We Long to Be Surprised

We have the ability to know anything and we wish we didn’t.

I’ve noticed a trend the last year or so that really only started to solidify in my mind this week when I was reading about the explosive popularity of a new TV show.

We Can Find Anything We Want

This isn’t a new phenomenon. I was Googling information for research papers when I was in middle school in the early 2000s. I remember one English class in which they took us to the library to learn how.

In the same day, someone can use Google to research which blender is the best buy for the money, to learn about the hunting practices of pre-Columbian Americans dwelling in what is now the southwestern United States, and to discern whether or not that mole on their neck is cancerous or not (it probably is).

Virtually every fact that can be known can be Googled, and for every fact you find you can find five opinions about that fact and three explanations of why that fact is actually fake.

The ability to find the answers to any questions we have is revolutionary and feels empowering most of the time.

But a rising trend in popular culture and buying habits is showing us that we long to be surprised more than ever.

We Long to Be Surprised

I want to look at three examples of how we long to be surprised:

A YouTuber

One of the biggest, and fastest-growing, channels on YouTube is Ryan ToysReview. If you have a child under the age of like eight, you have heard of Ryan ToysReview. Forbes named him the top-grossing YouTuber in 2018. His videos get millions of views every day because when parents give their children an iPad, they watch his videos and those videos autoplay into more videos for hours on end.

A cornerstone of Ryan ToysRview’s content is anything “surprising.” Here is a search of that content, so you can see for yourself:

He even has his own line of “surprise” toys at places like Target:

The point: Ryan’s content is built on surprises.

When you don’t know what Ryan’s going to discover, you can experience the mystery yourself!

A Toy

One of the most popular toys in the world today is LOL Surprise. It’s manufactured by MGA entertainment, the same folks who make Bratz.

The toys debuted in 2016 and were largely fueled by the subtle content marketing phenomenon that is YouTube channels directed at children like, you guessed it, Ryan ToysReview.

Pretty much the entire appeal of LOL Surprise is wrapped up in two things: 1) the reality that the child doesn’t know exactly what is inside (usually a combination of a doll and accessories), and 2) the prolonged “unboxing” experience that accompanies every LOL Surprise.

The genre of toy is literally listed in some places as “unboxing toy line.” Here’s an example:

The point: Children want toys that are surprising to them upon opening.

The experience of surprise is better than the doll itself.

A TV Show

I don’t really watch network television. Susie and I are watching The Good Place on the NBC app right now when we have time, but we don’t catch any TV shows live as they air.

However, despite my relative ignorance, it has been hard to miss the noise around Fox’s The Masked Singer, which is based on a show from South Korea.

The point, if you haven’t heard of it: a masked singer takes the stage in front of a panel of “judges.” This masked singer is unknown to the judges and is eventually revealed and to the amazement of everyone involved.

Here’s a clip:

The entire appeal of this show is that they don’t know who is singing under the mask.

If Terry Bradshaw just got up on stage and sang a song, nobody would watch. But when he gets up on stage looking like he belongs in Cirque du Soleil without anyone knowing who he is, people will watch for hours.

Why? Surely you know by now: surprise.

The point: People want to be surprised by unknown talents of unknown celebrities.

Watching a bunch of random celebrities sing isn’t nearly as interesting when you know who they are.

So What?

I think we’re knee-deep in an era of surprise.

Why?

Because all of us have the ability to know anything we want to know in our pockets.

IMDB can tell us who that B-list actor is who played that one guy in that one movie.

But it can’t tell us WHO’S BEHIND THE MASK!

Why get a Barbie doll when you can have the experience of opening a capsule, not knowing what’s inside?

When knowledge is readily available, we long for surprise.

What If Christians Are *Supposed* to Lose the Culture War?

Over Christmas break, I received a text from my friend Trevin. He asked if I had yet read a book called The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church by David John Seel. I replied that I had not, and he told me I should read it so we could talk about it.

So I did, and oh man.

This isn’t really a proper book review. It’s more of a review of a major idea of the book. Trevin wrote a great review of the book here.

I do want to explore one of the concepts of the book I found particularly troubling, though, and that is the idea that the church losing cultural clout is a huge problem.

American Evangelicalism Is Losing a Cultural Foothold

Dr. Seel shares a lot of astute observations about culture and the church in the book, but as a Millennial myself (and as one who has done a bit of writing on the subject), I think he grossly overestimates the importance of American evangelicalism being “culturally relevant.”

He writes:

…it is becoming harder and harder to deny that evangelicalism is losing its hold on American culture. But because it has maintained such large market share for so long in the Bible Belt, it is easy to deny potential threats to its demise. The cultural dominance in the South and Midwest masks the increasing irrelevance of the church among those who curate the national social imaginary—the collective stories and myths we tell about the nature of reality and the shape of the good life. (p. xxiii-xxiv)

Here in this paragraph in the introduction to his book, Dr. Seel sounds the warning bell about American evangelicalism losing its grip on culture and those who influence culture. Later, he chastises American evangelicalism for how it dramatically influenced culture in the age of the Moral Majority and presently through its overwhelming support for Donald Trump.

