Cool Factor, Part 3

I think I may have blogged my way into a corner.

I just realized that, in this post, what I really wanted to do is rant about how the “cool crowd” mentality that I first encountered in my adolescence is finding its way into my generation’s faith communities. Then I realized that (a) I was going to be entirely too categorical, (b) I was probably talking about myself as much as anyone else, and (c) I was probably going to be unfair and uncharitable about the whole thing, and – worse yet – I was directing a lot of that toward people that I love, who are my fellow disciples in the Kingdom.

So now I feel guilty about the whole thing, and I also feel a little trapped – frankly – because I don’t quite know how to get from here to the place where I want to go, which is to examine this whole issue in light of the mission of Jesus to the outcasts of society.

So I want to make my point here as gently and fairly as possible, and then move on. And I’ll just ask that – if this seems too incoherent –you keep reading because I really do think that I’ll have something worthwhile (and understandable) to say in the next post on this subject.

Here goes.

I’ve talked to (and/or heard about) a lot of folks – roughly my age – who are having trouble making relationships with other believers. They are going to the places where they would expect to find them: to the right churches and to the right classes. But, they will state frankly, while they feel nominally accepted into a group, they also sense that any significant degree of intimacy with the members at the core of the group is impossible.

The perception these folks often have is that they simply aren’t cool enough to fit in. And, for them, its like High School all over again: they feel worthless and unloved in a place that should, ironically, be the last place where such a thing would happen.

But here’s the catch. the relationships in the “insider” crowd aren’t as solid as they appear. Truth is, while there may be a core set of relationships within the group, the reason the people in the “core” aren’t really interested in forming new relationships is because they are struggling to maintain the ones they already have. They don’t really feel the sense of acceptance that others think they have found, so they feel the need to work harder at it.

In that sense, the whole pursuit of being part of the inner crowd is just another variation of the age-old struggle that is depicted in Ecclesiastes. People seek riches; they turn out to be meaningless. People seek wisdom; it turns out to be meaningless. People seek sexual gratification; it turns out to be hollow. People seek to be “cool”; it turns out to be elusive and empty. Even the people who seem to have been accepted into the inner circle don’t think of themselves that way. They still don’t feel the acceptance that even the outsiders seek.

Worse yet, because you can only maintain your status in the group by appearing to have your act together, there really isn’t any intimacy. There is constant anxiety over whether this financial struggle or that sexual sin from the past ought to be disclosed. After all, it doesn’t look like anyone else has those problems, does it?

I used to think that the solution to this problem is for people to be more open to new relationships and to not make decisions about what relationships they will form based solely on how acceptance into that relationship will make them feel about themselves. And I guess that I still believe that to some extent. But here’s the conviction that’s starting to take hold of me: the underlying expectation that the “insiders” and the “outsiders” bring to the table – that I can feel cool if I can just have a good relationship with the right people – is fundamentally flawed.

No peer relationship is going to fix insecurities. Never has. Never will. When you’re in your thirties, you ought to know that by now. It’s a vain pursuit when you look to a human relationship to fix problems that find their roots in the fall of man.

Meaningful, deep relationships with other Christians is possible. But to find them, we have to do all of the things that we’ve come to believe – since High School – constitute relational suicide. Vulnerabilty, openness, confession. Those are the things that drive such relationships. And, frankly, there are some people who seem really cool who are just not going to be interested in having a relationship with you when you take that path. So be ready.

And now for the point I really wanted to get at today.

Maybe – just maybe – churches and bible classes don’t exist to give me a comfortable place where I can go and find a group of friends that will accept me. Maybe what the Enemy wants is for me to become so obsessed with this empty struggle to feel cool that I focus all of my energies on trying to fit (or keep my status) in with the right crowd.

And maybe – I know this sounds crazy – but maybe, we will find real power in our relationships with our peers not within the walls of our churches, sitting in padded chairs with coffee cups in hand, but when we leave those walls and hit the streets, ready to engage in the mission of Jesus…

Next entry: Becoming Uncool for the Uncool.

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