek our own honor at someone else’s expense, and that we must be more concerned to honor and praise others than we are to have others praise us.” (pgs. 77-78) Hoekema then goes on to use J.B. Phillip’s translation of that verse: “never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of one another than you do of yourselves.” (p. 78)
In sum, Hoekema is suggesting that we need to be concerned about others more than ourselves. And in so doing, we’ll find our true identity as Christians. Something each of us—faculty, staff, students, and friends—needs to remember as we get adjusted to suitemates, new departmental curriculums, new colleagues, new business practices, and new parking regulations.
Relationship to Mission. Now to my third question: what does living in a YouTube world with a Christian identity have to do with our task here at Trinity of shaping lives and transforming culture? Everything…but let me focus just on 2 things.
First, we’re trying to be counter cultural here in shaping each other’s lives. Indeed, our goal is to help you shape your identity, aka grow in Christ, not by priming you to appear on YouTube, but by helping all of us learn to think more about others than ourselves. Students, you’ll have a zillion opportunities to do this, whether it’s in a study group, in a soccer game, or in a volunteer service site. Hoekema suggests the ultimate goal of this identity shaping is to see Christ in each other. He says “when I look at you, my Christian brother or sister, my first impulse should not be to see what fault I can find with you; it should be to see what Christ has done for you and is doing through you, and I must listen for what Christ is trying to tell me through you.” (p. 88) Again, our goal here is not to prime you to appear on YouTube, but to further prepare you so that others can see Christ in you.
Second, we seek to join the work of the Holy Spirit as God is reclaiming his world. We do this directly by aligning the college with important initiatives and resultant changes in our practices. It shouldn’t be too much of a puzzle why, for example, our three admissions vehicles and my college car are all hybrids. Or why recycling is important on this campus. But more importantly, we do this indirectly through your education, students. We believe your education ultimately joins you to this important work. That might mean preparing to be a chemist in a consumer society with dwindling natural resources. That might mean preparing you to be a film producer, making sure that the questions of how we should live are answered faithfully.
Let me end this morning with quick review and a challenge. I’ve tried to understand our YouTube culture, we’ve spent a few moments trying to understand Christian identity, and I’ve sought to relate both to the task of Trinity Christian College. I hope no one has concluded my point is to trash YouTube, or suggest it is off limits. Rather, let me end with this challenge, seeking to spur each of you on in joining God’s transforming work in his world. What could you post on YouTube that would speak clearly of your developing Christian identity in this confusing and chaotic contemporary culture God calls us to reclaim? And when you figure out what you’re going to post there, go ahead, Broadcast Yourself…and let me know. I’ll be honored to see Christ in you.
1 Mile, M (1996) Seeing and Believing: Religion and Values in Movies. Boston: Beacon Press. In A. Ward (2002) Mouse Morality: The rhetoric of Disney Animated Film. Austin: University of Texas Press.
2 McBride, J. (1996). New York: Riverhead Books
3 Hoekema, A. (1975). The Christian Looks at Himself. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans
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