July 22, 2014

kyle on “sexy christianity”

hipster4-kk+

Each generation has its version of “sexy Christianity.”

Kyle Donn has issued a thoughtful warning about the current style, the rage of his own generation, in this post on the subject.

Kyle’s “About” page reflects the ethos of today’s young believers:

my name is kyle.
i want to change the world.
for jesus.

Note the lower case, the clipped statements, the radical simplicity, the cool way of emphasizing jesus, the expressed passion to make a difference.

Kyle writes:

My generation of believers loves the idea of radical Christianity. It’s edgy, compromises everything, it’s dangerously transparent, and it’s simple. Phrases like “I just want Jesus” are its slogan – its very breath. Verses are tattooed on our backs, and Greek words are penned into our wrists and biceps. Our sweatshop-free clothes are ripped and dirty. Our coffee is fair-trade. Our books are doctrine-heavy and well worn. And maybe we’ll even have a drink or a cigar here and there over a deep theological conversation. Today, most of us have made our pilgrimage to an African orphanage or held the hand of the dying somewhere in the third-world. We are not like our parents – who worry themselves that our bold-faith is going to leave us homeless and maybe dead.

He describes hip bloggers in coffee shops, surrounded by stacks of heavy theological books, pecking away on their MacBook Pros, tweeting about injustices and raving about the latest bands. Bicycling beanie-clad girls quaffing chai. Folks in skinny jeans who speak with intense passion about loving homosexuals and rage against all forms of bigotry, abuse, and hypocrisy.

Kyle is concerned that this appears so culturally cool that it becomes easy to love the idea of loving Jesus more than actually loving Jesus himself. He warns that this “radical” Christianity, this missional activism, this humanitarian advocacy, this social justice promoting, beer drinking, Kingdom speaking, tattoo displaying may be about seeking approval, human praise, the approbation of our peers, and headlines in our small-town newspapers.

…when Radical Christianity is popular, as it is becoming for my generation of Believers, then we must ask ourselves: “is the sense of abandon I have for Jesus costing me anything, or actually just making me more popular in the eyes of the people who I would like to be perceived by as more popular?”

Good questions, Kyle.

In every generation, it seems that we try to find a way to look good, to find our place of acceptance, to gain respect, to be vindicated in the eyes of others. And it is always the poor, the mourners, the meek, and all those on the fringe whose voices aren’t heard, who are embarrassing and a pain in the ass to be around, who can’t afford to be cool that challenge us.

Not the ones with whom we pose for photo ops.

The hidden ones, the ones we ignore, the ones hanging on crosses on hills outside the city.

Comments

  1. This is nothing new. It’s really just a recognition of total depravity.

    TP doesn’t mean that nothing we do has any good in it. It does mean that sin reaches into every part of our being and twists everything we do back on ourselves. Our default setting is to turn good things into idols, so that even our enjoyment of beer (to take one example) in thanksgiving to God becomes “look how cool I am enjoying a beer in thanksgiving to God.”

    So is the alternative being as uncool as possible for God? Maybe, but then we just run the risk of going “look how uncool I am for God.”

    Martin Luther nailed it. “All of life is repentence.”

  2. As a member of the generation being referenced here, I can validate that the temptations of being an aesthetics-only Jesus follower are real. I mean, I’m an M.Div who talks theology over craft beer and cigars around a firepit. The difference in my (dare I say it?…..yes, it’s a “missional community”) group is that we do so with our pastor/mentor/ professor who is 30 years older than the age of our average member. He doesn’t let us off the hook if we talk a big game without following through. And he takes us through core soul, character, and spiritual formation issues. We address the dark stuff in us as much as we dream about the good stuff.

    The encouraging thing is that there are so many younger folks who are incredibly willing — even starving — for wisdom and relationship from older generations. The ones who don’t receive it and become frustrated end up going off on their own to do the next hip & cool thing that comes along.

    Notice that many fashionable (and maligned) celebrity preachers have a very wide following from the generation being described here. Think about how hard they work to connect with us, by affirming our culture and desires, thereby making us feel heard and validated. From that they receive unwavering trust and loyalty, because who else tries so hard to makes us feel known? Now imagine instead if real-life older believers affirmed the best of what we have to offer — creativity, missional activism, desire for authenticity — and helped us frame those things in a paradigm of discipleship while passing along their discernment to help us avoid some obvious dangers.

