Christianinty as a subculture

By | May 17, 2003

Tonight I went to a concert at my church. When I arrived, a friend of mine came up and we started talking. She was asked if all the different worship bands from the church were playing. I explained that while most all of the musicians who were playing are also on the worship team, that they were all doing their own stuff. She was surprised and replied, “Oh, so it’s not all worship music?” I snapped. Something to the effect of, “Is that all that christians can do.” I then quickly apologized, and she explained that she had been told that it was a worship night. I guess that kinda set the tone for the night for me, sort of describes how it went. All the bands were good, but for the most part, quite conservative musically in my opinion. To appreciate further what I’m saying, understand that my church is the most contemporary of contemporary—they’re on the edge as far as churches go. But it struck me during the evening, that, ironically enough though I knew most of the musicians at least somewhat, I felt quite out of place, like I didn’t really fit there.

Something that I have recently begun to understand, although not at all new, is the christianity, in this country, has become a genre—a subculture. I’ve heard that said before, and have said it myself, but I guess I starting to understand what that means. I describe it like this: it is generally more noticeable in youth. There are jocks, preps, thespians, in-crowds and those left out, punks, ravers, hippies, metal heads, goths, those into hip-hop, and then there are christians. Christianity wouldn’t really fit here except for one main thing, we created our one subculture. We now have our own music, our own books, our own radio, etc. The thing about subcultures is, they’re divisions. Some—many people even—can be a part of more than one group, but some just don’t mix. Can you picture a punk at a hip-hop show, or a hippie at the country club? Do you see what I’m getting at here? Each group has a way of thinking, talking, acting, looking, tastes, etc. that defines the norm for that group. The problem with christians doing this is that we start excluding people. Yes, we are to be different. But we are being different in the wrongs ways. It has been said that we are, “Of the world but not in it.” They’re are even many different cultures within christendom.

I think this is why I have such a hard time with claiming to be a christian. I am a disciple of Christ, trying to understand the scriptures and follow God. But I really don’t fit into the christian subculture. I don’t dress the same, think the same, I don’t like their music. So while I am and will continue to be a part of the community of faith (and therefore be in close contact with the christian subculture), I am not and probably never will be part of the christian subculture. This is the paradox. Many christians will not understand. Our conservative evangelical christianity is basically a copy of another subculture, that of suburbia. It’s were people are taking care of themselves, always put on a good front like they’re in control, and generally don’t want anyone to rock the boat. For those who fit into that preppy stereotype, also fit into church quite well. And because it seems that many of their values correlate to those of the bible, they won’t see any problems. For the few of us in the middle, we see it, and understand why so many outside the church see no reason to come in.

We’ve been talking in our church recently about the need for diversity. Among christians in general a certain amount of debate has transpired in the past about the way in which christians should witness. Basically the ideas traditionally fall into two categories: by personally approaching someone and bringing up the topic, and by the way in which one lives and acts. I am going to suggest that there is a reason neither of these have been very effective. They are both individualized. In my mind now I don’t have an understanding of witness apart from the community of faith. Yes, I am saying that I think that individually that we can hardly be a witness. I am not suggesting that we get rid of the prior, but that the former should be merely a secondary out growth of the latter. One big way we can do this is by loving and being in community with those who aren’t like us. That’s a way to be different than the world. The world increasingly fragmenting into groups of people who are alike. We however need to move in the opposite direction, to unite. It was one of Christ’s biggest concerns (read his prayer in the gospel of John). As it is written, “they will know we are Christians by our love for one another.” I rest my case.

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    I totally understand your frustration. What I really struggle with are the Christians who try to look like they are totally in control. All my life I have been surrounded by Christians who would never in a million years openly admit that they have problems. I learned from the people in the church as I grew up that good Christians have no problems… they have no doubts. So I learned that when I have problems or doubts I need to hide them so that I look like everything is under control I need to maintain an image of poised composure. No one can see me cry. No one can know that I am not the perfect Christian.

    In the last several months thanks to God’s grace alone I have become more honest in my music and shared it with others. I’ve found churches where I am free to worship the way God created me to worship. I’ve learned to not be afraid to shed tears of prayer even in front of total strangers and new friends that the old me would be intensely wanting to impress. With that perspective I was able to see the people that I know from the church I grew up in as well as myself in a whole new light. I can see now how damaging this perfect image has been to me and to all of the Christians who try to carry it off. Yes I also see how damaging it is to those outside the church. And like they’ve been talking about at common ground, we have to love one another within the church before we can love those outside the church. But I think the first step is soooo much deeper than that. It has to start with individuality. Each person has to come to a realization between them and God that it’s okay to doubt and that it’s okay to have problems. They have to accept that everyone has problems and that perfection is impossible. They have to give up that quest for perfection and just be able to stand there with their brothers and sisters in Christ and be real. ‘Cause nothing less than being real will ever convince a non-Christian to join us. The thing is.. first of all, those Christians who are trying to convince their fellow Christians that they are in control are not being real with their brothers and sisters. And more importantly, they are not being real with themselves. And that means they are probably trying to lie to God too.

    Before I started writing this, I was feeling really frustrated by the problem. Like that nothing could be done. But I think I’ve come to realize through my music… through the whole Evanescence thing… through what I’ve learned at common ground and bread of life… the solution lies in a few Christians being brave enough to be real. It’s like, if I overcome my issues and give up trying to look like I’m in control. If I’m real and honest about my struggles, perhaps it might inspire other Christians to do the same. And when people on the outside begin to see us being real they will be inspired as well.

    As far as the love thing goes… I know from personal experience that you can’t effectively love God or anyone else if you are unable to love and appreciate yourself as the creature God created you to be. I read this quote today. “Shame is the internal fear of being exposed. All perfection comes from shame.” When we try to be perfect or convince everyone that we’re perfect we’re just using it to hide because of our shame. The change has to come from the hearts of each individual believer. And the only way to help other people change Is to inspire them with our own lives.

    The thing that is frustrating for me… I’m not brave enough to be an example to anyone. I want to keep living in my protected little world where I have the illusion of control. I want to believe that I put off an image that I am the perfect Christian. For all the progress I’ve made in the last several months, right now I feel like I’m back at square one. So, when I read your web log and all this dawned on me.. I just feel really frustrated too.