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Peter T Chattaway

Hipster Christianity

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Brett has posted a follow-up at Dreher's blog, explaining a bit more about what the book and the quiz etc. are about.

I can't lay my finger on what bugs me about current descriptions of the book, which somehow manifests itself in how odd and jilted this quiz has turned out to be.

I think it has to do with the fact that contemporary hipsterdom is what people engage themselves in when they have no real historical consciousness of their own social/religious identity. The addiction of "hip" to retro fashion and culture is really just a shell game that tries to lend depth to a present trend by borrowing from the nostalgia or supposed authenticity of a past era. In this way, hipsters are like pop culture version of Benjamin's Angel of History*, or worse, like all those bugs in the forest that God designed specifically to recycle the corpses of fallen animals.

This quiz, which, for example, oddly suggests that Bultmann and Tillich are topics de rigueur for bookish hipsters, doesn't seem to have the necessary historical consciousness it would take to implement a fully-orbed critique of "hip." I like the question posed here, but am hoping the book will be more than just an update to the age-old contextualization debate that anyone familiar with Christian higher-ed has already beaten around the bush.

*"A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

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how do the emergent churches worship? Persona? 'splain please how Bell runs a service. Anybody else? I REALLY need to know. I've been disinterestedly curious about worship form like forever.

I've never heard Rob Bell or any leader at Mars Hill Grand Rapids use that word, and I don't think the services are "emergent" at all. Mars Hill is a totally unique worship service, not necessarily designed like that show in the other thread, yet drawing thousands upon thousands of people. It's hard to describe, especially in such a small city.

One thing that sets it apart, that I love and I've mentioned here before, is that the service is done in the round, the musicians in the center of everyone, in a sqaure facing each other (often around a cross). This automatically cuts out a good portion of the "show" element. Their backs are to us, but we can see all that's going on as they face each other. Lyrics are on a square above them, too, so that the musicians and the crowd can all see, and it is white letters on a black background, no power point. There are a *lot* of hymnns played, some fast, some slow, and the band finds a very nice groove for each kind. But they also have their own music, and every once in a while will throw in a Delirious song (or whatever).

There are no offering baskets passed. "Joy boxes" are located in the back of "the Shed," which is the sanctuary of a hollowed out mall that was given to the church years ago. There is nothing overly-spendy about the lights or the sound or really any of the rooms at Mars Hill -- although finally last year they did put in some softer lights in the ceiling of the Shed for reading and writing during the teaching.

And then there's Rob. Who, like I've said before, is an artist. And I'm certain that's why the church itself gets thrown into the "emergent" section by some. To look at his tours, his DVDs of the tours, his Noomas (11 minute DVDs which are basically teachings he's done in the church that the folks of GR have wanted to make known to the rest of the world in small film format), and his books, and the high level of artistic design that goes into all of it, one could easily make the assumption that the church is like this, too. And one could make the assumption that the church, because of Rob's artistic output, is "emergent." Gladly, it is not. I think there is a huge difference in the understanding between creating a piece of art, even in the teaching process, and the minimal needs of a large worship experience.

I didn't know about the books, the DVDs, the Noomas, the tours -- any of that, when I decided to move to Grand Rapids a few years ago. Finding all of that after I got there was a huge plus. We'd been listening to the Sunday teachings on mp3 online for a long time, and found them utterly healing. We simply decided that this was the teaching we needed, that it was finally the Christ as we understood him. We were in a spot in life where the teaching was so healing to us, every time we heard it. After years of always gnawing away at that itch in our brain where we said to ourselves, "This is Christianity?" (and remember, it might be harder for me, as I've experienced various forms of the faith in over twenty countries), we finally felt we found something that is authentic without power-tripping. The teaching was refreshing, enlightening, contextually considerate, culturally aware (even of its own limitations within American culture, for instance, it knows it has a problem only appealing to whites, and they have tried to take that on), and above all... filled with grace and healing. Which is what we needed.

Even in the past few weeks, these same teachings have felt very healing. Which is awesome, considering that El Wifebo and I are still trying to figure out whether we can make the marriage work after all the hurt, and the power-over forms of Christianity and addiction issues that have set us back. Way back. But I can honestly say that the church will be good for us either way. I hope one way more than the other (the reconciliation of our marriage), I don't know if it's "too little, too late" for that or not. But the church is a reminder of a Christ that wants to help us, speaking blessings now over curses in the past.

Wow, I don't know how I went down that road. I guess it just felt good today to say all that.

