Two days ago I read an article by conservative columnist Cal Thomas reviewing Brett McCracken’s new book “Hipster Christianity: When church and cool collide.” (Strangely, I cannot seem to find the article anywhere online now.)
Thomas passionately delineates the parallels between what McCracken calls “hipsters” and their parent’s gen within the larger Christian culture. From Thomas’ review, I gather McCracken is meaning my culture and generation when he writes “hipsters.” We are 20-somethings who’ve grown up in suburbia and are moving to the city to “make a difference” in the lives of poorer people, as opposed to our parents who lived and are still living their lives largely in the suburbs, occasionally coming to the poorer parts of their city to serve at a soup kitchen or pass out tracks.
I’m not sure if this is what statement McCracken is making, but Thomas criticizes our gens criticism of our parent’s (what we might think of as) separatist lifestyle, pointing out that we’re merely creating bubbles in the city, so as to be “hip,” yet remain comfortable. Our churches, he says, are still suburb churches, but they’re “cooler.” We’re not running from the suburbs to reach out to the poor and downtrodden in the cities, we’re running from the suburbs to plant churches in the city that are more to our taste. We’re no different when it comes to avoiding the call to love the unlovable, the orphan, the widow, the hobo, Thomas writes.
My reaction to this review is conviction, and fear. Conviction, because I struggle (especially as I am living in a new place, trying to make friends, trying to settle down, to get comfortable) with the sins which the article brings to attention. Fear, because the article itself does not address these deeper issues at all; it presents the problem as a basically cosmetic problem, one that is fixable via will power, and not via more time with God in his Word and in prayer.
I’m not writing to definitively disagree with McCracken. I haven’t read the book – it actually does not come out until August. Plus, I’ve shaken his hand in Biola’s cafeteria, and written for the publication he edits. Perhaps this is slightly silly and shallow of me, but I feel definitive disagreement is out of line. Neither am I writing to say Thomas’ review is wrong. I agree. We are building churches that suburban kids moving to the city will want to attend. And maybe we should join already existing city churches. Maybe we should mingle with the poor in places where they feel comfortable. I know that the church I began attending a couple of weeks ago is not a place a homeless person, forget homeless, a person with less than trendy garb, would feel comfortable…
On the flip side, neither would I feel comfortable in a church where people wear less than trendy garb. But not because I’m shallow. I know you’re thinking, “Yea right! You love nice clothes, you love horn rimmed glasses and folk music! And, Brittany, we know you love Whole Foods and have even admitted you not-so-secretly think this chic supermarket is an ideal starting point for an ideal date. You are into what McCracken would call the “hipster” culture.” I admit it! It’s true! It’s true! I do love all of this, and NPR to boot! However, my preferences for these “chic” things are not my sin. My sin is I hate being uncomfortable. Even deeper and more true than this, my sin is my self-consciousness. My sin is my inability to claim and rest in the healing power of the blood of Jesus. How will I ever be able to live as a sheep sent out in the midst of wolves without this power sustaining me?
My application of Thomas’ review of the book, and of our generation, is not to quit loving the things I love. My application is to spend more time in the word, more time studying the life of Jesus in the Gospels, more time in prayer, more time fasting. Only in disciplining my mind and body, my whole being to order my loves rightly will I really realize that I do have food that the world at large has no idea about. This food is richer, healthier, sweeter and provides greater sustenance than the most organic, colorful, cooked with the most expensive extra-virgin olive oil meal from Whole Foods. And this food is the food of love, acceptance, redemption in Jesus. This is the comfort I need to experience daily if I’m to no longer fear the discomfort of diversity – be it in socio-economic status, be it in race, or be it in core beliefs and convictions about the world and about God.
I don’t want to abandon what makes me me to conform to another culture to love others. How will we ever learn to handle much reality if we change ourselves to be like each other in order to like each other. It is an elementary view of love. I want to be okay with what makes me me. More than okay, I want to embrace it, and embrace, enjoy, exalt God for his creative power in what makes another another, and love from this place of humility.
All I know is that, though times change, and hipster trends come and go, these times, these trends, are rarely not indicative of the deeper issue of the need for the love of Jesus to transform us and make us effective instruments to “seek first the Kingdom” and find that all else we find ourselves so anxious about is added unto us.