In my teen years, I wanted to be “cool”. I wanted to dress the right way, say the right lingo, be with the right people. Being cool meant acceptance, acceptance meant security, security meant not getting pushed around or pushed aside. And hopefully, all of that exhausting work would mean that these people could reflect back to me that I was ok, acceptable.
But I was definitely not a Cool Kid. For so many reasons.
I won’t get into that (because YIKES), but looking back, I learned a goldmine of lessons in my years of being an Uncool Kid. I learned empathy. I learned that not everything needs to be seen by people to be valuable. I learned that there is always more to people than meets the eye. I learned that everyone has a story and that not everyone is as happy or as perfect as they look. The foundations for my entire relationship with God were laid in those years. I know now that I would not be the same person had I not struggled, had I not lived on the outskirts of my micro-culture.
Those same formative years of mine were spent in youth group in the early 2000s when Christian culture was obsessed with being the Cool Kids. You can take almost any logo, song, movie or pop culture soundbite from that era and find a “Christianized” version of it. I mean, someone probably found a way to make “wasssaaaaap” about the Ascension or something, and there’s some real (embarrassing) goodness in this list of t-shirts alone.
The more I think about that era however, the more I realize that there has been some form of this mentality in American Christianity for quite some time. I see this need in Evangelical Christian culture to assert themselves in pop culture; to take what has become the identity of the world around us and in some ways say, “we can do that too!”
I think it probably started as some form of evangelizing; relating to the world around us by speaking their language, being “in the world but not of it”. I don’t think there is anything wrong with enjoying or partaking in pop culture, the Christian-y and secular versions of it alike. You’ll definitely find me over here drinking kombucha, wearing ripped jeans, and not judging anyone for their taste in music.
But the defensiveness that I see when mainstream Christian culture is rejected is a problem. It tells me that all this is not so much about reaching the world as it is taking it over; a fear of becoming irrelevant and a desire to have the upper hand. Someone mocks a movie like War Room or God’s Not Dead on a late-night talk show? You’ll see scathing memes (created by Christians) about Hollywood, Atheists, and other “bad guys”, circulating on Facebook for years.
There is no humility. There is no turning the other cheek. There is only more retaliation, more enemies made, more building separate communities; the type of kingdoms that Christ never intended us to build.
Here’s the thing, friends. Part of what we signed up for when becoming Christians was to be misunderstood, to be a minority, to be mistreated. And to follow the way of Jesus joyfully anyway.
I know that God’s heart is that all would know Him, that His table would be big; His family extended and growing and not a minority. This is kind of a side tangent, but I truly believe that Christ is already in the communities we are trying to reach. However, we will never see Him there if we try to erase or belittle the community or cultures that don’t look “Christian” enough. Get to know people. Lean in and ask questions and listen. Let your eyes be opened to where the Spirit has been moving long before you got there. God has already made Himself known there, I guarantee it. Find out where you can humbly join in the Spirit’s established work instead of assuming that you are starting from scratch or that the love of these people was your idea.
Instead of doing this humbly though, I think we have gone about it pretty tragically. Instead of turning the other cheek, we have fought back. Instead of leaning in, we have lashed out. Where we should pursue peace, we all too often pursue power. We are still Peter in the garden, hacking with swords and getting it so utterly wrong.
We have made enemies of the people we are called to love unto death because they hurt our feelings.
I used to think that persecution for the Christian faith was something people in America faced on a regular basis. Kids getting made fun of for praying at school, laughter from passersby at public faith events, unfair coverage in the media, or ridiculous portrayal of Christians in movies and on TV.
I don’t know specifically what it was that switched it for me (I think it was partly a greater awareness of what other Christians face globally), but I started to see things in a different light. Christianity is the majority religion in this country. Kids get to pray openly at school. Christians are able to hold public faith events and celebrate their belief loudly without fear of imprisonment. There is a large enough Christian population to be covered in the media at all. And writers in Hollywood have encountered enough ridiculous Christians to have material to share consistently in movies and on TV.
That part should upset us in an entirely different way.
I read a scripture about persecution recently, Matthew 24:9, where Jesus describes His second coming and the “end of the age”. He says, “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and killed, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name.”
It occurred to me that frequently, here in America, any hatred we experience is not for carrying the name of Jesus, but because we look so little like the One we claim to love.
I get a little anxious writing those words. But I believe them down to my core, and it is because I love the Church so much that I say them. We can do better. We can bear the fruit of the Spirit and be kinder, more gentle. And maybe that makes us the nerdy kids. Maybe we don’t sit at the popular table. Maybe we get pushed around, bullied. But we have so much more to offer the world around us in our kindness and love and humility than we do in our ego, exertion, and pride. We look much more like Jesus that way, too.
We just never were supposed to be the Cool Kids.