Tag Archives: hipster

Heading Across the Pond

I’m leaving on Saturday on a “research”/“writing” trip to New York City, London, Oxford and Paris. The reason I’m going is threefold:

-I wanted to visit churches in New York City, London and Paris (probably the world’s three hippest cities) as part of my hipster church tour.
-I wanted to have a week in Oxford just to write.
-I needed new scenery and a summer vacation.

The coolest thing about my trip is that when I’m in Oxford, I will be staying at the Kilns—the quaint little English home of C.S. Lewis on the outskirts of the city. The house is owned by the C.S. Lewis Foundation, who I’ve been associated with for the last 4 years. The Foundation opens the home throughout the year to scholars and writers who need an inspiring place to get their work done. They call it the C.S. Lewis Study Centre.

Of course I feel completely lucky and spoiled that I’ll get to spend a week there—sleeping in the room where Lewis slept from 1930-1963. I’m immensely blessed to be able to write in the study where Lewis wrote the majority of his world-impacting texts. I only hope some of his brilliant, humble spirit will waft its way into my own hand as I write in that place. I don’t expect miracles—but Lewis would probably say that I should.

Anyway, I will be hopefully be updating my blog every few days throughout my time in Europe, wherever wifi is available. After my week in Oxford, I’ll be in London for a few days, and then in Paris for four days. So bon voyage, readers! Next time you hear from me will likely be Sunday night, from Brooklyn—where I’ll be writing from the cradle of hipster civilization.

“In” and “Out” is so 2009


I’ve been thinking a lot about trendiness of late (probably because I’m writing a book that deals largely with questions of cool, relevance, and trendiness in the context of Christianity). I’ve also been thinking about transience in general—impermanence, aging, death, things like that (probably because I just watched Synecdoche New York again). The two are related, of course. Nothing lasts in life—whether we’re talking about youth or our favorite TV show.

In my book I’m trying to locate “hip” in the context of metaphysics. How does the idea of being fashionable, cool, etc. correspond to our existence? We talk about it as a cultural construct all the time—and certainly this is important—but is it more elemental than that? Is the ephemeral in fashion and “cool” paralleled or derived from the ephemeral in our own very existence? In other words: is it a coincidence that 1) we all desire “cool,” 2) “cool” is necessarily an ever-changing, constantly cannibalizing phenomenon, and 3) we are all aware of death and the urgency of living?

Anyway, whether or not that makes complete sense or not, it got me thinking about the phrase “___ is the new ___.” It’s funny how fast something cool becomes old and is supplanted by something “new”… I mean, it’s like we acknowledge that we never really liked X all that much in the first place, now that we have Y. It’s like we are admitting that the reason we value something has nothing to do with its inherent qualities (our appreciation of which should theoretically withstand the winds of fashion) but everything to do with its cultural cache. But then again, perhaps we’re just being honest with ourselves: a scarf or musician or restaurant can never enchant us permanently, because as humans on this decaying planet we really only know how to deal in impermanence.

Anyway, that led me to think of some current examples of “___ is the new ___.”

Overplayed pop princesses: Lady Gaga is the new Rihanna

Healthy yuppie breakfast: Oatmeal is the new yogurt-and-granola

Confections: Macarons are the new cupcakes

High end icy desserts: Shave ice is the new Fro-yo

Hip hop beats: Exotic jungle bird sounds are the new 808s

Bearded hipster musicians: Dan Deacon is the new Sam Beam

Cable news-fueled paranoia: Swine flu is the new Recession

Sunglasses: John Lennons are the new Ray-Bans

NPR name dropping: Saying you hate waterboarding is the new saying you love Mad Men.

Hipster bars: Classy speakeasies are the new ironic biker dives

So what other examples can you think of?

Hipster Church Tour: Jacob’s Well

As part of the research for my book, I’ve been visiting churches all over the country over the past year—a tour of “America’s hippest churches,” you might say (though soon to expand to Europe as well). The goal is to gain a good bit of qualitative data on the subject I’m writing about, to understand firsthand how various church bodies are fitting in to this whole thing. I have stopped at dozens of churches in many states and talked with countless people, and every now and then on my blog I will describe in depth my various observations about these churches.

Keep in mind a few things: 1) I love Christians and have greatly enjoyed all the services I’ve visited. They are all genuinely worshiping God. 2) Calling these “hipster” churches does in no way elevate them above other churches nor does it denigrate them; It is not meant to be any sort of value judgment at all. “Hipster church” is simply a designation for a particular type of contemporary church that, above all classifying criteria, tends to attract large numbers of hipsters.

