Monthly Archives: August 2010

Taking Glenn Beck Seriously

I have to admit–every part of me wants to just completely ignore the fact that Glenn Beck exists. I want to accept him as a cheerfully wrongheaded caricature of some ghastly mutation of conservatism, and nothing more. My attempts to block him out of my mind were thwarted this weekend, however, when everything on the Internet pointed my attention to his Washington D.C. “Restoring Honor” rally. Suddenly, it was all very real. Were there really that many people packing the national mall cheering on Beck’s calls to reclaim America for “God” (is it his Mormon God? A Christian God? A blue deity from Avatar)? How was this joker the focal point of one of the largest political gatherings in recent history?

The significance of this man’s apparent following–I mean, just look at the ratings of his various TV and radio shows–demands that we take him seriously. Unfortunately, almost every commentary, tweet, or passing remark I’ve read about Beck since the rally has been either completely sarcastic, pointlessly angry, or simply dismissive. The discourse surrounding Beck by his many critics is as infantile and unhelpful as the man himself.  Beck is not going anywhere and his followers will not diminish by us simply pointing at the whole thing and calling it preposterous.

That huge crowd was there in D.C. for a reason. They believed in something enough to be there. Was it Beck and his charisma that drew them? Was it his (shudder) civil religious fervor that maintains Christianity is about individualism and anti-social justice? I’m not sure. But I know these are important questions. The “masses” here may be mostly white, middle-class, pro-military tea-partiers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have brains. It doesn’t mean we can just joke about the whole thing and expect that their children will be more nuanced and all will be well.

Beck and his pop-polemics are just a natural outgrowth of a culture that has embraced division as some sort of high Hegelian virtue. No one really takes the other side seriously any more, out of intellectual laziness and an alarmingly delinquent aptitude for things like nuance, moderation, charity, and friendly dialogue.

Until both sides are willing to take the other seriously, even the Glenn Becks in the lot, there will only be more stalemate, more pointless sarcastic rants and hateful Facebook posts complaining about the unfathomable ignorance of this or that person. There will only be more extreme polarity, exacerbated by a media system that thrives on soundbite bickering and black-and-white divisions.

I’m not sure what the solution is to get us out of this quagmire, but I think it probably starts with someone who is willing to stop talking and start listening to the other. It starts with the abandonment of the notion that progress is about winning a tug of war match over America’s soul. It starts with someone–anyone–writing a serious analysis of Glenn Beck that doesn’t cynically dismiss him at the outset as a lab rat run amok. Has anyone read such a thing? Please, send me a link.

The Poetics of Late Summer

Although it is hotter right now in Southern California than it has been all summer, there are definitely signs that summer is ending and autumn is at hand. The sun is setting earlier, the fire season has begun, and three-ring-binders are 2 for $3 at Wal-Mart.

I’ve always loved this time of year. Late summer. For whatever reason, it is just incredibly poetic. The end of “vacation” season, an acute sense of both loss and hope, the onset of such wonderful things as Football season and apple picking. It’s a great moment of transition, and some far more perceptive writers than I have captured it beautifully in verse. Here are a few of my favorites:

“September” by Herman Hesse

The Garden mourns,
The rains coolly sink into the flowers.
The Summer shivers
Calmly against its end.

Golden falls leaf upon leaf
Down from the high acacia tree.
Summer smiles astonished and weary
In the dying garden dream.

It lingers yet by the roses
Remains standing, longs for rest.
Slowly it closes its large
Weary-grown eyes.

“Late Summer” by C.S. Lewis

I, dusty and bedraggled as I am,
Pestered with wasps and weed and making jam,
Blowzy and stale, my welcome long outstayed,
Proved false in every promise that I made,
At my beginning I believed, like you,
Something would come of all my green and blue.
Mortals remember, looking on the thing
I am, that I, even I, was once a spring.

“Autumn Day” by Rilke

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials
and let loose the wind in the fields.

Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them another two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will not build one
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.

“September” by John Updike

The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.

To Change the World

James Davison Hunter’s new book, To Change the World, has been stirring up buzz since it came out this spring, and for good reason. It’s an intellectually robust, complicated, nuanced treatment of a crucial, continually difficult subject matter: The relationship between Christianity and culture. How do Christians relate to culture? How do they transform it? Is this even the right question to ask? For those familiar with this blog and my prevailing concerns as a writer, you know that this is a subject near and dear to my heart. Thus, I read To Change the World voraciously, though critically, enjoying it as much as I’ve enjoyed reading any other book this year.

