Jesus Radicals Blog 2005-2017
What follows is the third and final part of a series on the Style of Subversion. In part one, I challenged hipsterism and the trend towards superficial counter-culturalism in light of the Kingdom of God. In part two, I continued in that theme and, in addition, called for repentance and lament in light of the fallen world order.
As I suggested at the end of my previous post, being truly prophetic must grow out of repentance over our own complicity and out of true mourning over those whose lives are ensnared within Empire. Of course, here I am using the word “Empire” in the grand biblical sense, not simply in regards to USAmerica. Though certainly the USA is a part of the global Imperial reality just as Paul’s use of “Principalities and Powers” points towards spiritual cosmic realities as well as to the flesh-and-blood reality of the Roman Empire.
As long as our understanding of our prophetic call is rooted in anger or simple frustration, we will fail. With such emotions fueling our vision, the best thing we can accomplish is destruction or, perhaps, deconstruction. We can tear down the Empire, but what will take its place? Another Empire. That simply creates an ongoing cycle where new oppressors continually take the place of the old oppressors. Revolutions tear down the status quo and set up a new status quo that is often twice the Son of Hell than the old status quo.
In part one of the Style of Subversion, I examined the rise of the “hipster” and the growing trend of easy radicalism. Rather than simply vilifying the current trend, my hope is that we can see the see it for what it is. We must resist the Powers (of consumerism, globalism, fashion, etc) even as we recognize this as a time to move towards a more faithful embodiment of the Gospel in our 21st century imperial context.
The Commodification of Counter Culture
One of the challenges in doing this is the way in which we so easily don the appearance of being counter cultural without embracing a fundamental change in our patterns of life and the way in which we engage the existing patterns of domination.
Counter cultures are not a threat to empire because the global consumer capitalist system commodifies everything. Music and language and style and anti-consumer rants can all be commodified. Practices, however, are harder to commodify. So, if you want to have a faithful witness in the midst of empire, you need to embody an alternative.
Most radical or counter cultural movements, however, reach a place where the dominant culture seems to be willing to listen…if only we could drop some of the radicalism that scares the dominant culture. And so, the radical movement compromises so that it can influence the mainstream. The desire for a platform for change, or a growing audience willing to listen to our radical message, is a profoundly seductive temptation to which we almost always unreflectively succumb. The radical fringe drops some of its more radical elements so that it can sit at the mainstream table, thereby bringing some needed change to the system. This is a story that has been told over and over again throughout history, right? But is change something that happens?
It has been a really difficult week. As I sit down at my favorite urban coffeeship, sipping iced coffee, and begin to catch up on last-week’s work, I realize that what I am about to write could easily be hypocritical. What follows is the first in a series challenging the rise in pseudo radicalism. Challenging pseudo radicalism could very well render me a hypocrite because I am not sure whether or not I am, after all, a pseudo radical. So, as you read what follows, recognize that even though I’m pointing out the speck in hipsterism’s eye, I am open to counter-challenge that I may have, upon further relfection, a log in my own eye.
I had been meaning to read Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization on Adbusters all weekend, but only just finished it. The article points to the rise of the hipster and, therefore, the end of the counter culture. If you haven’t read it, I HIGHLY recommend the article (and the additional comments). It was one of the funniest, yet most tragic, things I’ve read all month. The closing paragraph sums up the article well:
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