What Is Hipster?

So you became part of the new breed.
Been smoking only the best weed.
Hanging out with so-called hippest set.
Been seen in all the right places,
Seen with just the right faces.
You should be satisfied,
But still it ain’t quite right.

What is hip? Tell me tell me if you think you know.
What is hip? And if you’re really hip.
The passing years would show,
You into a hip trip, maybe hipper than hip.
What is hip? Tower of Power

So the word got out. We were really trying to keep this “hipster” thing to ourselves at the Front Porch, but this Brett McCracken guy cracked the case, and now there’s a book about us. Or not.

Hipsters
Hipsters ~ The Monied Yuppie variety

It’s called Hipster Christianity, and it’s really not about us, although it may describe some of our regulars. If, in fact, the central features of a Hipster Christian are the open (but hopefully moderate) incorporation of alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, “swear” words, social justice causes, historic memes, “green” consciousness, urban lifestyles and a post-modern approach to life, then I guess we’re Hipster Christians after all. (Take the Hipster Quiz)

It’s just that I can’t relate to some of the descriptions that accompany these new Hipster Churches. Dark, louds, grungy spaces located in nondescript urban warehouses, high on fashion (if not other things) and probably high on budget. The last thing I want to be here is judgmental (if only to maintain what little hipster status I may have gained over the years) but some of this stuff looks a little like pandering, which seems a bit contradictory to the hipster milieu.

I suppose there’s two ways to be a Hipster Christian.

1) To know first of all that you’re a Christian, and then decide that either a) you need to become like the hipsters to reach them for Christ, or b) you’re tired of being a conservative outcast, and want to fit in with the fashionable types for your own cultural purposes.

Letter “a” is admirable in a way, but still hopelessly disingenuous, not to mention doomed. Apparently, hipsterdom is very difficult to fake (even moreso than all the other cultures youth groups have attempted to fabricate over the decades.) Letter “b” is at least honest, but dangerous for one’s faith. If you’re committed to Jesus, you’ll have trouble really fitting in with the “it” people, and if you do manage to really fit in, you’ll likely lose some connection with Jesus. To do otherwise is like trying to steal second with your foot on first.

2) To know first of all that you are culturally a hipster, and that you’ve subsequently found Jesus. In the same way that people have adapted the Christian faith to every culture imaginable, can also be true for Hipster culture, so long as there is a willingness to sacrifice whatever is harmful, or what is contradictory to, or distracting from, the truth of Jesus.

For some people (myself for instance,) it’s a combination of the two. I was never an “it” guy, so any little amount of “hip” I’ve been able to achieve has been a result of my hip wife, and good friends who know what’s up. And perhaps my hybrid upbringing makes it even more important for me to constantly examine my motives.

Why do I drink? To build relationships, relate to the culture around me (not necessarily in an evangelistic sense,) and enjoy the culinary blessings among which God has placed me.

Why do I smoke (tobacco pipes or hookahs)? For pretty much the same reason that  I drink. And as with alcohol, it’s not a habit, just an occasional activity.

Why do I have a tattoo? Because I was offered a free tattoo, and had an idea for something very meaningful and eternal.

Why do I “swear”? Just like the first three, it’s occasional, and used only in situations where the “swear” words in question are understood as part of a normal, daily vocabulary. In these cases, it helps me to communicate better, and I do my best to avoid such words when they would cause offense.

I know, I know… this is sure a lot of defensive rationalization for my behavior. I must really feel guilty about something, right? The fact is, the motives I listed above for my “Hipsterness” are not nearly as consistent as I would like. Occasionally I will have a drink to seem cool, or to get buzzed, or I’ll use a certain word for its shock value, instead of its ability to communicate clearly.

No matter how many beers I drink, or cigars I smoke, the sad fact is that I’m still pretty uncool. So whatever pitfalls might be inherent in this new Hipster Movement, for now, I suppose, I’m safe.

5 thoughts on “What Is Hipster?

  1. I think that whole book is a waste of paper and ink. This could easily be written in any era and anyone can wag a finger at certain churches and say “stop trying to be cool/hip/rad/funky/down just to bring people into your church… just be whatever expression of the Way fits your context and community and be happy with that”. There, no book necessary. Not to mention that some people fit the “hip” category – and we need a whole book to chastise them? *shaking head. I get so many books for review as part of running a magazine and I find it all exhaustingly disappointing.

  2. I am not sure if “hipster” is the right word for the ecclectic gathering of people associated with less structured forms of ecclesiology at Fro-Po. I beleive it is ancient -yet progressive. Something drew me to “the core.” I suppose mild curiosity and a holy discontent. I find it refreshing to speak with others of different perspectives without labels. In many places I am considered a heretic because i feel like “all truth is God’s truth,” or I dont buy into some forms of fundamentalism. My first experience at fro-po I talked with a transgendered individual who expressed a genuine interest in God but was fearful of church. My heart jumped for joy when the person told me she felt loved and not condemned. I watched as yuppies gathered with transients, artisians and business people mingled. I listened to testimonies of God’s love and transformative power. i enjoyed a Nine Inch nails song sandwiched between a traditional hymn and Black Southern Spiritual. I know what it feels like to be “an outsider.” I felt embraced at the Core, even though I am different, I recycle and I am a woman. What I like about the hipster/ancient “fropo” mentality: these beautiful people from all walks of life and parts of various denominational backgrounds coming together and conversing about God. Its prophetic, I think. Its post-denominational. While many fear openness and condemn it to postmodern deconstructionism and pluralistic subjective slopy agape I see it as Christ-like, Missional and organic. I love my grandparents, but I could never bring a friend from a super diverse background to their church. At Fro-Po I could bring a person interested in the faith, an atheist, or a buddhist and feel like Christ-love would be present, Not fear and gate-keeping. I am saddened by appologetics and doctrinal exclusivity- I imagine a grace and a kingdom of heaven that might be wider than my own ignorance, my own egocentrisms, and my own cultural hegemonies. :)

  3. Bec – beautifully put. You seriously gave me goosebumps… everything you said goes above and beyond what we imagined when we first dreamed of The Core and the Front Porch. In some ways I see it happening, like you do, in other ways I feel like we’re falling flat. If Jesus were to describe it, he might use the words “already/not yet” and to me, that means we are becoming the kingdom of God.

    Makeesha – I am still not sure whether I want to read the book. But I certainly won’t criticize it if I don’t read it. I wasn’t aware that the book was intended to be a jab or a diatribe. If this is the case, then I agree with Makeesha wholeheartedly. Every generation of Christians has its cultural distinctives, and the only people who deserve correction are those a) who worship culture in lieu of Christ, and b) who are faking it out of an evangelistic misunderstanding of Paul’s injunction to be “all things to all men”.

  4. I’m sure it can be taken many ways. I think you’d find reading it a waste of your time. But if you want to, you can have my copy. (or really, it’s the publisher’s copy lol)

  5. now, in all fairness, I don’t go to church and have no intention of going back any time soon (20+ years of church leader burnout). And before, I led a “hip” gathering (at least it would have been defined as such by this book). So it makes sense I wouldn’t particularly appreciate the content of the book.

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