It sounds like Dr. Seel is more concerned with American evangelicalism influencing culture in ways he thinks are inappropriate than whether or not American evangelicalism influences culture at all.

But generally, I agree with Dr. Seel, and I think we should accept his proposal: American evangelicalism does not influence American popular culture. I just hesitate to say it’s “losing its grip” on American popular culture, because I’m not sure American evangelicalism ever really influenced Hollywood or other architects of the social imaginary.

The point Dr. Seel makes is this: American evangelicalism is losing its grip on the people who stoke the American imagination, and this is going to make them look foolish among imaginative Millennials.

The Church: Playing the Part of the Fool

Dr. Seel characterizes his book as a “pan-pan” warning, a nautical term which is less urgent than a “mayday” warning.

He writes near the end of the book:

How we [American evangelicals] respond to the warning discussed here will determine the future direction and viability of the evangelical church. If we continue to play the game according to the old paradigm and habitus, we will be left holding a losing hand and will look the part of the fool. (p. 196, emphasis mine)

Dr. Seel says that if we American evangelicals do not heed his not-so-urgent warning about cultural irrelevancy and disconnection with Millennials, we “will look the part of the fool.”

Perhaps that’s the point.

Could that be the answer?

Maybe the right response to the present dramatic shift in American culture is not for evangelicals to try to ride the wave, but to swim against the tide?

Could it be that we are called to be fools?

Could Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4 be for us?

“We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!” (1 Cor 4:10)

Maybe American evangelicalism is called to play the part of the fool.

Jesus Is the Hope of the Church

In the introduction to his book, Dr. Seel lays out the general idea of each part. He says this about the final part:

“Part 6 explains why the coming generation of millennials is the hope of the church.” (p. xxvii, emphasis mine)

He writes later:

“The church cannot hope to survive without grappling with reaching millennials.” (p. 27, emphasis mine)

I, too, wrote a book about Millennials. I only recently shut down a blog about Millennials that I maintained for years. So obviously I think it’s important for the church to understand, reach, and equip them.

But let me be the first to reiterate what I wrote in my book: Millennials are not the future of your church. Disciples are the future of your church.

The future of the church relies more on Christians willing to be fools for Christ than it does on Christians working to influence popular culture.

Be willing to play the part of the fool.

My Favorite Things of 2018

Here are some of my favorite things from this past year in various spheres. I recommend these things to friends, family, and now to you.

Note: (These are favorites this year because I interacted with them this year. Not because they were “new” this year.)

Favorite Music

Above & Beyond — Common Ground

CThis album is special to me for a number of reasons. 

I was introduced to electronic/dance music in high school by a manager at the pizza place where I worked. He pointed me to a weekly two-hour podcast of trance music called, at that time, “Trance Around the World with Above & Beyond,” now called “Group Therapy with Above & Beyond.” This group has been one of my favorite listens since I was introduced to them in 2007. 

Common Ground is their newest album, released in January 2018, and their world tour passed through a small venue here in Nashville.

You have to know that Above & Beyond is a world-famous electronic group. That they came through Nashville is a big deal. They’re based in the UK. They normally play places like this:

But in March, they came to a small venue in Nashville two blocks away from my office. I had to go. And I did. And it was amazing. Here’s some video of a ritual they do every show. It’s called “push the button,” during which they invite a fan up on stage to push the button to make the beat drop. It’s an epic moment.

Favorite Online Content Creator

Ninja (Tyler Blevins)

He won Content Creator of the Year at The Game Awards a month ago, and for good reason. Here is the room where is streams. He went from having no YouTube channel to having 20 million subscribers in a year. That’s never happened…and not even close.

It is hard to say whether Fortnite benefitted more from Ninja or Ninja benefitted more from Fortnite. Each played a significant role in the success of the other.

If you need background on who Ninja is, I don’t have time to write it all out, so you can just watch this:

I have tuned into Ninja’s Twitch channel countless times this year. I bought Ninja merch. He’s made his content clean. He’s a blast to watch. Even my wife likes watching him play Fortnite with me. Here’s my favorite moment from his stream this year, which I watched live and died laughing at:

Favorite Book

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

This was, by far, the best book I read in 2018. I resounded with so much of it. I’ve seen so much of it. I wrote a review for the ERLC here, and here’s a bit of that:

The problem with microaggressions, say Lukianoff and Haidt, is that people often unintentionally offend others simply because of their life experience, and that does not line up with the meaning of “aggression.” They write, “Aggression is not unintentional or accidental. If you bump into someone by accident and never meant any harm, it is not an act of aggression, although someone may misperceive it as one” (p. 40). That is where the phenomenon of microaggressions and The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning collide. The authors identify a shift in morals on campus—a shift from “intent” to “impact” (p. 43). What people intend has taken a back seat to how their act made someone feel, regardless of what the “aggressor” intended. The authors contend, “A faux pas does not make someone an evil person or an aggressor” (p. 44).

