“Writers have to keep on writing if they want to mature, like caterpillars endlessly chewing on leaves” – Haruki Murakami 1Q84
Yes, the book’s name is “Hipster Christianity”. No, you shouldn’t let that stop you from reading it. Surprisingly, carrying this hardcover, bright red volume around school with me has raised more eyebrows, brought more questioning remarks and sourced more offhand jokes than anything else I’ve read so far. even though this book was written by the managing editor of Biola Magazine, Brett McCracken, most of Biola’s students have never read it (although most seem to have heard of it!) People’s automatic reaction is, I think, much like mine when I first heard of this book and preformed expert avoidance maneuvers to NEVER read it. They are skeptical after hearing just the title of the book. “Hipster Christianity” seems like a joke, laughable as one girl said of this book. I will say it. I was wrong. I was expecting some sort of pithy, contemporary, relevant and watered down book that claimed to have revolutionary ideas about Christianity and how it was okay to be cool as a Christian. I was convinced I would be done with it in a few short days of reading in between classes. What I actually discovered once I began to read it was a very intelligent appeal to Christians that is contemporary and relevant and anything but watered down, which does contain good ideas about how it is okay to be cool as a Christian (I struggled through this book for a good three weeks of off and on reading). The reason my two descriptions sound so similar is because Brett Mccracken takes the time in this book to rehabilitate the definitions of words like “cool” and “relevant” to mean what they should have all along rather than “re-inventing the wheel” and “upsetting the apple cart”. He shows us what the terms used to define cultural acceptability mean and how they should be redeemed to retain eternal value.
This book is comprised of three parts. Part One: The History and Collision of Cool and Christianity; Part two: Hipster Christianity in Practice; and part three: Problems and Solutions. In Part One Mccraken goes into an in depth definition process of the term “hipster” which includes it history and origins, where it is now, and how it has been adopted by Christians. In the second part he looks at specific examples of the hipster movement in churches and Christian circles by fleshing out what hipsterdom looks like for Christians and what it has produced. In the third and final part of this book Mccracken breaks down why it is problematic for cool, as we know it, and the church to be in collusion and how we should be defining terms like cool and relevant. He also reminds his readers that Christianity is not a product that we are trying to sell and therefore does not require or even allow for a consumeristic approach.
One of the main points to take away from this book is that the church is founded upon lasting and eternal truth. The church is something that does not fluctuate according to the fashions and fads of the time. Mccracken observes a phenomenon in the church which has placed the church on the fringes of how we define ourselves and rather than shaping the culture, the church is being shaped by it. Not only that but it seems to be willingly throwing itself into the hands of the wrong potter. The church is being shaped by the society around it rather than by the God who is at the core of it.
God’s church is the point. Our individualistic society has successfully undermined this truth by infusing people with the idea that the most important person is yourself and that everything you consume and engage in should be for your own sake. This is easy to tell people because everyone is born with an intrinsic desire to be happy and the world says that you can become happy by doing what you want to do. The church cannot coexist with the selfish ideas that the individual based hipster culture propagates. In the problems and solution part of his book Mccrcken necessarily redefines cool not as a consumeristic term but as something that comes from the insides of a person. He writes “we shouldn’t obsess about fitting our image into the culturally acceptable or desirable ideal. Christianity’s appeal comes not from culture but from within–and the minute we start looking outside our own identity for affirmation about our relative relevance, we immediately begin to lose our cool” (246). Christianity is not something that is wishy-washy or changeable, its based on an everlasting and perfect God who always has and will exist. This means that the church is not compatible with conforming to the changes that go on around it in a fundamental way. That is why it gets weird when churches try to morph into something cool in order to appeal to people outside of itself. The attraction or coolness of Christianity does not come from whatever surface ornamentation we can add to it but from its intrinsic value as real honest-to-goodenss plain and simple truth from God himself. Since this faith is not based on the changeable it cannot be mixed with it, as Mccracken says trying to mix Christian and the world’s definition of cool doesn’t work “its ugly! Its like mixing oil and water” (199).
