The Church & Bridging Cultures: Sr. Cristina & The Voice

By now, a number of readers would be familiar with the latest viral video of the Sicilian Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia, who impressed the judges of the Italian version of the talent show The Voice. Those who are not familiar could see the review of the phenomenon in English here, though readers familiar with Italian can get more context by viewing the actual segment of The Voice of Italy below

An important exchange that takes place in the above video occurs between Sr. Cristina and the Italian rapper J-Ax, one of the judges who Sr. Cristina eventually chooses to be her mentor. When told that Sr. Cristina also sings in the Church choir every Sunday, J-Ax exclaimed that if he had found her singing at the Eucharistic liturgy he would "always be in Church". 

This point of the post-performance exchange between Sr. Cristina and the judges is an important moment of reflection for the Church. Whilst many might too easily dismiss this as a cheap media stunt or the Church's kowtowing to the dictates of pop culture, J-Ax's remark suggests very strongly that there is a cultural component to the life of the Church which many within the Church are ignoring for the sake of "more spiritual" matters. A Church which strives towards a "new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1) would do well to ensure that attention to the former wouldn't lead to a neglect of the latter. This is important because, to borrow from the sociologist Peter Berger, what the attention to culture does is to create "plausibility structures" that make staying in the Church an affectively (as opposed to merely intellectually) persuasive proposition. Sr. Cristina's evangelical intentions are not to be doubted, since that is stated explicitly ("I am here to evangelise") during her exchange with the judges, and so at one level her performance does fulfil the mandate to go to the backroads and highways to draw all to the Lord's banquet.

On the other hand, Sr. Cristina's reliance on the artifacts of secular pop culture (namely Alicia Keys' "No One") is also an important focal point. As was argued in Justice, Unity and the Hidden Christ, one's evangelical intentions have to be balanced against the actual form of the practices undertaken. This is not to say that every single form of evangelisation must have an explicitly Christian motif crassly plastered across it. Such a crude evangelical approach can more easily deter than attract. Rather, the important factor is checking to see the cultural center of gravity of that practice, which can only be determined by looking at the cultural context of that practice and asking: where is the Church? For as embassies claim territorial privilege within any polity, so should the Church reclaim its cultural status within any society as that important temporal bridge within the City of Man to the City of God.

In short, it would be too simplistic to draw definitive judgements on the merits or lack thereof of this strategy of evangelisation with reference to just one act. But as Graham Ward reminds us in his Christ and Culture, the the meaning behind every act can only be gleaned when they are viewed in the context of other practices. To see if this one act of the Church breaking into the secular cultural scene can be redemptive, one needs to see if this cultural scenario is woven into a larger cultural tapestry in which the Church forms an important cultural bridge. The Church should not be afraid to claim that it is itself a culture, which is not afraid to move within other cultures and also gradually transform them towards a Christic telos.

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