I don't think Mars Hill GR a good example of "emergent," but I know we're always grouped in with all the others who actually use the word. I think we'd rather not define it. "It is what it is," but it's a really beautiful thing happening in GR.*

* I am still living between both Chicago and Grand Rapids, for the record. I do not go to church when here on weekends in the Chicagoland area. I guess I go to movies here. I know that can't necessarily be good for me -- to not go to church -- but I went pretty much every week for decades on end. I think I know what happens there most of the time. (Hence my love for that recent vimeo thread.)

Edited by Persona

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I think it has to do with the fact that contemporary hipsterdom is what people engage themselves in when they have no real historical consciousness of their own social/religious identity. The addiction of "hip" to retro fashion and culture is really just a shell game that tries to lend depth to a present trend by borrowing from the nostalgia or supposed authenticity of a past era. In this way, hipsters are like pop culture version of Benjamin's Angel of History*, or worse, like all those bugs in the forest that God designed specifically to recycle the corpses of fallen animals.

This quiz, which, for example, oddly suggests that Bultmann and Tillich are topics de rigueur for bookish hipsters, doesn't seem to have the necessary historical consciousness it would take to implement a fully-orbed critique of "hip." I like the question posed here, but am hoping the book will be more than just an update to the age-old contextualization debate that anyone familiar with Christian higher-ed has already beaten around the bush.

*"A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

So then, how does a traditionalist respond to this? what do you suggest? My generation of hipsters (nicely portrayed in the Hippie Preacher documentary) was roundly rejected with any reason or justification one could find at a particular moment. It seems to me that various segments of evangelical Protestantism just ignore each other (the tradtion of mainline and evangelical ignoring each other goes back even longer). Is it worth it, if your POV is correct, to entice some of these hipsters to traditional worship on the assumption that enough scripture, liturgy, and heavy lyrics to the great classic hymns might soak through defenses in order for the Holy Spirit to work his wonders? Or will such worship just be a more elegant and arch form of entertainment (not that entertainment has NOT been at least tangential to worship since Luther at least)?

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I didn't know about the books, the DVDs, the Noomas, the tours -- any of that, when I decided to move to Grand Rapids a few years ago. Finding all of that after I got there was a huge plus. We'd been listening to the Sunday teachings on mp3 online for a long time, and found them utterly healing. We simply decided that this was the teaching we needed, that it was finally the Christ as we understood him. We were in a spot in life where the teaching was so healing to us, every time we heard it. After years of always gnawing away at that itch in our brain where we said to ourselves, "This is Christianity?" (and remember, it might be harder for me, as I've experienced various forms of the faith in over twenty countries), we finally felt we found something that is authentic without power-tripping. The teaching was refreshing, enlightening, contextually considerate, culturally aware (even of its own limitations within American culture, for instance, it knows it has a problem only appealing to whites, and they have tried to take that on), and above all... filled with grace and healing. Which is what we needed.

WOW, thanks for sharing. It feels good to read it too. I must say that I recognize some of my own dryness and jadedness quenched by involvement at St. John's Detroit. The Babe has yet to be convinced, though she's free to go where she wants to. The itch for me was something other than teaching. I'm all teached out and had found more solace in theology classes, books, and scholarly and not so scholarly articles I've read than "teaching" I was getting at church. I was looking for worship without realizing it. Just so you know.

Nevertheless, I'm curious as to what "goes on" there and elsewhere. BTW, noodling around the site containing the quiz that started this thread, I found something called "Top 10 hipster christian cities". GR is high on the list. McCracken gives GR credit for Calvin College alone, but mentions Rob Bell flatteringly and attributes the publishing industry there as well.

That's another thing. Emergent seems to have a lot of dissident Reformed influence as well, no?

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Thanks for that Stef - an interesting insight.

Though I got to say it seems to me that one of the true signs of being "emergent" or emerging or whatever is that they refuse to call themselves that (and who can blame them/us it's an awful nam,e). I know that's a bit "only the true Messiah would deny his divinity" but still.

BTW how do those black words appear in the black box? OHP?

Matt

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White words, black background, as in White Hunter, Black Heart.

:"only the true Messiah would deny his divinity"

LOL. Part of the problem is also that Mars Hill was probably launched before heavy use of the word. MH is 11 years old.

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: White words, black background

? Defo PowerPoint then, just plain and simple (we use that too sometimes).

: Part of the problem is also that Mars Hill was probably launched before heavy use of the word. MH is 11 years old.

Yeah my church is about 17, never uses the description, and is actually a bit put off by much of the perceived navel gazing of "emerging" churches, but we probably are still one anyway as well.