    I again affirm the warnings described here. Speaking personally, we’d heed them better if we were better connected with mature believers who would pour into us without the insecurity that might pressure them to cater to us for fear of losing us. And we need the humility to submit and listen, trusting that those who are farther along genuinely have our best interests in mind, and they will bless & send us at the right time.

    Lord, heal the Church!

    • Oh, and for the sake of integrity I must mention that not everyone in my community group enjoys a smoke or a drink. It’s not a requirement or expectation.

      • This is a little laughable, sorry. Ask an asthmatic how much it matters to them if they are not required to pick up a cigar themselves in a room full of people smoking them–to point out only the most obvious. But the specific cultural profile that one must assume to fit into your discussion group comes across loud and clear. If you’re not a Ron Swanson, don’t bother showing up, right?

        On the one hand, it’s not like there’s something inherently wrong with that. It’s fine for likeminded people to gather and do the things they share in common, even if that’s a very specific assortment of things. It’s the disingenuous “but of course you don’t HAVE to be like us, all are welcome, yada yada” that sets my teeth on edge.

        These groups are very much about cool, even when there is a redeeming purpose to them–as I am sure there is to your group. You have to have a certain set of resources to access cool. And “the least of these” are shut out. So if it’s a study group, ok. But when it’s all the groups, and the whole church, there’s a gigantic problem. You have a “missional” echo chamber, devoted mostly to recruiting more cool people.

        If young “creatives” can only be Christian in environments where cool is carefully cultivated and all the undesirables–old folks, prudes who don’t like beer-centric activities, people with bad teeth in Wal-Mart slacks and dresses who can’t afford Portlandia Pale Ale–are kept at bay, are these missional groups really winning them over to Christianity?

        • Welp, so much for a bit of vulnerability.

          First of all, we smoke outside. We’re all new to it — it’s been nothing more than a fun bonding experience. It would be ditched for an as asthmatic in a heartbeat.

          It is exclusive to the degree that it needs to be in order for us to create a safe, vulnerable, non-judgmental environment for us to share our sufferings and struggles. We’re the first group like this in the history of our hundred year old church, commissioned by some of the “old folks” as you put it.

          Are you speaking from firsthand experience?

        • Ali Griffiths says:

          ‘It’s fine for likeminded people to gather and do the things they share in common, even if that’s a very specific assortment of things. It’s the disingenuous “but of course you don’t HAVE to be like us, all are welcome, yada yada” that sets my teeth on edge.’
          You’ve just described the attitude of most churches. And if young ‘creatives’ are shunned and spiritually squished by the people you describe as the ‘undesirables’ then the ‘creatives’ should find a place where they can flourish. It’s a two way street – no reason why those who appear the ‘cool’ ones shouldn’t also be catered for – they are just as needy as all the rest.

          • Is there seriously an epidemic of affluent college-educated whites who like craft beer being shunned? Note: church not rotating around your avocations, generational preoccupations, and “passions” is not like being shunned.

            Do you think it’s anything like showing up to one of their little coffeehouse affairs while being a homely working class sort who gets treated like a bag of garbage everywhere in this society?

          • Katharina, you act like just because there is a subset of people who come from a non-marginalized background that they are somehow not deserving of being actualized. It’s this sort of rhetoric that closes off communication between disparate groups. Additionally, being constantly ready to be very offended at anyone who thinks differently than yourself or doesn’t fit the paradigm of the person you’ve decided to always champion doesn’t help.

            I feel a little silly defending this sort of Christian, for it’s the kind of navel-gazing hipster silliness of most of my own generation that I don’t subscribe to anymore. But as generations turn over, there needs to be mutual respect between the elder and the younger to see through cultural baggage and ultimately pass on the truth of the faith from one to the other.

  3. Christiane says:

    Hi Chaplain MIKE,

    “In every generation, it seems that we try to find a way to look good, to find our place of acceptance, to gain respect, to be vindicated in the eyes of others. And it is always the poor, the mourners, the meek, and all those on the fringe whose voices aren’t heard, who are embarrassing and a pain in the ass to be around, who can’t afford to be cool that challenge us.
    Not the ones with whom we pose for photo ops.
    The hidden ones, the ones we ignore, the ones hanging on crosses on hills outside the city.”

