September 9, 2010
The Dangerous Pursuit of "Cool" (Part 2)
There is an alternative to being cool...the cultivation of authentic taste.
Perhaps pastors and church leaders should focus their energies more on understanding and valuing culture for itself instead of always trying to use it to bolster their church's insider credibility, suggests James Harleman, a pastor at Seattle's Mars Hill Church:
Instead of trying to be cool, we should seek out and support the places in culture that we believe are hitting the nail on the head. We need to re-train our minds in how we engage culture. Why do we listen to the music that we do? Why do we like the films that we like? Rather than force ourselves to like what is cool, we should seek to understand better why we like what we like. Be authentic to what you like.
The problem with the wannabe cool, "inner ringer" mindset is that it blinds us to our true desires and true enjoyments, replacing them with an overarching desire—pervasive and deeply ingrained in humanity—to want to be in the know. But being “in the know” is never as fulfilling or respectable as being in tune with what we’re truly passionate about.
Pastors and Christian leaders need to focus on cultivating taste rather than trying to be relevant or cool. They should take a look at culture and figure out what it is they already like, becoming aware of what moves them, engages them, and why. Only after you’ve developed a sense of aesthetic appreciation and personal taste will you be able to escape the temptation to simply do or like the things the “cool kids” are doing and liking.
In his book, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste, author Frank Burch Brown argues that cultivating taste is an essential aspect of Christian formation—that “certain dimensions of theological and spiritual maturity… cannot be attained apart from cultivated aesthetic imagination and mature taste that rejoices in crossing the boundaries of the predictable and of conventional delights.”
Being cool is not a bad thing. Living authentically, loving things genuinely and passionately… this often ends up looking pretty cool. It’s only when one strives to be cool, when the end goal is cool as such, that there’s a problem.
If Christians are to be cool, it will not be because of focus groups, market research or strategic trend-spotting. It will not be a result of any cool handbooks or hip “how-tos.” Rather, it will be a result of a diligent cultivation of aesthetic taste and personal cultural appreciation, learning to love things not because they are cool, but because they are good.