First published January 20, 2017
Christian culture is near obsessed with the centre. Words like ‘mainstream’ and ‘crossover’ drip off the tongue like diamonds. Influence is king. The idea of bands, writers, speakers, actors being part of the Christian community and the 'influence' they'll wield on mainstream culture is an elusive Holy Grail to Christian leaders.
We earnestly look for Christians to rise to the centre of culture in politics, media and society in the hopes that they will 'radiate' through society.
The idea that if we move enough of 'our people' to the centre, things will change. If we can get enough of our people to the centre, then we'll be in the midst of the biggest crowd. That's how crowds work. Cities have their dense population of buildings and allotments in the centre, slowly spiralling and spreading outwards, and whilst we want to be 'cities on a hill', there's a flaw in the logic because culture doesn't develop from the inside out, but from the outside in.
When Christendom is continually caught in the pull towards the centre, we confuse country artists with gospel singers because they sing the themes of colloquial spirituality we've grown up with. We hijack people who are journeying just like us, in the hopes they might turn out to be better role models.
The fastest way to the centre
It's a futile pursuit if we really want influence. The fastest way to the centre is to go to the fringe. The biggest area of influence is the circumference of the circle, not the centre of it.
Re-thinking, re-inventing, imagination and discovery can't be found at the centre of the circle. In order to be stretching out on horizons, you simply must be at the fringe. In the eclectic community of people that live there. They are transient. They move on rapidly and with fluidity. They hold ideas loosely and wide horizons stretch out before them.
It's a marvellous gift to be at the fringe, because there's both the luxuriating, intoxicating ability to observe the centre from the external, whilst still being connected to it. And when the centre every so often takes one of the fringe thinkers, writers, artists, poets, songwriters into the core... to be lifted up high for a moment... it's pointing the way towards what the fringe has already discovered.
Simon & Garfunkel wrote "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls." What sets Lady Gaga apart from Miley Cyrus? Gaga is prophesying a shift and change in our expression of sexuality and sensuality, of power between men and women, the importance and assignment of gender. It may not be a subject that makes us comfortable—but look at the influence she has wielded in this short span of her career.
Think Madonna and her expressive sexuality of the 80s and 90s. Think Bob Dylan and the political songs of the 60s and 70s. Think Elvis and gyration: rock'n'roll.
Think E. E. Cummings and his re-written rules of punctuation and communication—now long dead as culture is still discovering and embracing fluid punctuation, now expressed in TXT language, emoticons and internet shorthand.
But think also Kate Shepard, John and Charles Wesley, John Newton, Martin Luther King Jr. Fringe-dwelling, culture shaping beacons of influence.
Think the fringe
So it's the fringe and always the fringe. Now that indie pop and alternative folk songs are 'cool'... something new must emerge. Slowly what happens at the fringe is carried through to the centre. That's why the best writers and thinkers go out to the edges of truth and what is, to imagine the "what could be." They lift it up in the light, examine it and capture something that can speak to the world.
The height of creativity is to go to that playground at the edge of imagination, spirituality, culture and sociology and to experiment with something entirely new.
Tash McGill (Auckland, NZ) wants to change the world by helping people to think differently. Sometimes described as courageous by her friends, she frequently says aloud what no-one else is brave or stupid enough to say. She also finds writing third-person biographies uncomfortable.
Tash McGill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tash-mcgill.html