FWIW I would have thought MH is one of the churches that sets the trend rather than follows it. I imagine for example that few emerging churches have not used a Nooma video at some point.

Sorry, I'm being kind of annoying aren't I? You know MH far better than I do. I'll shut up now.

Matt

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Don't shut up yet. Guys, we use the human voice and an organ. What is a Nooma Video?

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how do the emergent churches worship? Persona? 'splain please how Bell runs a service. Anybody else? I REALLY need to know. I've been disinterestedly curious about worship form like forever.

I've never heard Rob Bell or any leader at Mars Hill Grand Rapids use that word, and I don't think the services are "emergent" at all. Mars Hill is a totally unique worship service, not necessarily designed like that show in the other thread, yet drawing thousands upon thousands of people. It's hard to describe, especially in such a small city.

One thing that sets it apart, that I love and I've mentioned here before, is that the service is done in the round, the musicians in the center of everyone, in a sqaure facing each other (often around a cross). This automatically cuts out a good portion of the "show" element. Their backs are to us, but we can see all that's going on as they face each other. Lyrics are on a square above them, too, so that the musicians and the crowd can all see, and it is white letters on a black background, no power point. There are a *lot* of hymnns played, some fast, some slow, and the band finds a very nice groove for each kind. But they also have their own music, and every once in a while will throw in a Delirious song (or whatever).

There are no offering baskets passed. "Joy boxes" are located in the back of "the Shed," which is the sanctuary of a hollowed out mall that was given to the church years ago. There is nothing overly-spendy about the lights or the sound or really any of the rooms at Mars Hill -- although finally last year they did put in some softer lights in the ceiling of the Shed for reading and writing during the teaching.

And then there's Rob. Who, like I've said before, is an artist. And I'm certain that's why the church itself gets thrown into the "emergent" section by some. To look at his tours, his DVDs of the tours, his Noomas (11 minute DVDs which are basically teachings he's done in the church that the folks of GR have wanted to make known to the rest of the world in small film format), and his books, and the high level of artistic design that goes into all of it, one could easily make the assumption that the church is like this, too. And one could make the assumption that the church, because of Rob's artistic output, is "emergent." Gladly, it is not. I think there is a huge difference in the understanding between creating a piece of art, even in the teaching process, and the minimal needs of a large worship experience.

I didn't know about the books, the DVDs, the Noomas, the tours -- any of that, when I decided to move to Grand Rapids a few years ago. Finding all of that after I got there was a huge plus. We'd been listening to the Sunday teachings on mp3 online for a long time, and found them utterly healing. We simply decided that this was the teaching we needed, that it was finally the Christ as we understood him. We were in a spot in life where the teaching was so healing to us, every time we heard it. After years of always gnawing away at that itch in our brain where we said to ourselves, "This is Christianity?" (and remember, it might be harder for me, as I've experienced various forms of the faith in over twenty countries), we finally felt we found something that is authentic without power-tripping. The teaching was refreshing, enlightening, contextually considerate, culturally aware (even of its own limitations within American culture, for instance, it knows it has a problem only appealing to whites, and they have tried to take that on), and above all... filled with grace and healing. Which is what we needed.

Even in the past few weeks, these same teachings have felt very healing. Which is awesome, considering that El Wifebo and I are still trying to figure out whether we can make the marriage work after all the hurt, and the power-over forms of Christianity and addiction issues that have set us back. Way back. But I can honestly say that the church will be good for us either way. I hope one way more than the other (the reconciliation of our marriage), I don't know if it's "too little, too late" for that or not. But the church is a reminder of a Christ that wants to help us, speaking blessings now over curses in the past.

Wow, I don't know how I went down that road. I guess it just felt good today to say all that.

I don't think Mars Hill GR a good example of "emergent," but I know we're always grouped in with all the others who actually use the word. I think we'd rather not define it. "It is what it is," but it's a really beautiful thing happening in GR.*

* I am still living between both Chicago and Grand Rapids, for the record. I do not go to church when here on weekends in the Chicagoland area. I guess I go to movies here. I know that can't necessarily be good for me -- to not go to church -- but I went pretty much every week for decades on end. I think I know what happens there most of the time. (Hence my love for that recent vimeo thread.)

Thanks for that, Stef.