    What you wrote here made me think about this:
    http://img.ibtimes.com/www/data/images/full/2013/11/07/426976.jpg

    Could the world be turning?

    • Pope Francis is the real deal. It’s not just when the cameras are rolling…he so clearly has oriented his entire life to this kind of love and humility. He has reminded me what hope feels like–not the glitzy American election type, either.

      • Muff Potter says:

        I’ve always admired the Jesuits. They were counter-cultural and unafraid to call out American excesses long before it became hip and fashionable.

  4. Like most “stuff white people like” trends, my city beta-tested this one. We’ve had brew pub churches here in Portland for at least a decade now, I think. There’s a good half dozen hipster bicycle-friendly yada yada megachurch type joints you could choose from if you were visiting town with your skinny-jean wearing “Jesus Follower” cousin and needed somewhere to go on Sunday.

    There’s no denying that they do good things in the community (at least a couple that I know of). I am a little weirded out by the way it’s obvious they are condescending to help outsiders in some of their outreach, rather than welcoming the unwanted of the community into their church as members, but it’s far, far better than doing nothing. I do know that when I have visited these churches myself–white, educated, but working class and I definitely look it, three small kids in tow–my family has been treated like foreigners, weirdos. We are supposed to accept the food boxes, not come inside and try to crash the party of cool people! The ice is palpable, even to my Minnesotan husband who is accustomed to both aloof behavior and cold weather.

    From my perspective it’s hard not to feel something pretty close to revulsion when I see “Jesus hipsters” talking over their omnipresent “lattes” about “missional” etc, as a result. It’s a fad for young folks with means and privilege who think because they got tattoos and overvalue beer, and think writing one sentence paragraphs makes them poets, they are somehow being profound and rebelling from the Boomer-based megachurches they came from.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      So you live on the set of Portlandia?

      P.S. No clue what “hipster” means these days, except it has that vibe of being the latest buzzword for “Trendoid Yuppies”.

    • @KvB

      A-W-E-S-O-M-E

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “I am a little weirded out by the way it’s obvious they are condescending to help outsiders in some of their outreach, rather than welcoming the unwanted of the community into their church as members, but it’s far, far better than doing nothing.”

      I belong to an old downtown church. Some decades back it made the decision to stay put rather than flee to the suburbs, but it is still a middle class congregation with a strong ethnic German element. We aren’t lily-white, but we are pretty socially homogenous. We have African-American members, but they tend to be professionals.

      We acknowledge our responsibility to the neighborhood. The practical form this takes is a “door ministry” giving out sack lunches. We take this seriously. Our budget discussions can be fierce, but I have never heard anyone suggest that the door ministry be cut back. Is this program condescending? You bet it is! How could it not be? The act of distributing those sack lunches is a transaction involving a supplicant and a patron. This is nearly the definition of “condescension” from back when the word carried positive connotations.

      The modern negative connotations arose when people began questioning the assumptions of social class. But while we Americans like to imagine we don’t have social classes, we do. Should we welcome those people taking those lunches into the church as members? Of course we should, and we know it. We also haven’t a clue how to go about it. A few have come to worship service. The post-service chit-chat is awkward and uncomfortable on both sides. The cultural commonalities aren’t there. Pastoral care is actually a much easier issue, as that relationship is fairly well defined and understood by both parties, and need not be based on social equality, real or pretended.

      There may be churches out there that cross social lines comfortably, without separating into internally homogenous sub-groups. I have never seen such a church, but it may exist.

  5. Certainly the arrogance of youth gives us oldsters plenty to smile about: The kids who make their “pilgrimage to an African orphanage” (while we mutter, “on whose dime?”) but probably maintain the most minimal contact with their octogenerian grandparents, who dote on them. The first is super-cool; the second is super-dull. The young folks who brag, as young folks have always bragged, “We are not like our parents – who worry themselves that our bold-faith is going to leave us homeless and maybe dead.”

