Your Online Cup of Tea
I was recently approached by someone who let me in on some peculiar events at home. My friend, who I’ll call Claudette, mother of three, lives with her husband and family at a high end flat in New York. Days are filled with either work, after school activities, fancy nights out for meals and galas or visits from friends. With such busy lives and packed schedules, waking up early on the weekend to go to some building with poor heating, is the last thing on Claudette’s mind. Even as a child, going to Church was something that only happened during Christmas. And only to keep Nana happy. Now with a house of her own, Claudette felt like the old traditions were no longer necessary. Which is why the most recent development came about as a quite a shock. As of late, quarrels between Claudette and her oldest Sarah (17), had been so frequent as to be almost predictable. Naturally, when she would disappear on early Sunday mornings, Claudette thought it was to see a boy.
“I confronted her about it, but she wouldn’t listen. So sneakily I decided to follow her one Sunday. And I was right, it was a boy. Except they weren’t going to the cinema or off behind the tree in some park. They were going to Church!” What’s more is that Claudette had found copies of “The Purpose Driven Life” as well as a Bible by Sarah’s desk. I spoke with her daughter soon after to ask about her new found interest in religion. The response I got was fairly surprising.
“At first it was just about annoying my mom. Going to parties and getting drunk or getting a tattoo seemed a little overplayed. She would expect something like that. I wanted to be different. So I figured out one day, hey if you want to be a rebel in today’s culture, be a Christian!”
Hearing this I was probably not as shocked as I should have been. Sarah’s response echoed what seems to be a growing trend in Hipster crowds. Religion. And not just any Religion, but Christianity. “It’s so out, that it’s in” said another teen that I spoke to, “well, at least for us in the underground movement.” The way he spoke, you would think Christians in America are living in catacombs. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a cultural shift away from the traditional Judeo-Christian worldview. In favor of a more postmodern pluralism founded upon secular interests. Christianity is certainly not out, but even in the good ol’ South, things are beginning to change. But this? This was unexpected. Since about 2011, Churches have been having an influx of Hipsters looking for the latest uncool-cool thing. These Hipsters are trading in scarfs for head scarfs. And concert wrist bands for WWJDs. “The other day my friend Facebooked me, asking if I was JWalkin down town later. I was confused, but after explaining what he meant I just texted back “Bro it’s November, I’m not wearing sandals.”
Surprisingly, amongst the Protestant hipsters, Non-Denoms are not seen as hipster enough. These guys are not following popular figures such as Joel Osteen or Rob Bell. And Unlike the earlier Emergent Church Hipsters who brought their postmodern values to the faith, the newbies tended more towards the traditional and for stronger theological literacy. Two things which modern day pop culture, to them, seems to be lacking in.
“If I can get Starbucks in Church, then it’s not for me,” said Ashley Thomson (24), an Engineering graduate from Ohio, in speaking about her former assembly. She currently attends a predominantly African-American Church in Chicago. To put it in her own words, she likes her Gospel, the same way she likes her coffee.
Interestingly the Christian groups that seem to be having the greatest influx of Hipsters, are obscure even in American Christendom. But not so different as to not be clearly identified with the faith. The top three being the SSPX Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Presbyterians. Orthodoxy in particular has the appeal of being exotic and going back to the roots of the church. “The original counter-culturals” as some in the movement are saying. Russian Orthodoxy, having a name connoting an obvious cultural disassociation is especially popular with the Hipsters. The most striking example I know, is of a colleague’s son Timothy Hamilton (18). From a strongly GOP and Southern Baptist household, born and raised in Florence South Carolina, he was the poster boy for the “all-american”, football playing, apple pie eating boy. Ever since, converting to Orthodoxy two years ago, Timothy, now Spassimir, eats Borshct for Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Apparently Timothy refuses to pledge allegiance to the flag except on “special occasions.” “Look, I’m just exercising my freedom as an American” he said, wearing a “Home is where the Kremlin is” t-shirt.
“His room is plastered with Putin and Icons” said his father, “But I think right now Putin is winning.” One positive for my colleague is that Timothy has been spending more time with his grandmother. Or “Babushka” as he likes to call her.
Pastor Mark of First Baptist Avondale NY, whose congregation is one third Hipster calls the initial conversion phase the “the cage stage.” As in, “they ought to be locked in a cage until they’ve calmed down. And are better educated in their faith.” While the new comers are certainly welcome, “sometimes people go too far, like trying to speaking KJV English with a Hebrew accent. It just sounds like a bad New Jersey impression” says Pastor Mark.
