I’m not a hipster. But, I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Broadsheet papers and the BBC alike have realised there’s revenue potential in the whole ‘hipster’ thing. Documentaries, articles, radio shows. But, for all their canny observations, there are some deeper questions that need asking.
I’m not here to point fingers. I’m here to ask questions.
Your answers have the potential to change your life, your church and the world you leave your imprint on. If that scares you, keep believing that being a hipster is all about coffee.
Culture swings in reflexes like a pendulum swings.
The Second World War brought such pain and loss from our relational commitments, is it any wonder the libertarianism of 1960s – the generation of children born to war-evacuees – followed? These ’60s children became our parents, hesitant to force any sort of worldview on us and encouraging us to ‘explore’ for ourselves, for fear of replicating the oppressive commitments and family ties they themselves had suffered from, as they broke free from long-kept societal norms. We then grew up with a prevailing social orthodoxy of: “What’s good for you may not be right for me, so just do what you want as long as it makes you happy.”
Alongside these generations came the rise of mass production and mass consumption, providing the ways and means to feed the hunger of rising individualism and materialism. This was fanned into flame thanks to the proverbial lovechild of Walt Disney and Margaret Thatcher: “You deserve to be anything you want to be and have anything you want to have, so long as you believe in yourself and work hard.”
It resulted in an inbuilt heartbeat, which for most western individuals aged between 18 and 35, goes something like this: “My personal happiness is a matter of universal justice.” We’ve pursued our own personal material happiness at the expense of nearly everything and everyone else.
You have been discipled in this since the day you were born. You’ve been taught what to pursue and the means by which to pursue it since day one. The way we’ve been educated, been marketed to as consumers, been nurtured by the government’s priorities and our parents’ responses to it – all of it leads to this.
Enter the hipster
The hipster movement in Britain is quite unique to middle class millennials, who carry the residual bitterness of wartime austerity yet possess the social and financial capital to leverage the world’s ways for their own fulfilment.
But it hasn’t worked. Strip away the superficialities of fashion and materialistic fad, and what we have underneath the veneer is an expression of a divine yearning. The disillusionment with the promises of our forebears has found a constructive lifestyle response.
Hipsters have noticed, disliked and acted against the mass production and mass consumption that produced this vast chasm between origin, creation and consumption; that’s robbed many industries of its character and humanity in the quest for greater profit; that’s forgotten its heritage in the name of progress.
We can be so quick to judge the desire for handmade, locally-sourced, artisan socks, without recognising what it’s a reflex against: we’ve been buying socks made by slave labour for decades. Is this not recovering the values that the fashion industry should be based on?
Our eyes widen at the higher price-point of fair trade fashion – but we’ve been robbing our global neighbour of life for the price of an Arcadia Group t-shirt without conviction for far too long. The work of the Spirit is to convict the world in regards to righteousness. Could it be that even the Holy Spirit is behind what’s been dubbed the ‘hipster movement’?
Why wouldn’t we want to reconnect production with consumption in a way that undoes the unhealthy legacy of mass production and mass consumption combined with the materialism, individualism and Disney-Thatcherism that has undermined a generation?
This legacy has also undermined the growth of the Church, but only in facing it head-on do we make the most of the challenge, rather than bemoaning our battle for peoples’ attendance and attention in a busy world. People aren’t too busy; they’re just doing better things.
My church has been called a hipster church. I’m part of a group of so-called hipster church leaders. I’m part of a yearly national gathering, The Pursuit, that has been labelled a ‘hipster conference’.
We make stuff out of wood. We appreciate good coffee. We look for contributors you’ve probably never heard of and we seem to have a healthy suspicion of ‘experts’. When we gather as a family, we sit or stand in a circle, facing each other. Our best sermons verge towards open theatre rather than a Powerpoint-backed, alliterated monologue and there are a disproportionate number of beards. We take trips into the forest and pursue a way of being Church that disciples our hands as well as our hearts.
The truth is, we realised our current practices and patterns of Church life and culture were permeated with consumerism and rife with individualism, based on middle-class university culture. Subtle practices that perpetuated the deathward discipleship that the world gives: individualism, materialism and consumerism that lead to idolatry and isolation.
Consider for a moment the way we do discipleship (university tutorial, anyone?) and service layout (lecture hall?) and sermon (lecture?) and songs (concert with spectators singing along). Now compare that to the way that Jesus and his first generation of Church went about discipling: “Come for a walk with me, do what I do,” and gathering: “Everyone has something to bring to the table in worship.”
The last time most people walking into our churches were in that sort of setup was in an education environment, where the person on stage imparted information to be swallowed and scarcely applied to everyday life. As church leaders, we struggle with quiet congregations who struggle to apply the teaching, but we’ve inadvertently created an environment that communicates that little else is expected.
We have to change the environment we create, if we want what grows in that environment to grow differently. As leaders, we looked out and saw a generation being discipled better by the world than by the Church; a Church that didn’t express the principles of its origin.
Only in changing the church environment did we begin to unlock the often-ignored potential God has created in His Church – each other.
The hipster movement is one that aims to change the environment from one that limits and oppresses people – ourselves included – with the ‘accepted norms’ of society, into one that liberates people from the status quo. This can be applied to the way you buy food and drink to the way you organise a church, host a meal or spend time with friends; even the way you start a business.
In a wayward society and an often indistinctive Church, don’t you want to be different?
Maybe there’s more to being a hipster than meets the eye.