The thing that I find most distasteful about the whole "Christian hipster" angle, whether it is presented seriously, or somewhat flippantly, as in that quiz, is that it ignores the fact that there are broken human beings out there who desperately want to be made whole by God, and who have tried the traditional models of Christianity over and over again, and found them, and themselves, wanting. What do you do, and where do you go, when you can't embrace Catholicism or Orthodoxy for various theological and/or cultural reasons, when mainline Protestant denominations have imploded upon themselves in never-ending infighting that has entirely lost the storyline, and when Evangelicalism seems more and more alien, dominated by political discourse and bizarre cultural demarcations that have less and less to do with following Jesus every year?

I'm sure there is some element of homogeneity in these emergent/hip churches, or whatever other people want to call them, just as there is in any church or denomination. And maybe that looks like a bunch of pasty white beardos sitting around listening to Sufjan Stevens. But I also know that it's not about being "hip," or any other commodification and branding of the Christian faith. It's about a lifeline, and it's about life. I cordially hate the labels because they utterly miss the point.

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So then, how does a traditionalist respond to this? what do you suggest? My generation of hipsters (nicely portrayed in the Hippie Preacher documentary) was roundly rejected with any reason or justification one could find at a particular moment. It seems to me that various segments of evangelical Protestantism just ignore each other (the tradtion of mainline and evangelical ignoring each other goes back even longer). Is it worth it, if your POV is correct, to entice some of these hipsters to traditional worship on the assumption that enough scripture, liturgy, and heavy lyrics to the great classic hymns might soak through defenses in order for the Holy Spirit to work his wonders? Or will such worship just be a more elegant and arch form of entertainment (not that entertainment has NOT been at least tangential to worship since Luther at least)?

I am not sure that we can invite a "hipster" to church, as it is more of a marketing concept or a costume than the designation for an actual human being that has a deeply felt need to seek authenticity or community in such visible forms. I think this is what happens when we start constructing our church practice in response to specific contemporary trends - we end up inviting concepts to church rather than people.

And as a corollary to this, we then end up inviting people into a new culture rather than a new life. So I think your latter suggestion is right, that any traditional format can end up becoming a "more elegant and arch form of entertainment" if the missional impulse of a church isn't savvy to the way marketing tropes hold sway over the way we construct personal identity.

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how do the emergent churches worship? Persona? 'splain please how Bell runs a service. Anybody else? I REALLY need to know. I've been disinterestedly curious about worship form like forever.

I've never heard Rob Bell or any leader at Mars Hill Grand Rapids use that word, and I don't think the services are "emergent" at all. Mars Hill is a totally unique worship service, not necessarily designed like that show in the other thread, yet drawing thousands upon thousands of people. It's hard to describe, especially in such a small city.

One thing that sets it apart, that I love and I've mentioned here before, is that the service is done in the round, the musicians in the center of everyone, in a sqaure facing each other (often around a cross). This automatically cuts out a good portion of the "show" element. Their backs are to us, but we can see all that's going on as they face each other. Lyrics are on a square above them, too, so that the musicians and the crowd can all see, and it is white letters on a black background, no power point. There are a *lot* of hymnns played, some fast, some slow, and the band finds a very nice groove for each kind. But they also have their own music, and every once in a while will throw in a Delirious song (or whatever).

There are no offering baskets passed. "Joy boxes" are located in the back of "the Shed," which is the sanctuary of a hollowed out mall that was given to the church years ago. There is nothing overly-spendy about the lights or the sound or really any of the rooms at Mars Hill -- although finally last year they did put in some softer lights in the ceiling of the Shed for reading and writing during the teaching.

And then there's Rob. Who, like I've said before, is an artist. And I'm certain that's why the church itself gets thrown into the "emergent" section by some. To look at his tours, his DVDs of the tours, his Noomas (11 minute DVDs which are basically teachings he's done in the church that the folks of GR have wanted to make known to the rest of the world in small film format), and his books, and the high level of artistic design that goes into all of it, one could easily make the assumption that the church is like this, too. And one could make the assumption that the church, because of Rob's artistic output, is "emergent." Gladly, it is not. I think there is a huge difference in the understanding between creating a piece of art, even in the teaching process, and the minimal needs of a large worship experience.

I didn't know about the books, the DVDs, the Noomas, the tours -- any of that, when I decided to move to Grand Rapids a few years ago. Finding all of that after I got there was a huge plus. We'd been listening to the Sunday teachings on mp3 online for a long time, and found them utterly healing. We simply decided that this was the teaching we needed, that it was finally the Christ as we understood him. We were in a spot in life where the teaching was so healing to us, every time we heard it. After years of always gnawing away at that itch in our brain where we said to ourselves, "This is Christianity?" (and remember, it might be harder for me, as I've experienced various forms of the faith in over twenty countries), we finally felt we found something that is authentic without power-tripping. The teaching was refreshing, enlightening, contextually considerate, culturally aware (even of its own limitations within American culture, for instance, it knows it has a problem only appealing to whites, and they have tried to take that on), and above all... filled with grace and healing. Which is what we needed.