What all of this doesn’t mean is that Christians cannot have fun or enjoy good things like beautiful art for its own sake and delicious food with wine and friends. God created those things for our enjoyment because he really wants us to be happy in an eternal sense that is meant to include our physical faculties. We have been designed to love and appreciate what is good and beautiful because our God created it! What this does mean is that Christians should not look like the rest of the world. They should not be cynical, selfish, arrogant, transient and hedonistic. It is possible to enjoy good things while still living in a way that honors God and thereby brings us joy.
This is an excellent book that will take you some quality time to read and it is well worth it. I struggled a lot with the midpoint of this book because I was so depressed by it. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes where Solomon says that there is nothing new under the sun. It was begining to seem as though there was no reason to try and be original because everything has been tried and because maybe originality was even bad in and of itself! However, I kept reading and climbed out of that pit of despair into the conclusion of this book, which is hopeful and admonishes us to live good lives in God, enjoying good things with the wonder that God has gifted us with. I hope you will decide to read it!
I have found it, the best way to talk about things in the world! Panel discussions! Okay maybe not the absolute best but definitely incredible and brilliant to be a witness to. The second encounter with the sacred spaces discussion that has impacted me took place tonight as Nancy and I attended aforementioned discussion. On the panel sat Matt Jenson of the Torrey Honors program, the theologian of the group, Kristen Irwin professor of the ways of philosophy, John Anderson a teacher in the realm of art and Brent Ridley A chemist from our illustrious science program.
The discussion begins with each panelist giving an ever so brief summary of their thoughts on the topic at hand: sacred spaces. Dr. Jenson starts us off by defining the subject saying that sacred space is “where God makes himself available to us.” Jenson also brings up the ideas of waiting in the means of grace, as presented by John Wesley and the local presence of God versus the Omnipresence of God. Jenson quotes Flannery O’connor who said “Somewhere is better than anywhere” In relation to the need for specific, set aside places in which we encounter God.
Kristen Irwin is the next speaker and she brings ideas to the subject which deal with our bodies as spaces. In worship we take particular postures that are associated with worship, we take communion in a necessarily physical action, we taste and see that the Lord is good. She also brings up the subject of our minds and attitudes and how they affect our experience of the world around us. In looking at the world of physical spaces the importance of our bodies cannot be undermined. She went on to relate that to the experience of the Other, bodies outside of ourselves that are also sacred spaces. She says, referencing Merleau-Ponty, that “if you are truly engaged with them you will see a glimpse of the infinite in them.” Our engagement with others necessarily brings us to a place where we see something in them that we cannot wrap our minds around and are obliged to admit is the infinite.
The discussion about our bodies here, stemming from phenomenology, strongly echoes Kantian ideas about physical experience and the idea of seeing the infinite reminds the listener of the poetry of Blake.
Next, Chemist Brent Ridley speaks. He Discusses two concepts of the experience of God. The first is that of experiencing the being of God, or experiencing him directly as Moses did in the burning bush and in his mountain top experiences. The other is the experience of the action, or residue of God. The second is by far more common among people. We experience the action of God through creation, through other people, and through the church.
Finally, John Anderson takes the floor and talks about what constitutes a sacred place. He says “places are considered sacred because of the story of the place or the history of that place.” Jacob’s renaming of the place where he encounter God imprints that place with the story of the encounter with God in that space. However, as Anderson points out, this raises the question, what if someone does not know the story of a place? Is the place then no longer sacred? Included in Anderson’s discussion were several picture which he used to illustrate his points. Two photographs were of the work of James Turrell who causes the viewer to readjust his view of what he already knows. Is this another way in which we use sacred spaces? as a readjustment of what we have some to see as common?
These things being laid out the discussion ensued in an ever so civil manner and many things were thrown around and connected. I will attempt to deliver a few of my own thoughts, stimulated by this delectable presentation.