Go read that book. It’s a great explanation of the oversensitivity of America’s young people.

Favorite YouTube Channel

PewDiePie

I just think he’s really funny. I like how he pushes back against “safe” content creator culture. I like meme review. I like Pew News. I like his chair. “Subscribe to PewDiePie to beat T-Series” has been one of the best YouTube memes this year.

He’s offensive and controversial. But I watch him a lot because, being the most subscribed YouTuber in the world, he has a dramatic effect on culture.

Favorite Headphones

Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Headphones

I had a nice contract gig earlier this year. I wanted some awesome headphones because I listen to music while working all the time. I asked Susie if I could use some of the money from the contract gig for these headphones, which I have wanted for a long time but never could justify buying. 

She said yes. And oh my goodness these things are amazing.

I don’t mean to sound bougie(?), but I never thought a pair of headphones could be worth $300—like I was ready to send them back as soon as I got them when I would inevitably realize they weren’t worth the money—but I was dead wrong.

If these things were stolen or destroyed tomorrow, I’d buy a new pair by the end of the week. They are just that good.

I listen to them 4-6 hours a day the whole work week and usually just charge them on the weekends. They charge super quickly. They pair immediately with my laptop and phone. Super clean and easy.

Seriously these are one of the highest quality products I have ever purchased. Worth every penny.

Favorite Video Game

Super Mario Party

I am 28-years-old, and I like to play video games. Spare me your shame. Someone on Twitter probably said something racist 10 years ago, go shame them (cuz apparently that’s a thing now).

I played a number of the most critically acclaimed games this year, and I liked them. Red Dead Redemption II was great. Celeste was amazing. Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are both super fun. But none of those have been my favorite game of the year.

Super Mario Party has been my favorite game of the year. Not because it’s the best (that goes to Celeste or RDRII), but because my wife loves to play it, friends love to play it, and the students in the youth group I lead love to play it. 

I have had more fun playing Super Mario Party this year than I have with any other game. 

Favorite Twitter Follow

Kinja Deals

They always alert me to the best deals online. Most of the time they’re pointing to Amazon, but they often point to other areas as well. 

We have saved a lot of money because of these folks, I think, just by buying things we need at the right time when there’s a good deal. Highly recommend following them.

Favorite Accessory

Apple Watch Series 4

I received an Apple Watch Series 4 for Christmas. I received the first Apple Watch for Christmas when it was released three years ago. Every day when I get up and get ready in the morning, I put it on. I’ve done this for three years. My original Apple watch was starting to slow down a bit, as these products do, so I asked for the new edition for Christmas.

It’s great. It’s something I wouldn’t buy for myself, but I would ask for as a gift. It’s beautiful. It’s helpful. It tracks workouts and fitness really well. Highly recommend.

Favorite App

Dark Sky

I never, ever spend money on iPhone apps. I use every free app I can for anything. After years of using all sorts of bad, ad-laden, free weather apps for my iPhone, I finally decided to spend a whole $4 on the Dark Sky weather app. 

It is easier to read. It depicts weather information in clean, easy-to-understand ways. Best of all, it doesn’t have any ads that slow the app and clog the experience.

It is well worth your $4. You should buy it if you ever check the weather on your phone.

Favorite New Music

Jon Bellion

In this category I want to recommend music that was new to me in 2018, even if the music itself wasn’t released this year.

Just a few weeks ago I was introduced to Jon Bellion. I quickly became a fan of his music. I especially like his newest album Glory Sound Prep. You should give it a listen. It sounds good and has some pretty profound lyrics.

He’s coming to Nashville this summer and I may try to go see him.

Favorite TV Show

Narcos: Mexico

My favorite TV show this year was, without a doubt, Narcos: Mexico.

I have been a fan of every season of Narcos so far. The two Colombian-based seasons were fantastic. The newest season based in Mexico followed in line with those.

I love how much of these shows are in Spanish. I took 12 years of Spanish, so I actually understand a good bit of what is being said even without the captions. And I just love listening to Spanish as a language. It’s beautiful.

The show is fascinating to me because it is a dramatization of real life events. So it sort of feels like a docu-drama like Band of Brothers or the like.

I highly recommend it, but it is pretty raw, just so you’re aware. It doesn’t hold back on all that comes along with cartel culture.


So those are some of my favorite things from this year!

Have a wonderful 2019!