I listen to Bruce Cockburn. When Eddie Vedder sings, Society, I get it. I read Stanley Haurwas and John Howard Yoder and something within me says, “that sounds right.” I can get a little excitement going for a counter-cultural response to the principalities and powers of this world. Opting out sounds appealing at certain levels.
Truth is, however, I lead a life that is very much “opted in.” I’ve come to realize that I put a lot of trust and credence in the way things run. I like the idea of sticking it to the man, but find that very hard to do when the man and I are drifting along in the same stream of cultural assumptions and societal mores. Fact is, I have learned basically to trust the modern in all of its forms.
This is increasingly clear to me because a lot of my younger Christian friends clearly don’t trust modern life, and they’re finding ways to opt out.
A friend of mine invited me today to go to a conference with him on “Living the Resurrection.” That sounded interesting. So, I hit the links for the program and found out that we will all be “primitive camping” and that there will be presentations on canning and composting and sustainable farming. Not what I had in mind. I had in mind a Holiday Inn Express and papers on 1 Cor 15.
My son would love this conference, as would those who live in his new monastic community, as would my friends Casey and Kasey, my friends Eric and Natalie, and Kristy, and countless others whose vision of the Kingdom includes living in certain ways that resist arrangements of land and wealth and health that I take for granted. These people are also all younger than me.
By having friends like these, several of my lifestyle choices have been challenged, either implicitly or explicitly, including the following: where the vegetables I buy originate, the water I drink, the water I use, the chemicals I ingest in my food, the vaccinations I received, my reliance on aspects of the modern medical culture-especially the pharmaceutical, the deodorant I use, and the list could go on and on.
I want to point out here that my friends are kind and non-judgmental and in no way try to make me feel inferior for my choices. (Nor do they each subscribe to all the concerns listed above). But I can’t just ignore them because so much of what they say is directly tied to their understandings of the Kingdom of God–understandings with which I am largely in agreement. They, in many ways, are living my theology better than me. (Though I’m keeping my deodorant, even if it gives me early onset dementia, and you should thank me).
But I also think that these kinds of choices have momentum with my younger Christian friends because they share a more pessimistic assessment of what is possible by playing by the rules. I grew up with the unquestioned notion that my life would be materially better than the life of my parents (which likely will turn out not to be true), because their life was better than their parents, whose life was better than their parents, and so on. I grew up with moon landings and medical advances and an expanding middle class. Everything said “progress.” Get on board.
Not so anymore. The way of life that seemed certain and inevitable for me is not so obvious to my son. There’s less confidence that the wheels of progress and technology are producing a better way of life. There’s more suspicion of the large narratives we tell in the dominant culture. There’s even less of a sense of a dominant culture. And so, if this narrative can be questioned or seen as delivering less than it promises or even false, then maybe its worth it to live in relation to a different one. A radical one.
And I actually think that this bodes well for Christianity in North America. The story I grew up on went something like this: being a Christian will help you navigate the world of progress. The Christian impulse was more of a wisdom impulse. In our current age, the Christian story might more often be something more like this: being a Christian will help you chart an alternative to the life handed down to us by the powers that be. This is more of a prophetic impulse, and will be truer to the heart of the Christian story and more hopeful for a generation who has lost confidence in the modern story of progress.
The ladder we’ve been climbing turns out to be leaning against a septic tank.