Well, it's that time of year again. The nights are drawing in, the shelves are already brimming with Christmas treats and last weekend The X Factor live shows began.
After weeks of cringing at the dodgy auditions, sympathising with those who really thought they could sing and being wowed by genuine talent, now the 'singing competition' is beginning to roll towards its Christmas climax. For the uninitiated (are there any of you out there?) the four celebrity judges are: Gary Barlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Tulisa and Louis Walsh. (It might interest you to know that Gary is my favourite. He has been since I was 10.) Each judge has been assigned a category (Girls, Boys, Groups, Over 28s) and they mentor their three acts as they fight it out to win the all important record deal.
What really fascinates me is the extent to which the general public have welcomed this show into their hearts. Despite being in its ninth season, with X Factor fatigue beginning to take its toll, the show continues to pull in millions of viewers each week. In our church, every Saturday night is 'X Factor night'. My Twitter feed explodes with #xfactor tweets, as does my Facebook timeline. It would seem everyone has an opinion. Even me.
But what's the appeal? Each week the show invites us to become 'armchair critics'. There is something entertaining about looking at others and judging them and their 'talent'. Suddenly we are experts on styling, choreography and of course, singing ability.
Would God like The X Factor? In the famous story of Samuel anointing David (1 Samuel 16: 7) it says: 'But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.' This, not surprisingly, is the exact opposite of the X Factor experience. And so it's here that we can really stand out by showing God's love. Instead of looking at people and judging them for being a bit odd, funny looking or awful singers we should look at them as God does. He loves and delights in them.
I'm not suggesting we all throw out our TVs and stop watching The X Factor lest we be drawn into areas that challenge or offend us. Instead we should engage with culture and watch shows like this with a discerning eye. Rather than sitting back passively allowing ourselves to be shaped by secular agendas, we should actively question the elements that we don't agree with. And most importantly, when all around are scoffing, mocking and judging, then we should stand firm and see the person behind the song, showing them love and seeing them with God's eyes.
Yes, even Rylan.