Progressive Counter-Culture or Lagging Subculture: that is the question

When I think of Jesus, I think of a revolutionary.  He was completely different from anything the world had ever seen; we can only imagine how utterly flabbergasting he must have been for his own culture.  He spoke differently, thought differently, and acted differently from all those around him, and from how he was “supposed” to speak, think, and act.  He was simply on a different plane.

He was the definition of counter-cultural.  He did not live by and large by cultural norms and merely make a few alternative life choices – who he was and how he lived was wholly counter to what his culture expected of him, and he lived into that purposely.  He wanted to be different from his culture, and to get people’s attention for how he was different.  He wanted to shake things up.  He was ahead of the rest of humanity in how he understood things, and he wanted to help us catch up.  He led a progressive, counter-cultural movement from the start.

Which brings me to the Christianity of today.  Are we still a part of a progressive counter-culture?  Are we pushing the envelope, thinking in unique and creative ways that are beyond the culture around us?  Are we, as followers of the greatest revolutionary in history, pushing our friends and neighbors toward a new way of thinking, speaking, and acting?  Are we subversively challenging the cultural norms that exist in our day, stripping them down to the core of what they communicate about what is good, what is valuable, what is true – and speaking a new word?

Or are we just coasting along, happy to ride the current cultural waves, hopefully spreading some kindness or joy around us while we coast down this monstrous cultural river, but avoiding any uncomfortable commentary on whether we are riding in the right direction?

Do you see where I’m going?  Jesus never once got comfortable with his culture; he was constantly challenging it, disrupting it, and upsetting the status quo, because he saw all of the injustice, the inequities, and the hurt within.  So he worked to correct it, to call it out, and to live out a new way alongside the dominant cultural way.

But it seems that often we want to be anything but counter-cultural.

I think we just got tired.  Too many arrogant windbags have given the notion of being counter-cultural a bad name.  To them, being counter-cultural was standing up in front and blasting any who disagreed with them, as if being counter-cultural was all about believing you’re right all the time.  It was always a fight in this model; the “good” Christians were always calling the rest of culture “bad,” when all the time we knew there was much good in it, and we weren’t all good.  And it got ugly, and our hypocrisy became evident.  And it was nasty.  In the end, maybe we just fatigued of the fighting and the ugliness and we just long for peace.

Peace with our neighbors.  Peace with culture.  Peace with the environment.  Peace in the Middle East.  Peace with those who disagree with us.  We know Jesus was a revolutionary but we also remember he was the embodiment of love and forgiveness, and we want to follow that Jesus for a while.  We’d like to live as a part of the culture and stop worrying about it being “bad” for a while.

I get it, and I’m there with you.  But what happens when a culture designed to be counter-cultural stops being counter-cultural?  It becomes a sub-culture within the dominant culture, and daily looks more and more like that dominant culture.  In our case we become a lagging subculture at that, since we are still slow to adopt many of the ideals and practices of the dominant culture, knowing in our hearts this culture is not what it is supposed to be, and we are not who we are supposed to be when we live compliantly within it.

So there has to be a third way: a way that appreciates the good in our culture without needing to constantly blast the evil in it, but also one that seeks to live counter-culturally, living revolutionary lives that are different from those around us because we follow Jesus, who hates injustice.

I long to live out that third way.  I long to celebrate the good in our culture and ignore the bad.  And I long to be counter-cultural, even subversive in the face of what the dominant culture expects me to be, and how it expects me to think and speak and act.  Of course I long to do this in a much more thoughtful way than the “windbags” I referenced above, but I do long to follow my revolutionary leader and be different.  Even though I’m sick of the fighting.  Even though I want peace.

Here’s why: I think staying true to who Jesus calls us, his Church, to be is more vital than maintaining some imaginary sense of cultural peace.  Even more importantly I believe that a subversive counter-cultural movement doing life differently, with love and hope and joy in the center of that life, will do more to change the world than any amount of “getting along” or “going with the flow.”

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