“What do you want?”
This was the foundational question Catholic radio program host and apologist Al Kresta asked at his lecture Sept. 13 at Spring Arbor University (SAU).
Kresta, whose daily program has an audience of nearly three-hundred radio stations, including the local Catholic station “Good Shepherd Radio,” has been a colleague and friend of SAU’s Professor of Communication Paul Patton for almost 40 years. The two have worked on theatrical productions and radio broadcasts together. Kresta was invited by the department of communication to speak and participate in a post-lecture reception.
For his audience of nearly one-hundred-fifty people, Kresta expounded on the dilemma Christians face in modern society. He cited seemingly conflicting Biblical messages that advise against loving the “world” but then tell us that God loves the world he created.
“Pleasure becomes hedonism, and enjoying food becomes gluttony. Kresta made me realize that one can worship through these things without worshiping the things themselves,” sophomore Trevor Tarantowski said.
Cameron Moore, assistant professor in English, said he hoped his literature students who attended the lecture would see parts of their own studies reflected.
“Loving rightly, ordering our desires, it’s very much like Dante [‘s Divine Comedy],” Moore said.
Many modern Christians, according to Kresta, rationalize their involvement and consumption of the world’s value system.
“They say, ‘God loves the world,’ so shouldn’t we imitate him?'” Kresta said.
This, Kresta said, indicates a failure to realize that the “world” spoken of in scripture has the dual meaning of the created order and also of the secular value system. There is an important distinction there that renders the seemingly conflicted passages understandable.
Kresta went on to illustrate his topic of remaining un-conformed through examples of three “illusion generators” that he said cause people to desire “the contradictory and the impossible,”. The illusion generators Kresta cited were the unattainable beauty standards set for women, media manipulation of “news” and ubiquitous advertising and marketing competing for attention.
Leah Rose, a junior advertising and public relations major, found Kresta’s talk very applicable to her own studies.
“I enjoyed Kresta’s talk because it was thought provoking; his statement about Jesus’ earthly “competition” being brands and materialistic objects changed my perspective on what and how I consume,” Rose said.
Kresta said for the church to remain ‘relevant’ in society, it must not succumb to the devices of modern culture but rise above them by remaining distinctive.
Junior pre-engineering major Abigail Owens remembered the following quote from Kresta’s lecture: “What you lure them with is what you lure them to.”
“As he pointed out,” Owens said, “the church was not meant to be just another economical good.”
“Brands need to make us feel good. They exist to distract people,” Kresta said. His vision of the church is a place that does not dismiss the uncomfortable and painful realities of life, but rather “Bear[s] witness in the midst of suffering to joy that goes beyond.” The community and belonging offered by the church, he said, is real, not an advertising gimmick to lure consumers, and should be the reason people decide to attend a church.
Phil Webster, senior Biblical Studies major, said the advice Kresta gave will change how he reacts to the information he finds in popular media.
“Advertisers focus on our wants of happiness, fulfillment and pleasure, but that’s only because we’re so carnally minded. I’m going to keep better inventory of my wants and see to it that they are both God pleasing and beneficial for the kingdom,” Webster said.
“His question, ‘what do you want’, is really key to your soul,” Charles White ,prrofessor of Christian thought and history, said.
Kresta, in a reworking of 1 John 4:4, summed up his statements of the church’s relevance in society: “Greater is He that is in us…than he who is over there at Starbucks or Nike or Google.”