Hunter’s book questions how Christians have historically “changed the world,” or attempted to, and paints a picture of how he thinks we can or should undertake such a task.

Hunter says that changing the world can’t just be a matter of ideas. It can’t just be about changing “hearts and minds,” which he suggests is the dominant language used by many Christians today calling for the church to transform the world. Change doesn’t happen merely on the ideas level; rather, it involves a much more complicated, multifaceted  matrix of institutions, systems of production, political economy, status/influence, networks of power, etc. Culture is at its most powerful when it involves a dialectic between ideas and institutions, he says. Essentially, Hunter’s point is that Christians can be as earnest and passionate as they want to be in their attempts to have the right worldview and “think Christianly enough,” but as long as they continue to be absent from the arenas in which culture is actually produced, their impact will be marginal and their cultural capital negligible.

As someone who has lived and worked in Hollywood as a Christian, and who studied production cultures and the political economy of media industries while a graduate student at UCLA, I find Hunter’s insistence on complicating the way we understand culture/power/culture-making to be absolutely right on. There are a lot of well-meaning Christians moving to Hollywood (or who have been working here for a long time) with very earnest intentions to “change the world” via media production. But it isn’t as simple as just “having a good idea”… there are layers and layers of power structures, networks, socio-economic and anthropological narratives at play that all influence the way culture is created and consumed in Hollywood. Hunter is wise to point this out, even if it might not be the answer we’d prefer to hear.

Hunter spends much of the book discussing the cultural arena in which Christians have recently been most active in trying to change the world: Politics. Politics has been “the dominant public witness” of Christianity, notes Hunter, with little actual progress/impact to show for. He leaves no political persuasion un-critiqued. The Christian Right, the Christian Left, and the “neo-Anabaptist” (non-political/separatist) all receive thorough assessment and critique from Hunter. These political approaches represent, for Hunter, 3 larger paradigms of cultural engagement that he calls “defensive against,” “relevance to,” and “purity from,” respectively. Against these three paradigms (Hunter finds each lacking), he proposes another way of engaging culture: “Faithful presence within.”

What is “faithful presence within”? Hunter spends less time describing the actual details of what this looks like than I wish he would. He does mention that “faithful presence” includes such things as creating art (excellent art), generating networks of relationships, and creating space for meaningful discussion (he describes Paste magazine as being an example of it). All good things. He writes that “the practices of faithful presence represent an assault on the worldliness of this present age,” comparing the notion of “faithful presence within” to the Israelites in Babylonian exile as described by Jeremiah. Hunter says:

The people of Israel were being called to enter the culture in which they were placed as God’s people–reflecting in their daily practices their distinct identity as those chosen by God. He was calling them to maintain their distinctiveness as a community but in ways that served the common good… The story of Jeremiah 29 comports well with what we learn from St. Peter, who with so many others speaks of Christians as “exiles in the world” (1:1, 2:11) encouraging us to “live [our] lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1:17)… In this light, St. Peter encourages believers repeatedly to be “eager to do good” (3:17) and for each person to “use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (4:10)…

In sum, Hunter says that “a theology of faithful presence calls Christians to enact the shalom of God in the circumstances in which God has placed them and to actively seek it on behalf of others. This is a vision for the entire church.”

I think I like this “faithful presence” vision for the church’s engagement with culture. But as I read Hunter’s description of it I couldn’t help but feel like what he is calling for seems a bit like a quiet-living, inoffensive, “we’re just doing our thing and we won’t bother you” sort of presence. At a July event in Washington D.C., someone asked Hunter about this and he denied that this was what he intended to propose, saying that “faithful presence” isn’t meant to imply a sort of privatistic, pietistic, individualistic way of being.

On the last page of his book, Hunter indicates that he believes the primary task of the church is to worship God (which he insists is not “cheap pietism”). Of course I don’t dispute the importance of worshiping God; For Christians, this is essential. But is worship really the primary task of the church in the world?

