Being “Unconformed” To This World
Before I ever heard Paul tell me that I am not to be conformed to this world, I got the same message from Pink Floyd. It may well be that the Floyd got it from the Bible but I didn’t hear it from Paul first. It was in the songs of Pink Floyd. Songs like “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” and “Us and Them” and “Welcome to the Machine.” In fact, one of the major draws Pink Floyd had for me was the brilliance of the lyrics and the beauty of the music itself. What Roger Waters wrote, David Gilmour transformed into unparalleled piece of music memory.
In Rom 12.2, Paul saw ahead to what is in store for believers at the end of the present age and told us not to be conformed to the world. Waters looked at the evils of the present age and tried to warn us or awaken us, pleading with us to reject the culture and live differently. Pink Floyd identified specific pressures from culture that quietly and hideously transformed us into something or someone we were never meant to be.
To choose not to be conformed to this work involves, first and foremost, a rejection of the culture or philosophy that drives us. Aided by the distance and perspective provided by drugs – marijuana in my case – I was able in the early ’70s to first question and then reject what I had been raised and taught to believe. And to believe in. I ate the meat and spit out the bones as best I could. Not everything was rejected or needed to be. There were still vestiges of a Christian culture influencing the U.S. in the ’50s and 60s.
Through a haze of reflective clarity, I heard the message of Pink Floyd: the culture, the system, the spirit of the age did not work for us but actually sought to get us to work for it. You need look no further than “Welcome to the Machine” on Wish You Were Here.
Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
Where have you been?
It’s alright we know where you’ve been.
Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
What did you dream?
It’s alright we told you what to dream
Culture, sang Floyd, prepares you to be just one more cog in a self-perpetuating machine. You’ve been in the pipeline/Filling in time/Provided with toys and scouting for boys. The song anticipated and perhaps in part inspired the movie The Matrix in its grim, 1984 outlook. We are entertained to avoid facing the reality of life. Echoes of Pascal.
When I discovered that rejecting the culture was commanded for all Christians – in fact, to love the world reveals that the love of God is not in us – I found it relatively easy to do, at least intellectually and philosophically. The world should hate Christians; if the world doesn’t hate us, we might want to do some soul-searching. I know I need to.
The problem with not being conformed is being blind to all the ways we are conformed and conforming. “Does a fish see water? Does a fish know it’s wet?” Do I realize how immersed I am in the world and how deeply the world has infected me? What motivates me? What angers me? When I get right down to it, what does my life say that I really believe in?
I’m not advocating or even suggesting some type of aesthetic, monk-like existence for those of us in the rank and file. But I am strongly encouraging each of us to examine our lives and make changes. (I’ve listened to culture’s siren songs, letting them mesmerize me and lead me deeper and deeper into the spirit of the age. I’ve written about here: Losing My Way . . . Again.)
I know what most of us believe. Or, I know what we say we believe. But sometimes it’s really hard to distinguish a Christian from a non-Christian without bumper stickers, necklaces, tattoos and other visible declarations of our Christian faith. If the only thing to go on is behavior stripped of visible symbols, I honestly cannot think of anything in my day-to-day life that sets me apart from any other person in my culture. Or from others in my Christian subculture.
There’s something wrong here, obviously. It calls for drastic action: anything short of that will not effect the kind of change necessary to be labeled as a Christian by others. I don’t want to be known by what I’m against – although there’s no shortage of cultural outrages to oppose. I want to be known for what I do and, especially, how I love other people.
That means sacrificial living. It means knowing when I have enough – that is, what I need – and when I can bless other people. We pray that God will give us our daily bread – and He does! But sometimes it looks like He’s unloaded the entire bakery at one house. When that’s the case, we need to understand that God has given us more than we need so that we might give to others who don’t have enough of what they need.
If Christians were to do this If I were to do this, people might notice. But that’s not the reason to do it. The reason to do it is twofold and quite simple: I should do it because I love God and because I love people. If enough of us gave like that, I think the world would notice. Frankly, I think the world be baffled if this became routine for Christians. Not just a one-time extravaganza for the world to notice but a 24/7/365 lifestyle. Sharing. From each according ability, to each according to need.
It wouldn’t be a great start, maybe, but it would be a good one. Now all I have to do is do it.