My sister opened one eye and squinted up at me as the sunburned teenagers continued their lewd conversation.
“You ready to go?” I asked. Kari nodded. We’d definitely had more than enough of this.
During our three-mile walk back to our hotel in downtown Cancun, Mexico, we discussed things it’s safe to say most spring breakers weren’t talking much about: issues of morality. We had always heard the nightmarish tales about spring breakers in Cancun, but we never experienced them until we settled onto the wrong stretch of beach. The words “flagrant indecency” and “perversion” continued to ring through my mind as my stomach knotted in revulsion. With nagging freshness the memory remains vivid, two months later. Amazingly, the water remains crystal clear despite the filth of drunkenness, drugs, and fornication littering the white sand.
My sister and I knew we weren’t typical Spring Breakers, choosing not to engage in promiscuous activity or debauchery. Waiters offered us alcoholic drinks “on the house,” only to be met with rejection by our rapidly shaking heads. Puzzled, they retreated from our table, perhaps wondering if we were aliens, imported from some strange planet. But such reactions are nothing new to us. As Christians, we live counter to a culture that increasingly embraces immorality and deviancy and such “alien” moments are thus to be expected, even celebrated.
The formation of my “alien” qualities began in childhood under my parents’ instruction. My family spent time together, allowing us to develop deep friendships built on trust and providing opportunities for my parents to instruct and correct us. Not that I always enjoyed the correcting; OK, so I never did. But my parents knew what God’s Word said and they were determined to raise their children according to its principles. It was what they chose to value.
I remember how non-Christian friends would react when they came over to my house. They reveled in the dinner conversation as we all sat around the table and shared, many times laughing until tears poured down our cheeks. And they watched in wishful envy when my father tickled or hugged me. They came back again and again, commenting on how much they enjoyed being with my family. I didn’t realize why until I visited them; after visiting a few of my friends’ homes, I discovered how special my family was and how long one night could feel.
So I came to expect this difference between Christians and non-Christians and the likelihood of being misunderstood by unbelievers. Obviously, what someone values determines how one lives on a daily basis. Why would people with two opposing worldviews see things the same way, or make similar everyday choices?
It came as no surprise to feel out of place amid the raucous Spring Breakers in Cancun, but recently I have experienced “alien” moments with Christians, and with growing frequency. A girl told me about coed slumber parties with “innocent” snuggling beneath the sheets, the immorality easily excused by similar experiences seen on her favorite television show Friends. A mother revealed her fear that if her son had a girlfriend, the girl would become pregnant because “after all, he’s a guy and that’s all they want anyway.”
This came as an unexpected turn of events, and has prompted me to consider what is happening. Why am I clashing with people who hold my same worldview? Why do our ideas conflict if we have identical values? And I think that’s just it; we don’t have the same values.
This realization first hit me with such force that I found myself battling obstinate denial that I could now be considered alien even among my own kind. I hated to think that some Christians have let popular culture creep in, with its values and ideas slinking subtly behind.
Yet in Christian homes recently I’ve observed filthy TV shows and movies, excessive materialism, irresponsible waste and divisive gossip. And I have to wonder what we think we’re doing — if we’re thinking at all. Where has the pursuit of holiness gone? Where is accountability? Have we been so immersed in the tolerant and self-centered culture of our time that we’re failing to see how our everyday choices are in direct disobedience to God’s commands?
Compared to the secular world, Christians as a whole may have a better set of morals, but why settle for “better” when we should have the best? Since when was the world our yardstick for morality? It’s easier to be assimilated by one’s surroundings than to live in direct opposition to them, but God commanded us to avoid mixing the secular with the holy. For something to be holy, it must be set apart. What distinctions are we making?
The Apostle Paul stressed the need to live as “children of God” in a “crooked and depraved generation” (Philippians 3:14-15), and looking around, I see a world sadly degenerate. We can sing “Holiness is what I long for,” but if we don’t truly long for it, then they’re just idle phrases. So how do we live as children of light?
The Scriptures abound with detailed descriptions of what our lives should look like, many of them listing qualities to avoid such as slander, rage, malice, anger, filthy language, sexual immorality, bitterness, selfish ambition, envy — all qualities heralded by movies, magazines, and television shows as healthy and acceptable. And if we constantly surround ourselves with hedonistic, “I-gotta-be-me” trash, we’re bound to pick up the stench whether we like it or not.
Instead, we’re supposed to surround ourselves with things that are uplifting: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). That means our choices of entertainment, our conversation, our friends.
Now I’m not saying that being a Christian means cloistering oneself away on a mountainside. But I am saying that Christians should make sure they are setting the right priorities. There is nothing inherently wrong or evil about television, for example, but what flashes across the screen may be—and often is. We need to be purposeful, discerning and responsible.
I find I am faced with a choice about values. Clearly, I will be rejected by the world if I set the priorities that Jesus did, but now I will be misunderstood, perhaps mocked, and even rejected by people who say they are Christians. It means being excluded. After all, who wants someone around who always sticks to a rigid set of morals? It tends to ruin other people’s fun, and in the most feared scenario, makes them feel guilty for the choices they make.
I’m not sitting smugly in self-righteous exaltation as I ponder the state of Christian morals today. I have a long way to go towards a life of integrity and I am often dismayed by my own lack of conviction and responsibility. But I desire to live a deliberate life in pursuit of Christ. The prospect that I may meet fewer and fewer pilgrims along the way is quite sobering, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
Copyright 2002 Dana Norton. All rights reserved.