One of the main thoughts which was not fleshed out, but which necessarily pervaded the conversation tonight was the idea of objectivity vs. subjectivity. In the discussion of sacred space we see a need for God to create the spaces. What is God’s role in sacred spaces? In the Old Testament God instructed his people to build a physical temple for him but the building of the temple could not cause God to come and dwell in that place, it was his will to come into that holy space, thereby making himself available to his people. Sacred spaces have been defined as those spaces where God makes himself available to man, therefore, we see a need for God to be active in this encounter which takes place. It can be seen from this that it is God’s way to sometimes force himself into the realization of an individual and cause them to have an encounter with God whether or not they intended to do so. However, man also plays a part in the interactions of God with him. It may be argued that all space is sacred, as Dr Lockett suggested in his chapel on this topic, but it is necessary for men to recognize that space as sacred. The panelists agree with professor Irwin as she says that a necessary step to take in cultivating sacred spaces is looking and seeing the gifts that God has given us in the world around us, in the mundane activities and surroundings that we engage with. Anything that we habituate puts us into a routine that is devoid of the shock and awe which we should be experiencing in the different forms of sacred spaces which God allows us. This means, according to Anderson, that we need to re-imagine and adjust our view in sacred spaces to renew our interactions with God. If God has made himself available to men in creation and is characterized by his omnipresence then we should be able to encounter God everywhere which seems to make sacred space objective, however, men encounter God in very subjective ways, depending on their mental state and orientation, where they are in space and time and the different reactions which each person has to the same stimulus.
There are many ways in which a sacred space can come about. It seems as though one key part of sacred spaces is the inability of man to completely define them or pin them down so to speak. This aspect of sacred space seems to be based on the nature of God. Man is no more capable of defining sacred space in all its forms than they are of defining the God who makes himself available in those places. God’s omnipresent nature is not within man’s grasp. However, we are definitely able to see God. He has specifically allowed men to interact with him. There is a reason why he names himself as the father of children and there is a clear purpose in him sending Christ, the tangible, physical interaction of God with man, to the earth. We are meant to interact with God even though we cannot encompass the whole of him. That being said, our encounters with God in sacred spaces are instances of the presences of God within the larger context of his omnipresence. We see God, but we do not see the whole of God, that is impossible.
This discussion also brings up the question of the beautiful and the sublime which is a very complicated topic that I am not qualified to treat of here and was not fully touched in the discussion. However the question was broached as to whether a lawn at Biola could or should produce the same sacred affect as half dome (which Jenson incidentally refferred to as “beauty with an edge”, unintentional pun?). The obvious answer would be no, these don’t produce the same effect in us, why is that? Both subjects are God’s creation. The reason seems to lie in the vastness, and power of half dome combined with the incredible orchestration of nature surrounding it that causes a reaction similar to fear in man. Burke treats this subject in his essay on beauty which discusses the sublime.
One more thought, if a tree was beautiful in the middle of a forrest and no one saw it would it still be beautiful?
These are some more thoughts on sacred spaces which is an ongoing discussion at the university this year and will continue to be a subject of thought with me throughout this school year and hopefully throughout my life. I hope this brief dusting off of the topic has sparked some thoughts in you, my reader and that you will discuss these things as well.
Biola University is beginning a series in this new semester having to do with the idea of sacred spaces. Dr. Darien Lockett gave a chapel lecture on the subject of sacred spaces warning his audience against two dangers involved with this idea and using psalm 24 as a guide away from them. He began by defining a sacred space as, simply and area dedicated to God/religion. This led to the two views of sacred space which lead Christians into error. The first of these views is that all space is either sacred or secular. This insinuates that while a church or cathedral may be a sacred place, a park or someone’s house must be secular space. Dr. Lockett dispelled this idea using Psalm 24 which says:
1. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
2. for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Essentially, this means that we, as Christians, cannot see any space as secular because God is the creator of everything and he has called it good. Because of this we can treat all space as sacred space. “The Heavens declare the glory of God.”