Even in the past few weeks, these same teachings have felt very healing. Which is awesome, considering that El Wifebo and I are still trying to figure out whether we can make the marriage work after all the hurt, and the power-over forms of Christianity and addiction issues that have set us back. Way back. But I can honestly say that the church will be good for us either way. I hope one way more than the other (the reconciliation of our marriage), I don't know if it's "too little, too late" for that or not. But the church is a reminder of a Christ that wants to help us, speaking blessings now over curses in the past.

Wow, I don't know how I went down that road. I guess it just felt good today to say all that.

I don't think Mars Hill GR a good example of "emergent," but I know we're always grouped in with all the others who actually use the word. I think we'd rather not define it. "It is what it is," but it's a really beautiful thing happening in GR.*

* I am still living between both Chicago and Grand Rapids, for the record. I do not go to church when here on weekends in the Chicagoland area. I guess I go to movies here. I know that can't necessarily be good for me -- to not go to church -- but I went pretty much every week for decades on end. I think I know what happens there most of the time. (Hence my love for that recent vimeo thread.)

Thanks for that, Stef.

The thing that I find most distasteful about the whole "Christian hipster" angle, whether it is presented seriously, or somewhat flippantly, as in that quiz, is that it ignores the fact that there are broken human beings out there who desperately want to be made whole by God, and who have tried the traditional models of Christianity over and over again, and found them, and themselves, wanting. What do you do, and where do you go, when you can't embrace Catholicism or Orthodoxy for various theological and/or cultural reasons, when mainline Protestant denominations have imploded upon themselves in never-ending infighting that has entirely lost the storyline, and when Evangelicalism seems more and more alien, dominated by political discourse and bizarre cultural demarcations that have less and less to do with following Jesus every year?

I'm sure there is some element of homogeneity in these emergent/hip churches, or whatever other people want to call them, just as there is in any church or denomination. And maybe that looks like a bunch of pasty white beardos sitting around listening to Sufjan Stevens. But I also know that it's not about being "hip," or any other commodification and branding of the Christian faith. It's about a lifeline, and it's about life. I cordially hate the labels because they utterly miss the point.

I think both exist - the people who "desperately want to be made whole by God, and who have tried the traditional models of Christianity over and over again, and found them, and themselves, wanting" and also the people who are just too cool for school and are mainly looking for a way to differentiate themselves from the "establishment" (or "the man" if you prefer) without actually being apostate. I can mainly claim that because that was me for several years, and now that I'm over my desperate need to be different and special I've found that being a part of a "traditional" evangelical church, when it remembers that it's not all about us, but about Him, can still provide excellent opportunities to serve and be served. But I have known, and respect, several individuals who also belong to the category you describe.

This whole thing is actually not unlike the "indie" posturing in music. You've got the people who really are offended and unsatisfied by the top 40 dreck, and also the type who can read Hipster Runoff without engaging their irony circuits.

Edited by Cunningham

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M. Leary wrote:

: I think this is what happens when we start constructing our church practice in response to specific contemporary trends - we end up inviting concepts to church rather than people.

Excellent point.

: And as a corollary to this, we then end up inviting people into a new culture rather than a new life.

This, however, I'm not so sure is necessarily all that problematic. Life -- especially corporate, as opposed to individualistic, life -- is lived within some sort of culture.

Perhaps it's easier for me to say that nowadays because I'm Orthodox; accepting the cultural aspects of Orthodoxy was, admittedly, something of a hurdle for me at one point, since in my Mennonite days (of all things), I used to say that Christianity was unique in being a faith without a culture. At the time, I based my claim on the fact that the early Church included both Jews and Gentiles, but the more I think about that and read about that, the more it seems to me that the early Church did emphasize a shared culture between Jew and Gentile even as it allowed for some differences between the two.

Perhaps it would make more sense to say that I, too, am leery of inviting people "into a new culture", but I don't mind inviting them into an OLD culture. :)

As one who began attending liturgical churches (first Anglican, then Orthodox) several years ago, it was a little strange to come across an evangelical Mennonite church a few years later that had begun holding "liturgical" services in its gymnasium (while the regular worship-band services took place in the sanctuary). As you say, it came across as "marketing" -- as an attempt to give people whatever the current trend was -- and it didn't have the sense of rootedness that you find in traditional liturgical churches. I'd rather BE liturgical, and let the church teach me something through its liturgy, than PLAY at liturgy and remain in control of it, if you know what I mean.