A seminary professor of mine recently discussed in class three common ideas for how Christians perceive the primary purpose of the church in the world–the end to which God intends his people to strive while they exist on earth in the now-and-not-yet time being: 1) Worship of God (upward), 2) Edification/fellowship/discipleship (inward), 3) Evangelism/mission (outward).

The professor mentioned that while worship and edification are important ends for the church, they cannot be the primary ends, for the simple reason that we will never worship God perfectly on earth or be morally formed to perfect righteousness or fellowship while on earth. If those were the ultimate ontological ends for which the church was formed, why wouldn’t God just take his church immediately up to heaven, where we’ll worship him perfectly and be in community perfectly?

Perhaps it makes more sense, my professor said, that the purpose to which the church is called–in and through a history that has not yet reached God’s preordained culmination–is that of evangelism: Spreading the Gospel of transformation outward. It is an active calling–going out and making disciples of all nations. All other purposes–worshiping God, growing/edifying in community, cultivating a positive witness and “faithful presence” in the world–are beneficial only insofar as they help spread the message of the Gospel and build the family of God. Being sent out–the missio dei–is absolutely fundamental for who we are as the church. We can’t just exist passively and let others wander into the fold. We are called to take action and go out to make disciples.

Hunter’s book is incredibly valuable, but if there’s a fault in his proposed paradigm it is simply that he tends to downplay the church’s need to “change the world” a bit too much. In his attempts (correct as they are) to complicate our vision for how change is actually effected and in his critique of the disastrous nihilism of our obsession with political involvement, he seems to conclude that we should probably just bide our time and not try to change much, because we won’t be able to anyway.

I’m not sure if this is practical, insightful, or defeatist… or maybe a combination of the three. But I do know that the message of Christ cannot just idle by and exist passively.  It can’t help but burst forth and be carried outward by the mobilized church to transform lives and make a difference, “changing the world” as it always has.

College Never Ends (Or Shouldn’t)

One of the things I love most about working at Biola University (a Christian university in Southern California) is that every day feels like I’m back in college myself. It’s an environment overflowing with ideas and discussions and lectures and interesting people. And my job requires me to interact and intellectually engage with professors and students on a regular basis. I absolutely love it.

Today, 1,300 new students arrive at Biola. The campus is buzzing with nervous freshman and weepy parents, carrying IKEA chairs into dorm rooms and making shopping lists for Target. It reminds me of the day 9 years ago when my own parents helped me move in to Traber dorm at Wheaton College, when my dad said goodbye to me in my dorm room while mom stayed behind in the car (she was too emotional to venture into the dorm to bid me farewell).

It reminds me of the first awkward orientation week of college, which was a weird and wonderful mix of making new friends, playing get-to-know-you games, and developing early crushes on girls from our “sister floor.”

It reminds me of the insane, life-altering blur that was college: Plato, theology, dorm parties, Neil Postman, media ecology, liturgy, falling leaves, Dostoevsky, art galleries, C.S. Lewis, David Lynch, late night debates about Calvinism, taking the train to Chicago, jazz festivals, football games, roadtrips, and on and on and on.

Part of me envies the incoming freshman, coming to Biola (and universities across the country) this weekend to start the journey that will forever change the way they think about the world. I lament the fact that college goes by so fast and the crazy concentration of learning and living in community is, at the end of the day, the exception in life rather than the rule.

But then I realize that it’s silly to envy these new students, because the intellectual journey they’re beginning now is one that I’m still very much on. It’s not something that has to stop, or even slow down, after graduation. On the contrary. Just because I no longer have to read 300-page books in a day for a class, doesn’t mean that I won’t still want to read 300 page books in general, as often as I’m able to.

The mark of a good college is that it trains you to want to keep learning, to keep reading, and to keep broadening your experience and understanding of the world, long after the days of worrying about credits and GPA. Sure, the “real world” of earning a living sometimes makes it hard to continue one’s intellectual journey. After an 8-hour-day at work, it’s usually not the case that I feel like picking up The Brothers Karamazov. But when I do make the time to keep developing my mind and challenging my perspective, I never regret it.

To the new students who are nervous, excited, and overwhelmed by the beginning of college, I urge you to enjoy every second of it and make the most of your education. And to the graduates who look back nostalgically on the cherished “college days,” I remind you that education doesn’t end with a diploma.