    True, it will be years before these bright young folks know the longing of those grandparents, the terrified love of those parents. But the time will come…

    In the meantime, I think those of us who are old, whom life has pummeled and mauled into our present postures of weariness and wariness, should rejoice in these young Christians and encourage them in every way we can. Theirs is the future, and theirs is the kingdom. Our is the support. I think we should, as Sean says, “affirm the best of what we [young people] have to offer — creativity, missional activism, desire for authenticity.”

    I am reminded of Vachel Lindsay’s little verse:

    Let not young souls be smothered out before
    They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
    It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull.
    Its poor [or old] are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.

    • I certainly could have written this post, with different paraphernalia, about my generation in the 60′s and 70′s. Only I don’t think many of us saw our own self-justification as clearly as Kyle does when he observes himself and his peers.

    • Ali Griffiths says:

      Amen to this. I found myself going off at a tangent on Sunday when I was speaking about faith. As I looked at this unfamiliar congregation of elderly people with a smattering of young people and told them to make sure they stopped squishing each other’s dreams. Not sure where that came from but when I see people being put down and dismissed because of enthusiasm and passion – even if it a bit misplaced – it makes me mad and sad. We need a few more of the crazy dreamers in all our churches. I suspect it is jealousy and resentment that pulls them down and we need to stop it.

  6. I’ll take inane haiku over the passive-aggressive hypocrisy of pulpit rhetoric any day.

  7. “He describes hip bloggers in coffee shops, surrounded by stacks of heavy theological books, pecking away on their MacBook Pros, tweeting about injustices and raving about the latest bands.”
    I’ll settle for a few people who show up to work every day and do an acceptable day’s work.

    • That Other Jean says:

      So much this!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Oh, yea. +1

      My favorite coffee shop is overflowing with these types; every other table is discussing some church, some theology, or some social injustice [sex trafficking seems a popular issue currently]. I admit I do have to resist the urge to chuckle – it is all so absurdly earnest, and retweeting a quote as a form of social activism… the darkness really hit one out of the park with that one, simply brilliant; like a great sump into which you can channel people’s best intentions, and pump them out into the void. Barely a drop will fall upon the soil of earth.

      And they do not do it shyly; as someone with impaired hearing I can still pick out at least two conversations at a time [although one of my reasons it is my favorite coffee shop - good acoustics, I can actually hear someone speak, which is a big +1 for me]. Still, it causes me doubt some of the earnestness.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But actually having a JOB would take time away from social media theology, social media social justice, and Starbucks online social activism! Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!

      (This is characteristic of Concerned and Compassionate Social Activists in general; they normally spend 24/7/365 in their Social Activism, “floating with no visible means of support” (commonly called mooching off others).

  8. Vega Magnus says:

    This guy is just a representation of Christian hipsters. This is just a part of the college-age population today guys.

  9. Let the kids be! In time, when marriage, children and financial pressures begin to wear down the, once, youthful spirit, they will acquire the seasoned sensibility of a Christian who can ride any current social wave with equanimity.

    In my 40-some years as a Christian I’ve also been guilty of succumbing to peer pressure and social blandishments. Now I speak with my peers about physical maladies, social security and comfortable shoes. My kids are grown and I can see in them the images of my own journey. I’m not worried about the youth, I’m worried about my memory!

    • Well, it seems like K von B has had some unpleasant interactions—not too surprising since she lives at ground zero for hipsters. The purely secular subset of this group irritate the hell out of me, but then I have never met a young Christian hipster. (Here in Falwell-ville, there are an abundance of 18-25 year olds, but hipsters they ain’t!)

      But, I am with Oscar, in seeing the exact same sort of intense focus on saving the world that 90% of us displayed at the same age. The epiphany that occurs when very young adults discover that (A) their parents have feet of clay and (B) they are old enough to “DO something” in the world is a real shock to those who have just weathered college and/or their first real job. I remember feeling that I had been a kid in HS five minutes ago, and now I was supposedly an adult, with work to do in the world, in the Church, and in my own soul. I was terrified and elated, in equal measure, at the possibilities and the responsibilities!!

      In twenty years, many of my young-Boomer peers and I will likely be dead or infirm, but sure as heck OLD if we are still here. These young people will have mortgages, kids they love and worry about, and will have been beaten around the head and shoulders by life, their own imperfections, money worries, health concerns, and real gut wrenching questions about why, in the midst of all of this, are they living??? The people currently watching Sesame Street will be trying to fix the world, and so on (Cue the music to the Lion King’s “Circle of Life”!)

