Hipsters, Divine Providence and PBR

I was pondering why hipsters in Portland drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, when they live in the microbrew capitol of the world. Some Portland pubs actually make a big thing of promoting PBR. One friend informed me that it is hard to find lagers in Portland, and so some resort to PBR: they like the taste and that it’s cheap. Another friend told me that hipsters drink PBR because it’s ironic. “Ironic?” I asked. The answer I got was that hipsters drink it (at least some of them) because it carries no meaning except to counter normal expectations and aspirations and because they’re cynical.

I wondered if Nietzsche would roll over in his grave if he were to see that implicit nihilism (which he tried to guard against) and cynicism have led many of Portland’s hipsters in their irony to drink PBR. Even the thought of drinking PBR might lead other Portlanders to nihilism. Those advocating for providence might encourage these hipsters to consider Portland’s vast array of microbrews, claiming that such divine nectar shows us there is a benevolent God in the universe!

Is it ironic that a blog titled “Uncommon God, Common Good” would address the theme of beer? There is no irony for those who come to terms with the fact that God created the world good and preserves it from ruin, granting it freedom within the limits of divine love so that it can achieve its fullness in relation to God. The divine benevolence is not limited to what goes on inside church walls. It extends to pubs, art galleries, concert halls, markets, and homes. The God of the Bible does not envy humanity’s celebration of earthly life in its various complexities and simplicities, whether we are talking about microbrews, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, or just plain old lemonade. Rather, the God of the Bible preserves space for the free exercise of our creatureliness. We don’t have to bracket off an uncommon God from the common good or the common things of life. In fact, out of concern for the common good, this God preserves space for the celebration of the common.

As I write elsewhere, building on Karl Barth’s doctrine of divine providence:

“The creature is granted freedom ‘within the limits marked off for it’ for the exercising of its existence.[1]  In view of the divine preserving of the creature, ‘God does not begrudge . . . or deprive’ the creature its situated freedom within which to act.  Indeed, ‘there is a delighting or sport in which first the Creator and then the creature has a part.’[2]  In light of this preservation of the actuality and activity of the creature,

Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening” (Ps. 104:23); to which it belongs that he can use his senses and understanding to perceive that two and two make four, and to write poetry, and to think, and to make music, and to eat and drink and to be filled with joy and often with sorrow, and to love and sometimes to hate, and to be young and to grow old, and all within his own experience and activity, affirming it not as half a man but as a whole man, with head uplifted, and the heart free and the conscience at rest: “O Lord, how manifold are thy works” (Ps. 104:24).  It is only the heathen gods who envy man.  The true God, who is unconditionally the Lord, allows him to be the thing for which He created him.[3]

The God revealed in Jesus Christ does not begrudge or envy us. Rather, he who turned water into wine at the wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee, and so revealed his glory (a foretaste of things to come; John 2:1-11), turns to us again and again to bring divine meaning and purpose out of the ordinary things of life. In view of the revelation of this uncommon God, we can approach concern for the common good and all matters common and uncommon, “not with naïve optimism or scathing pessimism, but with boundless hope, based not on culture’s achievements, but in view of culture’s goal, when the redeeming Word of eschatological promise renews the world.”[4]

If Portland’s hipsters insist on drinking PBR, may it not be based on nihilism or cynicism and pessimism (and certainly not based on naïve optimism). May it be because they find here evidence that divine providence can bring joy to people even through the most common and ordinary things of life.

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.

[1]Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. III/3, The Doctrine of Creation, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), p. 87; quoted in Paul Louis Metzger, The Word of Christ and the World of Culture: Sacred and Secular through the Theology of Karl Barth (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 232.

[2]Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. III/3, p. 87; quoted in Metzger, The Word of Christ and the World of Culture, p. 232.

[3]Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. III/3, p. 87; quoted in Metzger, The Word of Christ and the World of Culture, pp. 232-233.

[4]Paul Louis Metzger, The Word of Christ and the World of Culture: Sacred and Secular through the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 233-234.

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