The Cool Factor, Part 2

Funny thing about High School. Its been almost 22 years since I graduated. I live in a different city now. I am a husband and father. I practice law. But there is a sense in which a part of me never left.

If you want to know what High School was like in the eighties, rent a copy of The Breakfast Club. Its all there: all the various “groups” of kids. They were a little different in West Texas than in the movie, but it still worked the same. Everyone’s group resented everyone else’s. There was a center group of cool kids, and a second circle of kids who wanted to be a part of that group. And hormone-related angst ran amok throughout the entire population.

Sociologists now call the core group and the surrounding circle of people trying to break-in “alphas” and “betas.” Its a pretty sad way of living, but its been the way it works for teenagers for at least a quarter-century.

The problem is that the whole “cool crowd” thing didn’t completely end after High School. That’s why Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion is yet another powerful film for me. It illustrates just that point: some of us continued to care about the whole “whose in” and “whose out” issue long after we quit stocking Clearasil in our medicine cabinets.

Those who know me might think – based on these observations – that for me, things have gotten worse, since I seemingly didn’t care about this stuff in high school. But it really hasn’t changed that much. In High School I was pretty good about acting like I didn’t care about such issues. The thing was, I really did. I just did a good job of acting like it didn’t matter to me. I think I even managed to fool myself into believing that I didn’t care. I was secretly thinking that if I tried hard enough to appear that it didn’t matter to me, I would take on a kind-of “supergeek rebel” coolness of my own. But it never seemed to work out too well. Nerds just weren’t cool by anyone’s standards in the pre-Bill Gates days.

Today, I’m not as good at fooling myself into thinking that I don’t care. Life can do that to you. And now I’m being forced to face up to the fact that I do care. I still care about how people judge me based on what crowd I run with, because I think that somehow those associations change my worth as a human.

Thats meant to be a confession as much as an observation. I can think of few things that are more un-Jesus-like than concern about fitting in with the right crowd, especially when the cost is to ignore the outsiders. I hope that, on the other side of four decades of life, I’m generally successful in identifying and resisting the effects of this urge, but its still there, inviting me to look at my place in the world in the most shallow of ways.

And I haven’t even made it to the worst part, yet. The worst part is that this urge has a tendency to rear its ugly head in the place where it can do the most damage: a community of faith.

Somebody actually said this to me once about a Bible class I was attending: “I think I’ll go here ’cause I guess its where all the cool people are.”

This person was joking, I think, so I don’t think the remark was meant to be taken seriously. But I can’t stop reflecting on this observation, because there is a part of me that believes, for some of us it is all too true…

Next: Coolness in the Consumer Church Culture


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