The world is far too complex, troubled, beautiful and dynamic for us to ever just exist in. It beckons us to make sense of it. To carve at least some comprehension out of the vast incomprehensibility of existence. This is what education is about. For anyone who cares about the destiny of this world, education is a high calling: a pursuit without end that is never wholly futile and never fully satisfying.

To attain knowledge, think critically, and ask questions is to engage the world in all of its furious complexity and elusive mystery — a maddening endeavor, to be sure, but one that will never grow tiresome and certainly not be exhausted by 4 years of college… Awesome and unparalleled as those 4 years may be.

My Ultimate Christian Hipster Playlist

At the official Hipster Christianity book release party last Friday night in L.A., I wanted to set the ambiance by playing music that represented a thorough (though not comprehensive) selection of the best counter-cultural, indie, rebellious, and quirky Christian music of the past 50 years. Special thanks to my friends Zach Malm and Jason Newell for providing me with many of these tunes. Here’s the playlist in full and in more-or-less chronological order, from the 60s to contemporary.

  • Agape, “Rejoice”
  • All Saved Freak Band, “Sower”
  • Chuck Girard, “Anthem”
  • Larry Norman, “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus?”
  • Bob Dylan, “I Believe in You”
  • Crusaders, “God Lives”
  • Earthen Vessel, “Get High”
  • Love Song, “Welcome Back”
  • Malcolm and Alwyn, “Say It Like It Is”
  • Omni, “All For the One”
  • Parchment, “Green Psalm”
  • Springs of Joy, “Springs of Joy”
  • Dwayne Omarr, “Devastating Revelation”
  • The 77s, “The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes And The Pride Of Life”
  • Amy Grant, “Love Will Find a Way”
  • DC Talk, “That Kinda Girl”
  • Collective Soul, “Shine”
  • Over the Rhine, “And Can It Be”
  • Danielson, “Be Your Wildman”
  • Starflyer 59, “Do You Ever Feel That Way?”
  • Sunny Day Real Estate, “5/4”
  • Pedro the Lion, “When They Really Get to Know You They’ll Run”
  • Poor Old Lu, “Digging Deep”
  • The Prayer Chain, “Bendy Line”
  • Sixpence None the Richer, “Within a Room Somewhere”
  • Plankeye, “Someday”
  • Bon Voyage, “West Coast Friendship”
  • Viva Voce, “Heartstrings”
  • Dear Ephesus, “Simpleton Walks”
  • Switchfoot, “Sooner Or Later”
  • MxPx, “Doing Time”
  • DC Talk, “Jesus Freak”
  • Sixpence None the Richer, “Kiss Me”
  • Danielson Famile, “A No-No”
  • Pedro the Lion, “Big Trucks”
  • Jars of Clay, “Flood”
  • Over the Rhine, “Lucy”
  • Starflyer 59, “Fell in Love at 22”
  • Vigilantes of Love, “Resplendent”
  • Sufjan Stevens, “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!”
  • Half-handed Cloud, “Praise Awaits You”
  • Over the Rhine, “The World Can Wait”
  • Harrod and Funck, “Brian Wilson’s Room”
  • Jars of Clay, “Fade to Grey”
  • Sleeping at Last, “Slowly Now”
  • Danielson, “Did I Step On Your Trumpet?”
  • Derek Webb, “Wedding Dress”
  • Don Peris, “Your Friend”
  • Waterdeep, “Good Good End”
  • Innocence Mission, “Brotherhood of Man”
  • Rosie Thomas, “I Play Music”
  • Denison Witmer, “Ringing of the Bell Tower”
  • Sufjan Stevens, “Amazing Grace”

Anatomy of a Christian Hipster

Confused about what a Christian hipster looks like? Fear not. There are interactive photos on the official Hipster Christianity website designed to describe (in great detail) what Christian hipsters look like. Click on the images below to find out more.

