Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cool Christianity?

Couple of interesting blogposts using the idea of Christianity being "cool":

Rachel Held Evans struck a nerve with her recent op-ed on CNN.  She often speaks to her fellow Christian leaders as to why people leave the evangelical churches:
I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.  
I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.  
Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …”  
And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.

Held Evans is lamenting that "coolness", in the eyes of so many churches, is image and perception.  It is speaking the language of the current trends, even if the message continues to be shallow and exclusive.

Raushenbush's coolness is not the dressing that Held Evans talked off, but something deeper:  
There was a time when Christians like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Berrigan brothers, Thomas Merton, Paul Tillich, Dorothy Day, Henri Nouwen, Howard Thurman, Reinhold Niebuhr and John XXIII offered the basic framework for what Christianity meant to the world. 
Collectively, these men and women offered some of the most philosophically deep and socially relevant thought of any kind. They inspired a generation of young people to work in racial reconciliation, environmentalism, economic justice, and anti-war activism. They fed the spirit, while also walking in Jesus' way of justice and peace. 
In those days you could say you were a Christian and the above names might come to the mind of the listener -- and they were cool; meaning relevant, compelling, edgy, and forward thinking.

Rasushenbush says we have journeyed away from this type of Christianity in recent history, but perhaps we are now returning, seen in part by the recent words of Pope Francis and Archbishop Tutu, and other current leaders found in today's churches (including The Episcopal Church, "headed by an amazing woman who is both a scientist and pastor and who is spearheading the conversation between science and religion").

He also shares a story of invite by his inviting colleagues to a "disco mass" on Gay Pride Sunday in New York:
We had a great time at the church. My friends fell in love with the pastor whose style was relaxed and hip, and whose sermon was smart and compelling. They loved the community feel of the congregation, and they thought the ideas they heard there a good way to start gay pride. 
Mind you, neither of them had been to church of their own volition -- ever. And they may never go back to church. I really don't care -- they are wonderful, spiritual, and ethical people -- I don't need them to become Christian. 
However, by being there they understood a little more about why I am Christian, and how Christianity guides the way I view the world and do the things I do. And even with that short glimpse they respected my faith more than they had before. 
If more Christians can speak out the way Pope Francis and Archbishop Tutu have this week and so many have been in recent memory -- it will change the way people view Jesus and the faith that he inspires in so many of us. 
And that will be so cool.

This wonderful definition of "cool" (which includes Rasushenbush's cool understanding that inviting his friends to come and see is far more important that a desire to "convert" them) is a sign of hope that Christianity is moving towards what Held Evans longs for:  a change in substance that embraces holiness, caring for others, peace and justice.  


The Rev. Torey Lightcap said...

Part of the beauty of the Gospel is that its followers are its followers and don't much care whether any of it is cool. If cultural awareness leads to higher levels of participation (and if as a result some congregations can be brought back from the crust of collapse), that's a nice benefit. I think, though, that I would tend to side with Held Evans in maintaining that attaining hipness is generally a distraction.

Relevance is largely an idol to a church that held hegemonic sway for well more than a millennium. That's especially true in our current time, where things can pass into obscurity almost the minute they achieve some sort of visibility.

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

Relevance is largely an idol to a church that held hegemonic sway for well more than a millennium.

I think that it is less "relevance" that has been an idol than the notion that the church is an "insider" in our culture. As we have been marginalized, the church may be coming more and more into its ancient identity as a champion of the marginalized, even as we mourn the fact that we are no longer at the center.

I prefer to think of "relevance" as being profoundly incarnational. If we are not addressing the concerns of the world and preaching Good News in ways that the world can understand, we risk simply being yet another fringe cult with strange ways and impenetrable ceremonies. While we don't ever want to be trendy, neither do we wish to be irrelevant.

Brian Sholl said...

Great thoughts here.

I like that many TV shows have started to make the "strange/unusual" person the savior figure. Take "Monk" or the prof/FBI guy from "Perception" or the Asperger's female cop in "The Bridge." (I'm sure other examples could be found.) These characters are profoundly misunderstanding the world/misunderstood by the world. They aren't really cool or relevant. They're not even "reverse cool", the geek/nerd/outsider. They are "deficient" humans, with no hope of worldly success. They have to be cared for, and in turn care for others (albeit in weird ways).

Of course, these shows are playing on our culture's greater awareness of the spectrum of human experience (a great thing). But I wonder if it's also a kind of repressed desire for a difference that matters -- that makes an impact on the world. Not the same old; not the human as we expect it. To be in relation is to experience a different form of caring.

In the *Anti-Christ*, Nietzsche accuses Jesus of being a psychological weirdo (an "idiot" to be exact -- from Gr. idios -- idiosyncratic, perhaps). Jesus really believes that you should love everyone. He forgives, and doesn't resent. He forgets with grace. Surely, Nietzsche argues, this displays psychological issues (Jesus doesn't "do anything!"). But Nietzsche can't bring himself to condemn Jesus. At least this person was without guile -- he wasn't a hypocrite, he wasn't exploiting others.

I would like to think the Church gets serious when it follows Jesus into a caring that looks like foolishness to everyone else (a "doing nothing").