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: And as a corollary to this, we then end up inviting people into a new culture rather than a new life.

This, however, I'm not so sure is necessarily all that problematic. Life -- especially corporate, as opposed to individualistic, life -- is lived within some sort of culture.

I completely agree with your response, and could have been more specific with this corollary. The gospel does generate a culture of its own, and there is a sense in which the Christian life is the process of acculturation to the ethical and political presence of the resurrected Christ in the world via the church.

But, sometimes the cart gets put in front of the horse. In some circumstances, creating a local church designed to attract a certain demographic, or to make people with certain cultural proclivities comfortable, becomes an end in itself rather than a means to a more concretely historic, eschatological, or missional end.

So yes, we are inviting people to share in the culture of Christ. We are asking people to become assimilated to something new even in the strictest sociological sense of the term. But our invitation is built on a narrative that begins with terms like birth, creation, and adoption - and then moves to terms like family, church, and community. The gospel asks people to reboot their personal cultural development rather than simply swapping it for a pre-packaged one.

Edited by M. Leary

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There were a number of threads I could have stuck this in today, but this seemed most appropriate. Link to a Huffington Post piece about where this generation's penchant for sarcasm comes from, which quotes Phil Vischer (yes that Phil Vischer) from a lecture at Yale:

"Some folks believe Vietnam was the source of America's modern cynicism. Others point to Watergate. But for me and for many others in my generation, the real root, I think, is much closer to home and much more personal. When we were very young, our parents broke their promises. Their promises to each other, and their promises to us. And millions of American kids in a very short period of time learned that the world isn't a safe place; that there isn't anyone who won't let you down; that their hearts were much too fragile to leave exposed. And sarcasm, as CS Lewis put it, "builds up around a man the finest armor-plating ... that I know."

I agree with Vischer. I think the sarcasm of my generation is rooted in anger and fear. It is a socially acceptable defense mechanism, a way to vent the mountain of anger and fear we feel in a dangerous world where even the structures ordained for our safety (family, church, government) have failed to keep their promises.

We are the first generation born after the passage of no-fault-divorce. We are the product of broken homes.

We are the first generation born after Vietnam and Watergate. We are the product of a broken government.

We are the first generation born in the age of consumer religion. We are the product of broken churches.

With nowhere to turn for safety, our fears ferment under the surface into anger. But this toxic brew cannot stay there. It must find a release. Some of us find very destructive ways to alleviate that pressure. The rest of us let it out by mocking things previous generations took seriously -- government, work, religion, family, relationships, leaders, and the future. We are a generation that believes nothing is sacred. And if nothing is sacred, everything becomes profane.

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But, sometimes the cart gets put in front of the horse. In some circumstances, creating a local church designed to attract a certain demographic, or to make people with certain cultural proclivities comfortable, becomes an end in itself rather than a means to a more concretely historic, eschatological, or missional end.

OK, but this is not the intent of my inquiry. As my Rector has pointed out many times, "In a metropolitan area of 5,000,000 there must be some 1000 folks who appreciate traditional liturgy." My reason for this particular tangent is to explore whether or not a church like mine can appeal to such folk who are defensive about the shattering of what they have been lead to believe are protective institutions (heh, we stand foursquare against much of the "innovation", as we see it, that TEC has wreaked upon itself, and yet we aren't going anywhere away from TEC), who might find "Sunday Morning" and the churches it sends up as cheesey as some of us think they are. More a motivation along the lines of, "gahead, see if you like it. We certainly don't dress like you and folks probably won't change that for you."

As to another point above, "the first generation since consumer religion"? I don't think so. I'm not sure I'm of the first generation. I gotta think that Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Sunday, Bp Fulton Sheen, Robert Shuller (he started out by renting a Drive-In theater for Sunday services) and Oral Roberts might have made some contributions to consumer religion.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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As to another point above, "the first generation since consumer religion"? I don't think so. I'm not sure I'm of the first generation. I gotta think that Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Sunday, Bp Fulton Sheen, Robert Shuller (he started out by renting a Drive-In theater for Sunday services) and Oral Roberts might have made some contributions to consumer religion.

Precisely; I made the mistake of thinking this was all a recent development when i set out writing about this phenomenon; in fact it really is just building one what's been happening since Mason Weems in around 1790 (as described in Laurence Moore's excellent Selling God.)

