Stocki was asked by Frontiers, a great magazine for those who want to think deep about faith and culture, to write an article about the icons of the new millenium. If Nostradamus had been a preacher... (the magazine is available from firstname.lastname@example.org)
ICONS James Dean, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison - pop icons of the twentieth century. The dictionary definition of ‘icon’ is 'sacred painting, mosaic'. The names above have all become such on the t-shirts of a generation. Of course icon means more. It is a godlike thing not just being worshipped in allegiance or fan devotion but in lifestyle, fashion and values. As we come to that moment, that will be like every other moment but has become the great excuse for the party of our lives, the building of altar domes and apocalyptic type fears about our computers, it is interesting to ask who or what will become the icons of the next millennium, the beginning of it at least?
Watching the Millennium Music Awards recently on television I was led to question whether it would be pop or film idols. It was very humourous, and diminished the value of the awards somewhat, that Robbie Williams was a constant inclusion in every possible category. Indeed the ex Take That teen idol was voted second to the King, Elvis Presley, as the best male artist of the Millennium! The television panel that included the like of Bob Geldof, Billy Bragg and Brian May from Queen, eventually turned to humour in order to deal with the nonsense of the matter ... a nonsense that they all said Robbie himself would agree with. The man has only released two solo albums and so has neither the canon of work nor has he made any real impact either musically or socially for change even though he was in the top ten again as most influential artist! It revealed that those kind of polls do attract the vote of those who will cast their allegiance to the current big thing. That Oasis only made minor waves suggested to me that the big things have a very short icon span these days and that the old icons are being much easier foirgotten. Janis Joplin iconoclastic ten years ago was not even in the top 20 female artists.
Kurt Cobain did make a few fleeting appearances. I can remember when he died in April ’94 how it was seemingly the birth of another mythical legend. In a classroom of 15 year olds 14 months later I was asked who he was. In a similar classroom situation just last year I had problems getting answers to the question, 'who is your hero?' There seemed to be a new understanding that no one was worth worshipping anymore. Maybe that is just the nihilism of Generation X, maybe a better kind of maturity than I had as a school boy or maybe nobody gets a chance to make the same impression as the old icons made. There was only one Presley (apologies to Sir Cliff!) but when Cobain blew his brains out to give the book of Ecclesiastes incarnate truth, their were many other singers to fill the gap. Similarly the comparison between James Dean and River Phoenix.
Then of course there is Princess Diana. Outside of the pop sphere Diana’s death in August 96 gave rise a to a tide of mourning and almost worship that could have seen her rise to the Lady of The Millenium status. I may be wrong but, I am not sure such a mania still exists. Without doubt she is not forgotten but had she passed on in the early sixties her iconic status may have been more deeply engraved on the tablet.
So, as I look to what will be icons of the next millennium I am tempted to turn away from people and faces. I close my eyes and try to imagine what icons might decorate the worship place of most people in the next decade. After that who knows.
THE CLOCK ON THE WALL Time is worshipped and more and more so in our day. We value time more than ever before and we are slaves to diaries and schedules and appointments more than ever. I often feel that it would be good if I walked more and I do not take my car out of laziness or lack of desire for exercise. My dilemma is time. I am leaving one meeting at the last minute to get to another that has already started. I am using up every precious second I have with my wife and family before I head to the next engagement. We have the technology nowadays to cut it fine. So we do. Time rules us and we are always attempting to rule time.
As a result of this I am inclined to call us a nation of Levites and priests. We cut our time so fine, we care about our time so much that we are left without any time to stop for the person who has broken down. Indeed if they have broken down in the middle of our carriageway we toot the horn at them, give them gestures and blame them for their inconsiderate attitude as to get in the way of us getting to our deadlines. Road rage is an end product of the curse of time.
I remember travelling in the Drakensburg mountains of South Africa. As I marvelled at the scenery and the rondavels that the local people lived in, I watched as they went about their business. For them there was no point or reason to take a shortcut somewhere. Doing that might mean you would miss that friend you wanted to share a joke or a story with or you might miss the beauty of the mountain. There was no rush to move on from the last blessing. There was just this attitude of taking in the day, breathing in the life they seemed to know they were blessed with. There was no clock in their place of worship. I envied that.
CREDIT CARD As a result of the clock being your pedagogue, you need to discipline your life accordingly. Helps in discipleship need to be manufactured and will inevitably be used to exploit us as well. When it comes to time saved and convenience there is nothing like the credit card or the club card. If you think about it over the past five years we have probably gone from one card in our wallet to upwards on twenty. Every shop has their card that will either give credit or advantages for shopping in this shop or that one. There is a seeming convenience to it all. Cynically it means taking away goods without parting with any money. The credit card also gives us the opportunity to pay off everything on the spot. We can telephone through our credit card number and pay off whatever. This of course leads to telephone banking, on line and television shopping and all kinds of other ways to save those precious minutes. In the worship centre of the next Millennium we will need the credit card. It will in turn become a tool to roll the materialistic snowball down the hill towards avalanche.
ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM It seems to me that it should not be too many years into the new century before we will have in the corner of our front room an entertainment system that may save us from going anywhere. Couch potatoes will have to be chiselled out of their couches and their numbers should increase dramatically. As we have increased the bulk of the Living Room Altar from television to adding a video player and satellite system we will soon be adding internet access and the size and capabilities of this altar is becoming greater and greater. We now have interactive television and the beginning of shopping, beyond the clever add with a phone number. Prologic sound and wide screens will give us no need to go to the cinema and pay for view will soon make it inevitable that we will not only have a season ticket to our beloved Manchester City that we can watch their every game home and away without traffic jams or bad weather but we will also be getting the very premier of movies if we are prepared to pay the price.
Computer technology will probably get us very quickly to the point of being able to view the people on our email forums. We could then probably hang out with people down the road without meeting up. The global village will then not be just how easily it is to travel the world it may be possible to entertain and become friends with total strangers who live at the other end of the globe and be with them every day. Newspapers will be obsolete, libraries will become unnecessary, book sellers and the music industry will have changed their centre of commerce from the shop to the screen. The MC3 already suggests that all our music will be downloaded from the Web in a very short time.
The Entertainment system also represents our desire for pleasure. Hedonistic pursuit. We used to be a people who fitted leisure around work but nowadays we fit work around our leisure activity. No longer do we feel the deep satisfaction of making sure our work is well done. We rush to get it done no matter what it’s standard in order to get to the golf course, the yacht club, the gym, the pub. In the middle of a study group recently we were discussing the need for leisure and I suddenly realised that the vast majority of the world’s population knew little about it. Most of the people’s on the earth work all the hours they have to feed their families. There is no chance of a Leisure Centre near them being a right. It’s a luxury that they have never been able to afford. Yet we live our lives expecting the best in pleasure filled activities.
All of this of course helps us worship the God of time. It also helps us pamper the icon of self.
THE MIRROR Last icon in the worship centre of the future is one that has been there through time ... the mirror. It is for two things closely linked. So that we can check our fashion and look. It is also the way to keep our eyes on self. The future may see even more desire to serve self.
When my Father’s father went to work it was to earn the money to buy my father shoes to wear to school. My father’s son will earn money to pay for the most expensive, fashion labelled, trainers , so that my daughter can sit in her own home and use the entertainment system. Fashion labels have taken what we wear from looking good to simply being a good brand name.. Maybe I even contradict myself here as maybe the label is enough and it doesn’t really matter how you look as long as you wear the label.
As the world worships time and money and pleasure so we become more and more focused on self. Now some have looked at this historically and blamed the Thatcher years in Britain and the Reagan in the States. No matter what there is certainly a wild and rampant selfishness at loose in the world heading towards 2000. The Legal suits, the demands for rights, the little attention paid to others we put self on a throne way above any other ruler or authority.
HASN’T PAUL WRITTEN THIS ARTICLE BEFORE All of the above may be generalisations and maybe a couple of years of research would prove them all just ideas in the head without substance in reality. They all point, however to an old old text which seems never to be more up to date. When Paul wrote to Timothy had he the faintest imagining of how much money future generations would have, that pleasure would become a huge industry or that we could become a world that could pretty much live life as individuals. When Paul said that 'in the last days…people would be lovers of money, lovers of pleasure and lovers of self…' was it a Nostradamus type prophecy. Truth be told it was probably as 'forth-telling' as 'fore-telling' but surely there is no way Paul’s prodigy could have understood the appetite or possibilities of filling that hunger that we would have at our time in history. Maybe it’s one of those many portions of Scripture that will be even more up to date than out of date in the third Millennium.
So maybe the icons of the next century fulfil Paul’s last days signs, not that I would hold back the Lord’s return by expecting it. So maybe we can point the finger at the world and preach it towards judgement or repentance. Or maybe we could ask if these icons are raising their heads within the community of faith. Could it be that the rise in interest in 'revival' and the charismatic gifts is to give us an easy shortcut to holiness and personal comfort. Could it be that our modern worship songs are obsessed with us being blessed and with the self. Could it be that we are so sure of self and the infallibility of self that arrogance and intolerance are rife in the Church. What of prosperity gospel? Never mind that what about the big cars that fill our car parks and the seemingly taken for granted idea that we should have materialistic security and that those with such are those we vote in as elders. Are our diaries just as full of meetings and business that we have less time to give to loving our neighbours because we are either at Church or making sure we build a fortress around our own relaxation time.
Now let me conclude by saying that there is nothing wrong with clocks, with credit cards, with entertainment systems or even mirrors. It is when they become tools to consume us with a selfish, hedonistic materialistic agenda for the drives and ambitions of our lives that we need to ask questions. If these are icons that will seek to tear our allegiance away from a Kingdom of God lifestyle that is radically upside down from the spirit of the age ... how should we then live?