Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Hipster dis-Cred

I’m confused, not hip.

I’m confused on the one hand because some, but not all, of the things I read about so-called ‘hipster’ Christianity ring true for me.

What makes a church a “hipster church”? Does it have a one-word name that is either a Greek word or something evocative of creation? Does the pastor frequently use words like kingdom, authenticity, and justice, and drop names like N. T. Wright in sermons? Does the church advertise a gluten-free option for Communion? If the answer is yes to all of those questions, chances are that it’s a hipster church. (Brett McCracken, “Hipster Faith”, Christianity Today, September, 2010)

I answer yes to some of these questions, but not all. Somewhere a few years ago, I took an online ‘hipster quiz’, an unhip thing to do, and scored 78/120. Not sure what that makes me.

I wear sandals, so suspicions are quickly raised. But I wear them because 30 years ago I met a very square and un-hip Scottish pastor who wore sandals and they looked (and are) comfortable. Sandals are hip, but so are the oft mentioned ‘skinny jeans’, and whatever those are I’m sure I’m not going to wear them. Goatees are hip, but they make one look sinister.

The Coen’s are interesting and often brilliant, but they have their lapses. (That’s hip to say!) Wes Anderson is beyond mystifying. (Not hip.) I love liturgy and literary fiction. Mumford and Sons is on my play list and I believe the kingdom certainly includes elements of social justice. (All fit the hip profile.) But I can’t cuss very well, much less in a sermon, I don’t like beer, and, as a Twitter post commented yesterday, intinction works better for cookies and milk than for bread and wine. (Not very hip). And a ‘gluten free option’? Simply sounds loving rather than ‘hip’.

I thought about this the other day when I decided to retire another element of possible hipster cred. After having completed the massive bio of Winston Churchill (The Last Lion) I moved on to read the popular fiction of David Balducci. Terribly unhip. Perhaps that stirred the hipster demon in me, for after finishing Balducci I had this uncontrollable urge to read Flannery O’Connor. Flan and I started out well, but the more she spoke the harder it became for me to grasp what she was saying. It dawned on me that I was reading her because I thought I was supposed to. Cool pastors read and quote NT Wright AND Flannery O’Connor, I guess. But not this one. Not now, anyway.

I certainly hope I’m not trying to be hip by claiming to be unhip. It can become all very mystifying.

I’d finish by quoting a pop music lyric (a hip thing to do) but the lyrics I’m most familiar with are over 40 years old. Not hip.

Oh heck (a hip pastor would have phrased that more strongly), I’m going to do it anyway:

But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.
(Rick Nelson, “Garden Party”, 1972)

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10 Comments

  1. Good luck parsing the varieties of hipster sensibility … but, don’t give up on O’Connor. Try her letters.

  2. Saying that you liked something (i.e. sandals) before other people did is a very hipster thing to do. Just sayin’

    • Unless of course its country music. To like country music before others probably doesn’t work. 🙂

      • Well, it depends on the kind of country music. If it’s old school bluegrass or honkey tonk, you might be good. Pop country, however, will never be hipster-fashionable.

        On another note, whenever I see the Metaxas biography of Bonhoeffer sitting there in my Kindle app, I’m reminded of your negative review and go on to something else instead. I suppose I should read it for myself some day though.

      • Negative crusade is probably more accurate. How hip of me to take on the entire evangelical establishment… 😉 I’d really be interested in what you think. I sometimes think I’ve lost a few screws not to be enamored with it as others are.

        • I’m not sure if I’m the best judge or not since as it is, I tend to be the one who reads whatever happens to be the “in” book only to end up hating it. I am interested in reading it though, because Bonhoeffer is such a fascinating person. Maybe if I can quickly make it through the 600ish pages about conserving jaguars and macaws in Belize that I need to read over break I’ll finally be able to get to it.

      • Seth Greenwald

        Every subculture has its hipster element, even Country Music. As Katherine said, old school country would be the ticket. And pointing out the fact that you are intimately familiar with something that has passed its heyday, a hipster MUST, is popular among anyone who needs to feel better about themselves by claiming such knowledge as intrinsic proof that they aren’t just better listened(or read or culinarily informed or any other thing), they are better people.

        All this, while tongue in cheek(and quite funny…), saddens me to some degree. It’s evidence that we are all shackled to prejudice, and when we abandon one set, we invent new ones. I’ve known Hipsters who are truly beautiful in their ability to look past skin color and social status, supremely generous in their care for those in need, who will look at you sideways if you admit that you like Amberbock, instead of the tiny small-batch craft brewery in Portland. And that if you go to(let alone LIKE) Starbucks, your coffee connisuer card is immediately revoked.

        Come quickly, Lord Jesus, the only one of us to never once cling to prejudice.

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