There are some things that are new--new tools, new technologies, unprecedented market consolidation. More voices than ever competing for the church's attention and allegiance. New countersubversive tropes in advertising and media discourse.

What is new is the way imagery and symbolism of the cultural and political left are appropriated precisely as a means of avoiding substantive theological questions.

I like the way Andy is thinking: the importance of getting at the real critiques of the church and the real human needs can't be overstated. The phenomenon exists because it speaks to real needs and real problems. But my conviction is that fake counterculture/surface-level theological & eccelesiological dissent is not neutral but violently occupies the space once occupied by authentically humane culture and prophetic witness, the same way Lady Gaga crowds Tracy & The Plastics out of our consciousness.

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But my conviction is that fake counterculture/surface-level theological & eccelesiological dissent is not neutral but violently occupies the space once occupied by authentically humane culture and prophetic witness, the same way Lady Gaga crowds Tracy & The Plastics out of our consciousness.

Man, I gotta get younger or something. If I knew who Tracy & The Plastics was, I think I'd be more solid on the meaning of this. OTOH, fake counterculture and surface-level theological and ecclesiological dissent have always been around too. Dare I ask if this also has a lot to do with the sturm and drang of twentysomething spiritual cravings? I seem to have seen this before with Gen X and Boomers at this age.

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Dare I ask if this also has a lot to do with the sturm and drang of twentysomething spiritual cravings? I seem to have seen this before with Gen X and Boomers at this age.

In part, I think it does (at least, Joe Carter is awfully fond of chastising the folks at PatrolMag for repeating the "revolutionary" statements of the previous generation, all the while thinking it's a new thing). But I'm reminded of Chesterton's contention that the fake proves that there's something out there to fake.* The surface-level pretensions of hipsters (of all stripes, Christian and non-) just might prove that there's something deeper to be had there, and close attention to the signifiers they adopt might lead them to that deeper stuff. In other words, though she occupies violently territory that is not her's, properly attended to even Lady GaGa could be a gateway to Tracy & The Plastics.** And that's a pretty hopeful outlook in the end.

* I doubt C would appreciate my appropriation here, but I'm not too concerned with that. :)

**I admit without shame that I had to google the latter.

Edited by NBooth

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But my conviction is that fake counterculture/surface-level theological & eccelesiological dissent is not neutral but violently occupies the space once occupied by authentically humane culture and prophetic witness, the same way Lady Gaga crowds Tracy & The Plastics out of our consciousness.

Man, I gotta get younger or something. If I knew who Tracy & The Plastics was, I think I'd be more solid on the meaning of this. OTOH, fake counterculture and surface-level theological and ecclesiological dissent have always been around too. Dare I ask if this also has a lot to do with the sturm and drang of twentysomething spiritual cravings? I seem to have seen this before with Gen X and Boomers at this age.

You're right that you've heard it before, but that's just because the culture trust has been using the same rebel consumer archetype since the 60s. The specific kind of commodified dissent i am talking about was invented in the 60s as universally applicable sales pitch: "buy this to escape conformity". I don't think it's endemic to twentysomethings except insofar as they are trained to follow madison avenue's script.

I really should get around to posting my essay on this online somewhere.

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The specific kind of commodified dissent i am talking about was invented in the 60s as universally applicable sales pitch: "buy this to escape conformity".

That gets tricky for Christian subcultures too, as part of that line is "buy this to escape conformity - because it is smarter and more aware than its predecessor (or we guarantee that it will at least make you look like it is)." So we hear a lot about how much smarter Christian cultural products have become, like Sufjan for example, and celebrate this aspect of these artifacts as a sign of life. But what that actually means as a cultural trend is far less significant than we think it is. The next smartness is always right around the corner. Cue whatever trend the publishing companies find to replace Emergent/ing church stuff when that peters out.

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The specific kind of commodified dissent i am talking about was invented in the 60s as universally applicable sales pitch: "buy this to escape conformity".

That gets tricky for Christian subcultures too, as part of that line is "buy this to escape conformity - because it is smarter and more aware than its predecessor (or we guarantee that it will at least make you look like it is)." So we hear a lot about how much smarter Christian cultural products have become, like Sufjan for example, and celebrate this aspect of these artifacts as a sign of life. But what that actually means as a cultural trend is far less significant than we think it is. The next smartness is always right around the corner. Cue whatever trend the publishing companies find to replace Emergent/ing church stuff when that peters out.

Although I think manufactured rebellion is part of the equation, I'm not sure it's the most important consideration in understanding hipsters or hipster churches. What about good, old-fashioned aesthetic excellence? How does that factor in?