With that said, I’d like to start this series with Jacob’s Well—a church in Kansas City which exceptionally high hipster cred. Because I’m from Kansas City, I think it’s fitting to start this journey there.

Church Name: Jacob’s Well
Location: Kansas City, MO.
Head Pastor: Tim Keel

Summary: I’ve attended services at Jacob’s Well on three occasions, which is more than most of the churches I’ve visited (simply because I’m in Kansas City a lot). Jacob’s Well has been a fixture on the “emerging church” landscape since the early 00s, largely because pastor Tim Keel is on the board of directors for Emergent. It’s a church that feels totally new and fresh, but which upholds tradition and history and all things “vintage.” It’s a hipster church because it has a large, young hipster contingent in the audience, but also because it fits firmly within the hip tradition of usurping the establishment. As described by Christian Century, Jacob’s Well is “a rebuke to those churches that, in imitation of cutting-edge 1970s evangelicalism, deliberately strip themselves of historical symbols, creeds and practices in an effort to grow. [Jacob’s Well] is succeeding by moving in precisely the opposite direction.” For example, JW embraces things like read prayers, weekly communion (by intinction, and with the option of gluten-free bread!), and lectio divina. It’s all very mystery-minded and aesthetically pleasing.

Building: A formidable old Presbyterian structure from the 1930s, renovated but retaining many traditional and ancient elements like stained glass, pews, candles, and churchy vaulted ceilings. On one wall in the building you will see this quote from Stanley Hauerwas: “The work of Jesus was not a new set of ideals or principles for reforming or even revolutionizing society, but the establishment of a new community, a people that embodied forgiveness, sharing and self-sacrificing love in its rituals and discipline. In that sense, the visible church is not to be the bearer of Christ’s message, but to be the message.”

Congregation: Granted, I’ve only ever visited the evening (5:30pm) service, which probably skews especially young, but the JW congregation is remarkably youthful. There are some older people scattered throughout, but for the most part the crowd seemed college or twentysomething. Lots of guys with beards, girls with tattoos, and skinny jeans everywhere. Mix of yuppie-type hipsters and more organic, indie types. Not particularly high on the friendly-to-strangers scale, but twentysomethings rarely are. We all did hold hands for the last song, however, which was a cheerfully sung benediction.

Music: Led by worship pastor Mike Crawford, the Jacob’s Well band is youthful, loud, but worshipful. It seems less performance-oriented and more a facilitator of community singing, which is not to say that it isn’t good. It’s quality indie rock, and largely original. Crawford writes many of the songs himself, such as “Words to Build a Life On,” which features the lyric “Sing your freaking lungs out / Jesus Christ is King!” When they play the music of others, the JW band is more likely to do a Sufjan Stevens song during communion than any sort of “Jesus is my girlfriend” chorus. On one of the Sundays I visited, they played the Welcome Wagon version of the nineteenth century hymn “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,” mere weeks after the Welcome Wagon CD came out. Their style is a bit grungy, imperfect, and unpolished, in true hipster fashion. Slick, overproduced songs with crazy lighting and fog machines are nowhere to be found at Jacob’s Well.

Arts: Arts are huge at Jacob’s Well. There are frequent gallery shows displaying the art and photography of the congregation. During worship services, the congregation is encouraged to take one of the “community journals” to write doodles, art, prayer, thoughts, or poems, as they sit through the service.

Technology: Like most hipster churches, technology is important at Jacob’s Well, but not in an over-the-top way. They do encourage texting in questions or ideas, and the church has a large online presence (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc).

Neighborhood: The heavily hipster midtown Kansas City area—near Brookside and Westport. Lots of artists, bohemians, and Democrats in the area. Far from suburbia, which is important.

Preaching: One interesting thing about the preaching at Jacob’s Well is that the speaker preaches on the floor, at eye level—not elevated on stage or behind a pulpit—in a conversational style. The preacher invites comments and questions from the audience throughout the sermon, steering the sermon according to where the congregational conversation goes. On one of the Sundays I visited, the topic of the sermon was child sex abuse—a topic rarely discussed in church but which is a problem made all the worse because “we let dark places remain dark.”

Quote from pulpit: “We at Jacob’s Well are trying to move away from a belief-centered community to a practice-centered community.”

Quote from website: “Jacob’s Well doesn’t have a mission; it is mission.”