“The Artistic Searcher” – One of the most common types of Christian hipsters, the Artistic Searcher is the person whose deep spirituality manifests itself in the dark room and on GarageBand. They are poets, painters, writers, musicians, designers and creators who see themselves as image bearers of the Creator and thus charged with the task of incarnationally concocting and enjoying culture. Frequently art majors at evangelical colleges whose intellectual life was rocked by That One Art History Professor Freshman Year, these Christian hipsters usually undergo dramatic shifts in their views of art between the ages of 18 and 25. They grew up loving Thomas Kinkade-esque impressionism, later graduated to an affinity for abstract expressionism, and currently enjoy installation or video art by the likes of Tim Hawkinson and Matthew Barney. But mostly they just like to create–not didactically or in ways that are obviously “Christian,” but in ways that are subversive and individual and a true reflection of that ineffable, Chestertonian sense of “divine discontent.”

“The Frugal Collegians” – A huge number of Christian hipsters are college students or newly graduated wayfarers. Birthed in vast quantity on the campuses of Christian colleges, these sorts of Christian hipsters embody that newbie, activist spirit of “just now discovering that I can be Christian and care about the poor.” Because they are jobless or saddled with school loans, their hipster evolution has yet to reach advanced stages of Fred Segal materialism. Instead, it’s mostly conceptual. With one foot in their old Baptist youth group and the other on the unsteady terrain of viewing missions through the lens of post-colonialism, these kids are horizon-broadened, foundation-shaken and mind-blown on a daily basis, as they encounter such things as genocide, non-western plumbing, or Camus for the first time in their lives. All the while they are learning to live lives of unconventionality–dabbling in post-legalism rebellion and vice (cheap alcohol and tobacco mostly) while figuring out how to sustain a more authentic and substantial Christianity than the feeble religion of their upbringing.

“The Monied Yuppies” – Typically in their late 20s or early 30s, the Monied Yuppies are the types of Christian hipsters that gladly open their well-appointed homes for house churches or small groups (serving expensive wine or whiskey cocktails for each such occasion). More established in their tastes and less susceptible to fickle trends, these arts-patrons will not hesitate to pony up $100 to see Sufjan Stevens play Carnegie Hall. They eat well, drink well, love concerts, and attend churches with Vegan options at potlucks. More than likely they’ve thrown a Mad Men 60s-themed party or been involved in a discussion group for a book by Donald Miller, G.K. Chesterton or N.T. Wright. Gleefully at home in Anthopologie or Crate and Barrel, these stylish hipsters are highly recruited by the pastors of wannabe hip churches seeking young, culturally-savvy congregations that also have money to tithe.

“The Bookish Intellectual” – Usually a grad student and/or hardcore lifetime learner, this erudite iteration of the Christian hipster priortizes the life of the mind over the life of the wardrobe (though make no mistake: every inch of their appearance is carefully calculated in that patented “I’m a philosopher so don’t have time to look in a mirror” sort of way). Thoroughly conversant in all manner of mid-century Christian existentialism (Tillich, Bultmann, etc), the Bookish Intellectual is a frequent user of such words as “Other,” “problematize,” “ecclesiology,” and “historicity.” Typically well-traveled (semesters in Oxford or Berlin most likely) and impressively well-read (or at least impressively well aware of all the right books), this is the type of hipster who thrives anytime serious thought is given to just about anything. Is there a theology of corned beef and cabbage? Probably not, but the idea excites the Bookish Intellectual. They live and breathe implications… whether it be the cadence of words in their Anglican church’s liturgy, a feminist reading of McGee and Me, or the eschatological significance of the rise of Twitter. It’s all worthy of inquiry.

“Hipster Christianity” on Video

For those unsure about whether or not you’d like to read my new book Hipster Christianity, the following are a few audio visual resources that might give you a taste of what I’m trying to do with the book:

A “book trailer” produced by

A “video review” of the book by Rachel Held Evans:

And then there’s this interview on The 700 Club… in which I explain how hipsters are similar to “hepcats.” (My part of the show begins around 13:30.)

Enjoy! And don’t forget to check out my piece on hipster Christianity in the Wall Street Journal tomorrow!

Marketing a Noncommercial Message

The church today has a weakness for numbers. We are infatuated with measurements and quantified data: statistics, opinion polls, market research, attendance figures, bestseller lists, budgets, and so on. We want specific numbers so we can keep tabs on things like market saturation, return on investment, and consumer satisfaction. We want to monitor what the masses are buying, where the people are flocking, and what is hot right now, so that perhaps our warehouse churches will overflow with seeker-consumers. In other words, the church today operates like a corporation, with a product to sell and a market to conquer.