As one who is now witnessing his second generation of Christian hipsters (we called the first wave "Jesus Freaks"), I see a lot of the same patterns at work that I saw in the '70s. On a superficial level, the Jesus Freaks were all about rebellion; rebellion against staid, traditional church models and all the trappings those models entailed. But they created their own conformity just the same, as evidenced by the early CCM heroes, the "hip" Christian authors they followed at the time (Francis Schaeffer, Ron Sider), and the fashions they wore (peasant dresses for the sisters, flannel shirts for the bros, with matching hair down to the middle of the back). It is always this way. The hip becomes unhip all too quickly. And the next wave reacts to the unhipness.

As a proud former hipster still desperately clinging to the vestiges of cool (I'm kidding. Right?), I hated the conformity, even in the Jesus Freak '70s. I worked at a Christian bookstore for several of those years, and I would try not to physically wince whenever somebody brought a Honeytree album or a Hannah Hurnard book to the cash register. What I would say was, "That'll be $5.99." But what I wanted to say was, "Good sister, why do you support that which sucks? Praise God.{1}" Looking back on it, this reaction had little to do with what was hip/cool (God forbid that Hannah Hurnard should ever be considered cool, but, in fact, she was for a short, deluded time), and a lot more to do with perceived artistic excellence. I saw a lot of kitsch in the traditional Church. I saw a lot of kitsch in Jesus Freakdom, even though it was marketed under the rubric of countercultural non-conformity. And I didn't like any of it.

There are some crucial differences in this new generation of Christian hipsters. They have, for the most part, rejected the idea of an alternative Christian culture. I don't know anyone in my current church who gives a rip about CCM, although most of them are huge music fans. They tend be more holistic human beings than the Jesus Freaks, and place much less emphais on "soul winning" and a lot more emphasis on caring for the planet and for the people who live on it. They are far more focused on issues and local activism and far less inclined to believe that solutions can come from elected officials. They are highly attuned to emotional and spiritual manipulation, and they are deeply distrustful of major media figures everywhere unless they are named Bono. They have a healthy understanding of and appreciation for irony, a talent that for many years I believed was supernaturally removed upon Christian conversion. In general, I think these are positive changes. I sometimes fear for their ability to earn a living, but that's not really a fear limited to hipsters these days. They care passionately about art, which makes me extremely happy. Some of that is the usual reaction to what has come before, and a desire to claim their own heroes. But the tendency isn't nearly as pronounced as it used to be. I'm not sure what kind of cultural "rebellion" is going on when some hip twentysomething claims to love Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, and Animal Collective, but I'll take it. And that makes me think that the non-conformity angle has been overplayed.

[1} In this same store I tried to convince the owner that George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" was a commentary on total depravity, and that his Calvinist customers would love it. He didn't buy it.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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You're right that you've heard it before, but that's just because the culture trust has been using the same rebel consumer archetype since the 60s. The specific kind of commodified dissent i am talking about was invented in the 60s as universally applicable sales pitch: "buy this to escape conformity". I don't think it's endemic to twentysomethings except insofar as they are trained to follow madison avenue's script.

I really should get around to posting my essay on this online somewhere.

Not so sure. Reminds me of arguments against advertising as manipulation. Seems to me that one can get sucked into consuming a product once. If it is what you bought it for, then you stick with it. If it doesn't work, or is just plain bad, lesson learned and maybe get a refund. I see this with christian sub-culteral trends too. Stipulating that most folks don't put a lot of thought into their faith choices and desires. Not a lot of thought compared with other things they consume, like big stuff on the line of cars and houses (I think that one's faith is MORE important and therefore deserves MORE consideration. I feel all alone in this attitude much of the time). If a desired comfort level is achieved, they'll go again. If one thinks that one's faith is sustaining one, it works and that's that. I wonder just how manipulated most of us are in our choices. Are we in this discussion the only ones who know better?

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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This talk of conformity reminds me of this bit from Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (1973):

Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches. You rarely find a nonconformist who goes it alone. And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity.

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... which might have been the inspiration for the Non-Conformist's Oath! Steve Martin would lead the audience in repeating this oath, line by line, during his late-70s live shows:

I promise to be different!

I promise to be unique!

I promise not to repeat things other people say!

Edited by Overstreet

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This talk of conformity reminds me of this bit from Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (1973):

Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches. You rarely find a nonconformist who goes it alone. And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity.

Ah, Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher. As I recall, he had his own rabid following of non-conformists. The only way to escape this is to start your own religion. And then, at best, people look at you funny.

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