      IMHO, we start life as self centered children, learn to care for others (personally and globally) while we support our own needs, nurture a new generation, learn to love God more as we see our own faults and watch our bodies fail us, and later fold back into ourselves (hopefully, not in a selfish way) as we prepare to leave this world for the next. The issues change, the clothes and hair change, the language changes…..but the pattern is the same, however much we want to see how “DIFFERENT AND EVOLVED” we are in our youth.

  10. Vega Magnus says:

    This is a general culture thing, but I’m unsettled by this disconnect between older people and this so-called Millennial bunch that I’m a part of. Every other day some news site I read has an article ranting about how much kids these days suck and it is always abrasive and judgmental rather than providing any sort of wisdom or advice. That is not sustainable. It is of course natural for generations to have differences, but this hostility that is being shown towards younger people now helps no one.

    • … while on other sites, younger people rant about their Boomer parents and how clueless we are (as a generation).

      ‘Twas ever thus…. as someone who sat and pondered the meaning of “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” I think the truism about history being (to some degree) cyclical is more accurate than I’d ever have guessed at 13, 15 or 25.

    • This article was written by a young person about his own generation and in my opinion is not judgmental at all. I was attracted to it because I think it shows remarkable maturity — the kind we all hopefully gain as we get older. Except that he is seeing it now. He doesn’t mock or reject the style, he just warns about confusing it for substance.

  11. Many moons ago, I was holding forth on I can’t remember which subject, when my (slightly younger) cousin remarked: “It’s easier to talk radical than to live radical”.

    Since then, I’ve tended to shut up.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > “It’s easier to talk radical than to live radical”

      +1

      But to be fair my hipster friends do not “talk radical”. I find them to be, as a gross generality, extremely disposed toward accommodation. Something is “good”, but one must also be “reasonable”. The “compromises everything” [quote from the above author] gets very stretched, as that is their inclination, avoidance of confrontation or taking a “radical” stance. Posturing is not “radical”, as it has little to no cost.

      On the upside this favorable attitude for compromise has upsides, and the desire to be “reasonable” opens the avenues for detailed discussions about grounded issues, where as having a discussion about a local event or municipal policy with a ideologue is either impossible or a waste of time. The hipsters are refreshing in that way. Unless that conversation has a natural follow on of some inconvenient actions, then mmmmmm, is that really “reasonable”?

  12. You have to give it to being radical in the sense of anti-imperialists studying a heritage of Wesley, or a Baptist rediscovering why the Anabaptists were called radical, or Catholics finding Saint Francis of Assisi. Back to core teachings…..I quote Wesley…”that great work of God among the children of men, which we are used to express by one word, Christianity; not as it implies a set of opinions, a system of doctrines, but as it refers to men’s hearts and lives”.
    And you have to give it to this young man Kyle Donn. He gets the radical aspect, the call to personal action. And he has some insight into the destructive and constructive aspects.

  13. It all seems out of show, excess, and self aggrandizement. Where’s Mule when you need him? This seems like the other extreme of the sin of passivity and apathy. The desert fathers didn’t do things for show nor image. What happened to performing acts of charity in secret? Perhaps a new perspective on I Corinthians 13 is needed: if you do things to look good, to be edgy, for approval, or for ones own self-image, where is the love? A Christianity based on marketing concepts of image, brands, press releases, gimmicks and campaigns can’t possibly have a lot of room for love.

    You want edgy and image? Look for the recent photos of the Pope embracing a disfigured man. Didn’t happen to see any cigars or brews in the picture.

  14. Charles Wesley drank ale. It certainly had nothing to do with his mission.

  15. Well, some high profile, non-Christian (near?) Millenials seem to be “waiting for the world to change” (John Mayer) in lieu of changing it, and recommending political disengagement (Russell Brand) as a form of protest against how rigged the game is.

    Hip? Radical? Committed?

    Trendy. Disengaged. Resentful. Such resentment can be exploited by the right political extremist saying the right thing in the right way at the right time. See history of Weimar Republic for illustration.

    And in the words of Billy Joel, “We didn’t start the fire…”