01 June 2017


The desk of a serious blogger.
When Judy was director of financial aid at Wilmington College in Ohio, she had a Garfield poster on the back of her office door. Garfield was in suit and tie and was carrying a briefcase. His bright green sneakers illustrated the poster's caption: "Maturity is overrated."

Judy's job involved, among other things, handling millions of student aid and student loan dollars -- and she also had a staff to supervise, so maybe it was good that the poster was only visible when her door was closed! Federal auditors probably wouldn't have been able to see it.

I thought of that poster when I was reading Owen Strachan's blog post, "If Everyone’s a Visionary, Why Do We All Sound So Alike?" and his linked article, "The Kidification of America: On the Goodness of Maturity." To take the second text first, Strachan provides a lot of good food for thought. He exaggerates to make his points (something I never, ever, ever do) and there are some unexamined socioeconomic assumptions, but I totally support his main points: "... contra our narcissistic culture, you find yourself when you find God" and the church has a role to play in forming and modeling that maturity.

The blog post, "If Everyone's a Visionary, ..." is a bit snarkier, despite (correctly) criticizing a culture that uses snark in the service of its exhibitionism.
You may have a rebellious posture. You might affect a cynical, skeptical air. There may be no piece of received wisdom that you don’t slice and dice like a Master Chef. You may be–in your own mind–the living embodiment of the one who speaks truth to power. You may sneer at dress codes, break rules just to break them, and bend the truth just to see it strain against your will. You might broadcast your resistance on a daily basis, showing everyone how you bravely stand against The Man.


In truth, the idea of an actual outcast curating their image is amusing to ponder. Traditionally, the outcast has moved far from the mainstream; today, the self-styled outcast craves at an insatiable level the attention of cultural gatekeepers.

The path to authenticity isn't cultivating a fake image of alienation. Instead: "You mark yourself out in our time when you push away from self-branding, when you obey God in the power of Christ, when you die to yourself, when you embrace maturity."

I don't really have a serious argument with any of this; I just want to add some comments of my own, based on my own struggles against becoming a curmudgeonly observer of contemporary hip sense and nonsense.

First of all, I've mostly made my peace with the way people dress and decorate themselves, whatever their peculiar choices might be. Why should I criticize the self-expression of others, just because their modes of expression are outside the range of choices I make (or don't bother making) for myself? I try to extend the same patience to the way people express their opinions, although for me that's a much harder task. I will continue to argue that neither secular pundits nor Christian bloggers ought to use obscenities in their writing, for example, but that's not my hill to die on.

Since my own obvious hipness may seem to you the very definition of kidification, or alternately of aggressive offensiveness, it's great to promote a public conversation as Strachan has done. But as part of my struggle to take the apostle Paul's advice seriously in regarding others, I've deliberately adopted the discipline of questioning my own temptation to judge. Life is short; let people play!

Secondly, I'm sure that there is truth in Strachan's observations about the way people sneer and break rules and broadcast their resistance, but these apparent transgressions may not be solely in the service of showing off. In this world of personal and structural sin, there are good reasons to resist. The task is to learn how to resist in truly radical ways -- rooted in the public good, and ultimately in God, rather than in self-promotion.

That task, of learning and growing roots for fertile resistance is not the work of a day, and not a solo task. When young people, for example, are only starting to realize that the world is full of organized cruelty, who will be around them to confirm their observations ("You're not crazy. Thank God you care!") and teach them how to anchor their response in God and in mutual accountability to their community? If we are doing nothing to provide winsome access to such support, I suggest we avoid severe criticism of those who fake and flounder in their rebellion.

In my earliest days as a war resister, I had almost no idea of how deep the Christian roots of such resistance were. Then, during the Vietnam-era Moratorium movement, I went to an event that was billed as an anti-war meeting at the Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Evanston, Illinois. Having grown up in an atheist family, I found myself inside a church building for perhaps the first time in my life. Thank God some of the speakers made the links with Christian faith explicit; I'm sure it was part of the chain of events that led, four years later, to my conversion.

So far, I've agreed with many of Strachan's observations, and I have also defended right rebellion. My third point is that resistance that is rooted in a believing community ought to have evangelistic power. No matter how immature and exhibitionistic our hip rebels may seem to be, there is an element of truth in their expressions of alienation. They are right not to be at peace with the way things are; let's help them link that element of truth with the Truth we claim to be publishing.

I've written before about the anti-war protest in Portland, Oregon, in 2003, when a lone fundamentalist preacher was haranguing part of the crowd. As our Reedwood Friends Church banner came into view, I could hear people in the crowd saying "Thank goodness, the Quakers are here." I hope that, for some of the demonstrators, our presence was an affirmation of Christian witness, significantly different from the shaming message that they were getting from the fundamentalist prophet. In the best case, however, he would also have been included in the conversation.

Finally, a few words about submission, a feature of discipleship that is implied in Strachan's articles. Submission to God and to a trustworthy church community is of central importance in discipleship and is a great antidote to the snarky self-promotion he criticizes. But what makes a church trustworthy as a place to make submission real? I've seen my share of untrustworthy places, where authoritarianism rules, where (for example) nobody cares about how the word "submission" might sound to women and others at the traditional receiving end of demands to submit. Try as I might, I have no easy formulas and very few sweet experiences to report. What can you say?

Related earlier posts: An end to coercive Christianity; Faith and certainty 3.

More on connecting the dots (or not): questions for American churches who celebrate Memorial Day. Be sure to read the comments as well ... and, if led, respond to them.

Kenya's prayer train.

A conversation with Van Gessel, Shusako Endo's translator.

Yeast and Christian resistance. "So, though top leadership wants to disregard the health of the world, people at risk, and future generations, we can resist and live Kingdom lives now."

Zbigniew Brzezinsk, strategist and optimist. (Russian-language original.) And, while we're at it, David Frum writes about the death knell for America's global leadership.

Donald Trump has definitely lost Micael Grenholm.

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