It’s easy to trick yourself today.
It’s easy to think you’re a cultural revolutionary when you’re the exact opposite. So I argue in this recent piece on American culture.
Don’t get me wrong. 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.
But here’s the funny thing: this isn’t really the way to stand apart.
The way to stand apart today–and every day–is to follow God. The truly aberrant among us are those submit themselves to the Lord. The culturally weird are those who obey, not those who disobey. Think about this in terms of sexuality. The way to be truly transgressive in our age is not to explore the open boundaries of modern polyamorous perversity, but to embrace monogamy. The radical among us are not those who delay adulthood until their early 40s; that’s not a big deal anymore. The radical among us are those of us who pursue maturity from a young age, pushing aside what we could call the “Kidification” of our society.
The truly weird, brave, and unusual folks in our day are not those who ferret the talking points of the latest snarky podcast. They’re not those who style themselves a rebel in their social-media accounts. 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.
We’ve never been more revolutionary, in terms of our self-image; we’ve never been less confident in our efforts to set ourselves apart. If we’re all so unique and courageous, and seeing things so differently than anyone else, why do we all sound alike? Why do we all affect the same general counter-cultural–or anti-cultural–posture? Why do we use the same buzzwords, tweet the same videos of the latest CNN anchor acting like a middle-schooler, and pat each other on the back? It’s a bit weird, isn’t it? Bit of a coincidence, perhaps?
Here’s the deal: the way to stand out today isn’t to figure out a New Way to Be Human. It’s to embrace the old ways and traverse the old paths. 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. Jesus is the true revolutionary. Jesus is the true human. Every last one of us fools ourselves into thinking that we’re the true one, we’re the center of all things, and we’ve got it all figured out. But this sort of thinking is a lie, and it’s one that the gospel is very glad to tear down, over and over again.
The terms are this: if Jesus is the true human, then every self-styled visionary filled with excitement over their own curated authenticity is a counterfeit.
Image: James Dean from Wikimedia Commons