But what happens to our faith when we turn it into a product to sell? What does it mean to package Christianity in a methodical manner so as to make it salient to as wide an audience as possible? What does Christianity lose when it becomes just one piece of a consumer transaction? These are questions that the brand managers of “cool Christianity” would do well to consider. …

Let’s think for a minute about what Christianity is and why it doesn’t make a good “product.” For one thing, products must be subject to markets, yet God is not subject to the consumer needs or wants of any market. God only and ever deals on his own terms. … Another reason why Christianity doesn’t make a good product is that it doesn’t lend itself to an easy commercial sale. Sure, there are appealing things about it, but there are also not-so-appealing things about it (um… taking up one’s cross, avoiding sin and worldliness, etc.). And although the Gospel is wonderfully simple in the sense that even a child can recognize its truth, it is also mind-blowingly complex in a way that doesn’t lend itself to thirty-second jingles. Marketing requires simplifying, cutting out all friction and obstacles to a sale, and focusing solely on the beneficial, feel-good aspects of a product. To market something is to empty it of all potentially controversial or difficult elements, which is maybe not the best method of communicating the gospel…

Read the rest of this excerpt (from Chap. 13, “Reversing the Ripple Effect,” of Hipster Christianity) over at Q Ideas Blog.

“Now … This”

In my brain this week, things that have been mediated to me and/or processed through technology include: the oil well sealed, Snooki’s astonishing orange glo, creepy Glen on Mad Men, Prop 8 struck down, Arcade Fire live from Madison Square Garden, Chelsea Clinton getting married, Facebook photos of my baby niece and nephew, Anne Rice quitting Christianity, Netflix film that I can’t even remember, and Pat Robertson’s son asking me about “hepcats” on the 700 Club. Not to mention the many ichats, skype chats, text conversations and phone calls that are too numerous to even recall.

Are all these things created equal? I don’t think so. But the way everything is collapsed into a flattened plane of multi-tasking and live-feed updates these days, it’s getting harder and harder to separate the important from the merely diversionary. This week I had profound conversations on AIM with friends, even while I was opening windows and watching news clips about zebra-donkey hybrids. I was writing an email while getting distracted by a Tweet I saw about a bus in China that drives over cars (it’s awesome) and trying to read a NYTimes article about a Korean filmmaker I recently discovered. A few days later, I can’t remember much of any of it, or why it was worth my time.

I recently wrote an article for Q Ideas on the topic of infotainment, in which I described the blurry lines we now see between what is newsworthy and “important” and what is merely trivial and something to be consumed with no strings attached. You can check that article out here.

The whole thing sort of reminds me of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he describes (among other things) the way that television has contributed to the fragmentary nature of media consumption in which we get this bit AND then this bit, but with little WHY to go along with any of it. He writes:

“Now, this. . .” is commonly used on radio and television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see. The phrase is a means of acknowledging the fact that the world as mapped by the speeded-up electronic media has no order or meaning and is not to be taken seriously. There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly—for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening—that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, “Now . . . this.” The newscaster means that you have thought long enough on the previous matter (approximately 45 seconds), that you must not be morbidly occupied with it (let us say, for ninety seconds), and that you must now give your attention to another fragment of news or a commercial.

In America particularly, we are obsessed with the “next.” We want to get something done and move on to the next thing. Perhaps this is why we consume media at such a breakneck speed and with such dizzying efficiency. But what does this do to our ability to 1) dwell on something for a long period of time, 2) discern what is worth thinking about and what isn’t, and 3) value depth rather than breadth?

In my own life, I am tempted to want to think about an idea, maybe writing something about it, and then move on to the next thing. I’m tempted to approach reading books this way–reading them, writing in them and enjoying them, but then checking them off a list and moving on. But is this a good thing? Last week I read The Divine Milieu by Teilhard de Chardin, Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver and “No Exit” by Sarte. They were all immensely provocative and interesting, and I’d love to think about them more. But I’ve already moved on to the next thing (To Change the World by James Davison Hunter). There is just so much in the world I need to read. So much to experience.

But I worry that our desire for “more” (and our ability to get more) has decreased our appetite for understanding and making connections. Oh to make connections! Oh to understand “why” rather than just “and!” Perhaps what we really need (what I really need) is to stop adding to the pile and start making sense of what’s already been consumed.