“Look,” said Tim (28), one of the newly converted hipsters at First Baptist, “If the KJV was good enough for Jesus and the Apostles, it’s good enough for me.”
Tim is very vocal about his opinions
Even the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) a smaller and more conservative end of Presbyterianism, had their own handfuls. At a 2013 annual OPC conference, some hipsters caused a stir with what was meant to be a stall advertising their new Theology programme. Named “Bahnsen Babes” after the late Greg Bahnsen, they were reprimanded for what was seen as an inappropriate title. “Babes as in babies,” said Cindy Milldew (24), “As Peter says “babes in Christ” since our programme is for women who are new to Reformed Theology. But whatever, I should have known not to expect those too deep in mainstream culture, in the world, to get it.” They later renamed their programme “Footsteps: Walking with the Lord”. But then again to just “Footsteps”, when an argument broke out among the Hipster crew about whether or not it implied works salvation.
In Catholicism, Hipster fascination with Pope Francis had led to their increase. This affinity was soon after mixed with criticism to form what is now a love hate relationship with the Church. As the Hipsters, taking interest in Catholic history demanded that the Mass and the Church be returned to its pre-Vatican II conditions. According to Fr. Morris of Our Lady’s Cathedral, Confession has become their medium of complaint. “I’ll be sitting there when some guy will come along and say “I need forgiveness. Last Sunday I cursed you out in my head for singing from the Gather Hymnal… again. It’s fine Father but change is good. Unless it’s about tradition. Then it’s bad.”” The growing numbers have meant that Mass times have had to almost double. While admiring their zeal, like Pastor Mark, Fr Morris thinks they need calm down. “Look I get it, you want more Latin and don’t like the Novus Ordo. But telling me that from your pew during Mass is not on.”
Ironically, many of these Hipsters have formed a new crowd akin to the ones they rejected. Except this time on the Church scene. Sociologist and Theologian Edward Jeweller calls it the “Loaves and Fish” syndrome. So named after the incidents recorded in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Where a great crowd followed Jesus after the miracle of multiplying their food. However Jesus Himself said to them “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill (John 6:29).” Caring about him for the wrong reasons, they left when his preaching go uncomfortable (John 6:66).
This alarming rate of anti-fad, fad hipsters, joining churches was quelled a little bit after a former viral video resurfaced. The video titled “Shocking Youth Message”, called out thousands of people at a youth rally to stop faking their faith. The most iconic part of the message was when the preacher told the audience “not to be like the world, and not to be like the great majority of American Christians, but to be like Jesus Christ!” This was met with a great applause from the approving crowd. The most awkward silence followed as the preacher pointed back at them saying “I don’t know why you’re clapping, I’m talking about you *awkward silence* I didn’t come here to get amens. I didn’t come here to be applauded. I’m talking about you.”
The impact on the hipster buzz was certainly felt after this video. And like all fads, things eventually started to die down. Those who never really cared for it left. But there is still a steady stream of hipsters, with an average of up to 25% retention rate after 2 years. Those who pass this mark tend to have genuine interest in the faith they’ve pursued. One such case is that of Johnny Homefield (22), a Philosophy and Music major from Michigan. “I’ve really come to have an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ,” says Johnny, “He’s changed my life and now I can’t live without him.” Johnny turned up one night at a Christian youth event and noticed how all his friends hated it. But to spite them, still feeling sore about a recent break up and related incidents, he continued to attend. Hanging out with a new group of people that he met there. At first the new persona made him feel empowered, before he realised how empty it was. Then one night, he decided to pay attention during service and “Now I really am a different person!” says Johnny. When asked about whether or not he went through a cage phase, he told me that a naturally shy predisposition prevented it. In general he was still the same Johnny, but different in “ways that mattered.”
“I would say that probably, the most obvious in your face difference is my music. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be a Beatles fan till the day I die. But lately I’ve been filling my ears with Hillsong United. You’ve probably never heard of them.”
For many, the Hipsters are having a hard time mixing the evangelistic mandate of their new found faith, with the chic, non-mainstreamness that attracted them too it in the first place. Since if more people come to faith, it’ll be mainstream again. Johnny, however, is confident that even if that happened, it wouldn’t change anything. “I love God,” he says, “And either way, I was here before it was cool.”
The hipster movement has indeed resurrected a lot of strange fads. But maybe God is working through it in mysterious ways, to resurrect many people back to Himself?