Our three pairs of feet make indescribably delicious crunching sounds on the gravel of the Pacific Crest Trail as we wend our way towards the legendary Silverwood Lake. The dominant sound when we still our own conversation is the scraping, dry rattle of the cicadas. It might pass for a rattlesnake’s warning if it weren’t for the drawn out droning quality that the little chorus insists upon. The tiny musicians hide on either side of the narrow trail, making temporary homes of the buckwheat, Chemise, and bush poppies that grow like wildfire in the arid, high desert climate.
Since this trail, which stretches its arms from Canada to Mexico, passes directly through the forestry land of our back yard, we have been known to hike it not infrequently. However, we have never taken it farther than a few miles towards the lake which remains somewhat mystical, nestled behind several foothills to the east of our home. Today’s trek led us to a vision of the misty lake behind the hills but we never reached it. Despite our nine mile excursion, our pilgrimage ended in contented tiredness by the side of the highway, barring us from our final destination. Maybe next time we will reach the seemingly mythical waters of Silverwood.
But for now I look out from our back porch over miles and miles of hill land and from here I can see a red-tailed hawk effortlessly gliding, circling in the invisible spout of a thermal air current. The sun is setting. I love watching the dense blue shadows that settle into the pockets of the rolling, lazy hills behind our home. The green mounds lie like sleeping giants who might stir at any moment under my foot if it touched a too tender spot, slipping into an eye. As the wind whips across the chaparral that covers their bodies like thick, rough, green hair, punctuated by patches of bright orange Cuscuta, “Witches’ Hair”, they rumble from deep within their hibernation, snoring terribly yet quite innocuously. As the sun sets behind Mount Baldy, which clasps the remains of its white blanket tightly around its shoulders and head, the gnats and dust mites are ignited in tiny halos of brilliant orangish yellow by the ball of gold descending behind them. The flight of these otherwise, almost invisible spots is gentle and unhurried.
Sometimes the wind here is more than a little persistent. It whistles through the cracks in the window sills and between doors. I don’t understand the song; it seems rather tuneless to my ears, but that is because it is being filtered by the house. The only way to actually hear what the wind is trying to vociferate is to go out into it where it blows right by your ears. The gust rips through hair and clothes as though it would not welcome me as an audience, but I know that its only because it doesn’t notice me and keeps running around regardless of who or what may be in its way. The wind is powerful.
This is an extraordinary short story, a children’s story. This is exactly how I picture my adventures with my brother Joel turning out.
My soul is heavy, metallic. It is sinking—sinking out of my body. It has become an iron element and now tends towards the slow-revolving molten core of the earth. It is difficult to endure the constant pressure exerted by my weighty spirit, trying to escape. It is depressed, subdued, and plummets to the floor, settling in my feet when I stand, only spreading into the rest of my fleshy body when I lay flat on the hard ground and press my sweaty palms into the solid unyielding concrete, much to real to allow another body to pass through it. The rich plasma pumps through my tight veins faster, faster, trying to keep up with the needy demands of my tensing muscles, Fueled by my burning cardiac muscle, tighter tighter, tetanus? Not quite. Lub-dub. I close my fired-up eyes against the florescent lights overhead and feel the cooling pressure of my dark, blue eyelids. Sucking the lightening air into my lungs. Hold it. Hold it. Balloons float. Counteractive measures. I am lighter, its working, I wonder if I could hold this forever and maybe start to float. Too bad there isn’t Helium in the atmosphere. The fire spread to my lungs now. Woosh. My respiration works double time to pay off the Oxygen debt it owes by now. On second thought the air is a much more effective fire quencher than helium. My lungs start to calm down and the pressure in my fingers, in my toes, in the pit of my stomach returns in full force and drags me down. Someone must have turned up the gravity, maybe its not my soul. Turn off the switch, seriously. No the other people are taking the change pretty well, their bodies are the same material as mine.