Tuesday, 3 January 2012

McCracken, B., "Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide"

[Chapter] Eleven: What's so wrong with cool?

Are the pursuits of Christianity and cool irreconcilable? In this chapter, I will argue that the answer is yes. But I'm not going to write off the possibility that the answer could be maybe or even no. Chapter 12 will explore this possibility further and ponder the existence of authentic and truly Christlike hipster communities, but for now I want to dig deeper into the qualities of cool that I think are resoundingly inconsistent with a Christlike life. ...

A Focus on the Now
By definition, hip is temporary and transitory. To be cool is to be cool now, not forever. Nothing cool lasts very long, let alone forever. Hip is a fast-moving train. The minute something cool becomes recognized as such, it is likely on its way out of fashion. Thus, cool almost always and exclusively functions as a present-tense word. Cool lives for the moment and has no use for the past, apart from appropriating it in an ironic way (e.g., sixties sunglasses and vintage furniture). In this sense, we might call cool a chronological snob, as it values the past only insofar as it can serve some quirky aesthetic purpose in the present. Otherwise, it's all about the current- what's hot now. Cool bucks convention and past standards, and doesn't even think about the future, particularly in terms of consequences. It thinks only of living in the moment and seizing the day.

... We still have to live in the present- day by day- but our minds must be driven by eternal things, not just the fads and fashions of the moment.
As Tchividjian writes, "Daily Christian living means daily Christian dying- dying to our fascination with the sizzle of this world and living for something bigger, something thicker, something eternal."

The central logic of hip is rebellion. In striving to be cool, we assert our own personal agency against the forces that be and all institutions of control that might otherwise dare to suppress our voice. Every incarnation of hip rebels against something. Trendy fashion rebels against convention. Jazz rebels against strict meter. Riding a fixed-gear bike rebels against gasoline. The point is, to be a hipster is to be a rebel. If you want to keep the rules and abide by established conventions, you can only be so cool.

I should say, however, that rebellion itself is not a bad thing. Rebellion is sometimes necessary and frequently productive. And remember, Jesus was a rebel. He was God incarnate; how could he not be a rebel? But his purpose was higher than just subverting the norms and standards for rebellion's sake. Hip culture today elevates rebellion as an end unto itself, and this is problematic. A lot of rules exist for a reason, and authority has its purpose. But being cool requires that we bend or break the rules, because rules are oppressive and systems of control are highly dubious. ...

[Chapter] Twelve: Authentic Christian Cool

... When It's a Sincere Celebration of Art and Culture and Good Things
I recently had this epiphany sitting in a cafe in the Shoreditch neighbourhood of London, in the heart of one of the trendiest boroughs of the British capital: Hipsters have good taste. They like good things. On first glimpse, they appear to shun quality (what with their affinity for thrift-store, secondhand clothes) ... but by and large they are passionately appreciative of the finer things in life. I'm talking about material things here (clothing, jewelry, sunglasses, cameras, antiques, food, wine, etc.), but also the experience of life in general. With childlike awe and wonder that betrays their otherwise cynical demeanour, hipsters glory in the little pleasures of life like riding bikes along rivers, eating homemade macaroons on a blanket in a friend's front yard, or playing Frisbee in the park.

This realization is not necessarily something I didn't recognize before, but that evening in Shoreditch reminded me: Of all the dumb reasons to be annoyed by hipsters, perhaps the dumbest one is to be annoyed by the fact that hipsters have really good taste, that they know how to let loose and have a good time, and that they seem adept at smelling the roses of life. As I sat there at Macando Cafe on the edge of Hoxton Square Park, sipping an amaretto sour, eating a piece of lime cake, and listening to Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" playing in the background, I wondered, Isn't this actually a good thing? Isn't it a good thing to take joy in good food, drink, music, and an outdoor cafe on a beautiful Sunday night?

A lot of hipsters certainly engage in things (music, fashion, even food) because it ups their fashion quotient or makes them look like an arbiter of all thing chic. But some hipsters, as my friend Olivia maintains, "embrace indie rock because they love the sound of musical innovation, not just the image and the idea of indie rock; who love the raw food movement because they find the lifestyle sensible; who love Sauconys and Chucks and big glasses and skinny jeans because they honestly love the aesthetic."

We must allow that this type of hipster exists- the type that actually values the fashion and aesthetic and quirky accoutrements apart from whatever trendy cachet they might carry. And in terms of Christian hipsters, perhaps this attitude is something the rest of Christendom might do well to model. ... They glory in the little pleasures of life ...

Of course, there is a fine line between taking Christian joy in the material pleasures of this world and indulging too much in them to the point of hedonism. The pleasure of culture is in itself a good thing, wrote C.S. Lewis in "Christianity and Culture", but pleasure can become sinful when something good is "offered, and accepted, under conditions which involve a breach of the moral law." There is also a fine line between liking trendy things because they are truly worthwhile and edifying and liking them because they are trendy status symbols. ...

And so, to the extent that this is the case with Christians- that the things of earth that elicit joy and worship of God also happen to be trendy and fashionable- I think it's perfectly legitimate that there might be Christian hipsters whose tastes align with the fashionable tastemakers of the world. I would still caution, however, that some apparent difference should set the Christian hipster's appreciation for art and culture and good material things apart. If we as Christians truly do see God and his pleasure in these things, we should make it known. ...

When It's Different from the World (and Different from the Hipster World)
One of the chief values of hip has always been difference: setting oneself apart from the masses and being unique and one-of-a-kind. But this sort of difference is typically only surface-deep, because at the end of the day, the hipsters of the world live in many of the same patterns as anyone else- they just do it with perhaps a little more subversive attitude and stylistic panache. But Christian hip has the potential to be truly different. ... We are to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God ... (Eph. 4:24). ...

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