But you’ve read enough of this one simple blog post for now. Time to move on to the next thing.

Thoughts on the Release of Hipster Christianity

Five summers ago, I was a just-out-of-college intern for the C.S. Lewis Foundation, working on the Oxbridge ’05 conference in Oxford and Cambridge. It was one of the most enchanting, life-changing summers of my life. On top of the many brilliant lectures I heard in Oxford and Cambridge, I had dozens of conversations over pints and pipes—at pubs at 2 in the morning, after an evensong service in some magical cathedral, or in the garden of The Kilns (C.S. Lewis’ home in Oxford).  These were the conversations that sparked the first true ideas that would eventually become Hipster Christianity. When I got back home later that summer, I wrote “A New Kind of Hipster” for Relevant. Five years later, Hipster Christianity is out in stores (as of today, Aug. 1—the official release date).

It’s a strange and wonderful feeling–to see one’s idea come to fruition. I never really thought during the summer of 2005 that I’d write a book about hipster Christianity, but I’m glad I did. Looking back I marvel at how it all came together, how so many of my experiences and interactions and relationships all fed into this idea, and how the people in my life during this season were so absolutely instrumental in the whole endeavor.

Thank you to all of them. Thank you to everyone who has read this blog, participated in the conversation, and accompanied me on this intellectual journey. Thank you for bearing with the endless barrage of “hipster this” and “hipster that.” When a subject consumes your mind and vocation for the better part of 2 years, it tends to consume your discourse. I promise that in coming months–and especially as I begin work/research on the next book project–new topics and discussions will start to take place on this blog.

That said, the issues at play in Hipster Christianity will still continue to be a passion of mine, because they will still continue to be issues for the church. Christianity (particularly western, evangelical Christianity) is at something of a crossroads, and our identity–the question of who we are to be for the world–is open to many interpretations. Everyone’s got an idea of what Christianity should be (Missional! Emergent! Conservative! Progressive! Post-colonial!…), but part of what I argue in Hipster Christianity is that we need to cool it a bit on the whole “how can we change Christianity to be more current/relevant” thing. We need to instead focus our attention on being a biblical, gospel-centered people whose attractiveness to the world is the result of the Spirit’s edifying work within us, not a result of our Tru Religion jeans, $600,000 sound system, or tasty shade-grown coffee served in the vestibule.

Any author hopes that his words will in some way make a difference–and in my case I hope and pray that the book will reach the right readers and stir in their hearts and minds some questions and convictions about what drives us to be “cool” and whether or not that’s a good thing for us, both as individual Christians and collectively as the church.

I hope you all read the book and find it encouraging, informative, provocative, and fair.  If you do, please share it with others, or write a review on Amazon or something like that (sorry- couldn’t resist!). Or just enjoy the book and think about its ideas, and maybe discuss it in some sort of productive way in whatever community you find yourself.

On this day, I think it’s only fitting to give C.S. Lewis the last word, since my book really started (literally) in his backyard. He gave an address at King’s College in London in 1944 called “The Inner Ring,” in which he talked about the dangers of the universal desire to be an insider rather than outsider (to be hip rather than not). I wrote an essay about Lewis’ thoughts about the desire to be an “Inner Ringer” for the Image blog recently, which you can read here. But here is a fairly lengthy (but meaty) excerpt from Lewis’ own words in the lecture:

If you want to be made free of a certain circle for some wholesome reason—if, say, you want to join a musical society because you really like music—then there is a possibility of satisfaction. You may find yourself playing in a quartet and you may enjoy it. But if all you want is to be in the know, your pleasure will be short lived. The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic.Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humour or learning or wit or any of the things that can really be enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow’s end will still be ahead of you. The old ring will now be only the drab background for your endeavor to enter the new one.

And you will always find them hard to enter, for a reason you very well know. You yourself, once you are in, want to make it hard for the next entrant, just as those who are already in made it hard for you. Naturally. In any wholesome group of people which holds together for a good purpose, the exclusions are in a sense accidental. Three or four people who are together for the sake of some piece of work exclude others because there is work only for so many or because the others can’t in fact do it. Your little musical group limits its numbers because the rooms they meet in are only so big. But your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.

And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.