Yesterday, I read an article that examined what the writer called the “Christian hipster” trend. He explained that a Christian hipster is a Christian who is influenced by and, reciprocally, seeks to influence his or her culture. Christian hipsters are Christians who are not afraid of various aspects of society and culture – i.e. attending art shows, reading philosophy, drinking beer or wine, smoking pipes, watching R-rated movies, etc. – because they desire to embrace life in a celebratory rather than a suspect manner. The writer claimed that Christian hipsters are committed Christ followers who “seek to cultivate a strong aesthetic sensibility and intellectual rigor” as an essential form of that discipleship.
While I appreciate someone seeking to understand and analyze this recent trend of reinterpreting the Christian faith as bent toward inclusion of culture rather than exclusion of it, the name “hipster” only makes me roll my eyes. Certainly, this article describes much of the person I have become. I drink beer. I enjoy the occasional glass of wine. I smoke a pipe. It seems almost all the movies I enjoy are R-rated (not so much of a shocker, considering I am an adult). I read literary fiction – novels, short stories, poetry – and despise most of the stuff churned out by Christian publishers. I am not uncomfortable talking about all sorts of philosophical or theological concepts, including those unfamiliar to the denominational tradition in which I grew up. I like Jon Stewart, Wes Anderson and Wendell Berry. I’m a fan of Bob Dylan. I think there is much for Christians to discuss in books like The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye and The Road. I support free-trade coffee and free trade in general. I believe some of the most edifying spiritual experiences can take place outside a church sanctuary or Christian campground.
What this article does not describe is who I am at my core. And, as I wrote in my previous post, what lies at the core of my life is Christ. In other words, labeling myself a “Christian hipster” is not the same as recognizing and embracing my identity.
Over the past few weeks of school, I have helped my students navigate their way through a myriad of colonial American concepts, namely identity, personal liberty and freedom. We have gone from John Proctor’s famous cry, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!” to Thomas Paine’s assertion, “My own mind is my own church,” to the violent metaphorical language of Jonathan Edwards’ greatest sermon. This weekend, for their homework, I asked my students to gather all of these works of literature together and write a paragraph or two that attempts to find what they hold in common. I think it is an easy thing to determine how things, or people, contrast. Understanding what amalgamates all things – the commonality and the communion – is often harder.
There is nothing wrong with choosing words that help define who you are. The problem is more deeply rooted in every human being’s search for true identity. For some, the definition of identity lies in their materialism and the security (or lack thereof) within it. Other seek meaning in another person, or through a group of people. Some perpetuate a political identity while others feel that who they are is delineated by their families. For people who believe that identity is realized from someone or somewhere else in the world, certain words of definition work. For such people, identity is something that is measurable and adjustable. It is subject to every whim and interest that momentarily turns our heads.
On the other hand, I have stopped believing that anything earthbound will hold the truth of my identity. If this were the case, my identity would be something finite. Something perishable. Something limited.
Looking at all this in one way, the reason I like wine and pipe smoke, R-rated movies and F. Scott Fitzgerald, has nothing to do with the fact that I call myself a Christian. Looking at it another way, these things have everything to do with my faith. Why? Because while my faith – that is, my center in Christ – is something wholly other than what exists within this mortal world, the life I live in this world is a life of freedom and personal liberty. Certainly I avoid the things that distract me from my center, but the things that point back to my center (or to the wonder of life provided me by my center), I embrace.
We have all had those moments when everything simply felt right. We may have been relaxing on a front porch with friends, a pipe or a clove cigarette in our hands. We may have been driving up the highway listening to Ray Lamontagne or Mumford and Sons. We may have stood for hours in front of a Picasso, or sat for hours in a Starbucks discussing P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia. And at some point, either during those moments or immediately after, we understood that the experience was very, very good. That it had been edifying. That our soul was healthier for it. That, somehow, we had become more aware of our true identity, or at least aware that one indeed exists.
The late Kyle Lake, pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, used to end his sermons with the statement, “Love God. Embrace beauty. Live life to the fullest.” Each aspect of the statement is different, yet they are connected. It becomes one pursuit. Words may not define the one who follows such encouragement, but, then again, that person would have little need of such insubstantial terms.