Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Prodigals and Hipsters

"Hipsters are 'older brothers' pretending to be 'younger brothers'" - Ben Wolaver

What is it about the hipster movement that has so gripped pop-culture in the past few years? As someone who is constantly labeled a hipster, I tend to notice this more than your average American, yet most people can tell you to some degree what a hipster is. I personally love wearing plaid, have a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, enjoy listening to obscure indie music artists, am a conneuseur of coffee, and love literature. This seems to be enough to group me with the much more liberal "Hipster" hipsters that are generally more cynical, atheist existentialists. That, I DON'T relate to. Hipsters are also generally concerned with environmentalism, social justice and equal rights - even at risk of personal jeopardy or alienation from the masses.

Interestingly enough, there seems to be a movement growing more and more in the American church to be a "Christian hipster" - to skirt tradition and go off on our own to enact change we believe in.
So what exactly gives hipsters that 'sex-appeal', that desire to be a self-designated outsider that so attracts us?

I believe it lies in the same reasoning behind why many people sponsor children through World Vision and Compassion International, the same reason behind why many people volunteer at the local homeless shelters and food banks. Don't get me wrong, I am by no means discouraging this form of generosity. I am simply pointing out the fact that it is now attractive to associate with the lowly. Humility out of pride. Showing up to volunteer in the ghetto with our Starbucks and desire to help, because it is, well, COOL.

Instead of true humility and service out of a genuine love for God and our neighbor - an attitude like Jesus - we find many people with the attitude of a Pharisee parading as an inner-city Jesus. A desire to do right simply out of arrogance and self-importance. THIS is one thing that bothers me about the modern-day "Christian Hipster" movement.

Many times Jesus would use parables to expose the Pharisee's hypocrisy in public, and in Luke 15 we see one of the most obvious criticisms of the religious leaders. As he associated with 'sinners' the Bible says that the religious leaders "grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”" (Luke 15:2 ESV). Immediately Jesus told 3 parables, finishing with The Prodigal Son. (If you want to read it click HERE.) Most pastors focus on the younger brother, how he squandered his father's wealth and in humility came back to his Father, who received him with open arms. And indeed this is a glorious reception for the son, who lost everything.

 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:17-24 ESV)

The younger brother realized his error, humbled himself, and came to his father as a servant. Adopting an attitude as a servant is certainly no strange concept to the Christian faith. Christ himself humbled himself by becoming human to live and die among us. And we are even encouraged to imitate Him in this humility. (read Philippians Chapter 2 for this!)

The older brother in this story is often overlooked, unfortunately. Even though he lived in his father's house and had everything he needed, he still couldn't rejoice when his brother was restored to the family. All he saw was his brother's sin, not the fact that he had returned. "...he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’" (Luke 15:28-30 ESV)

Up until this past century it was an extremely attractive thing to be a squeaky clean Christian. In other words, people looked up to you and considered you better than others if you went to church, knew scripture, abstained from drinking, sex, cursing etc. In the 21st century we find ourselves in a world where the exact opposite is true. Public views of the church are increasingly more and more negative, and the world criticizes and ridicules Christians who isolate themselves in the confines of the church using words like "legalistic" and "judgmental". This is where the "Christian hipster" music finds its roots. It is a fact that people like to be accepted and their actions approved. By criticizing the body of believers and setting out to associate with those who need help - being something of a prodigal Christian - we find that the world accepts us more and what we do. At what cost though? This facade of humility, acting like the prodigal son while we are nothing more than an older brother, is ripping at the foundation of our faith! What is that foundation? LOVE. Pure, unadultered, selfless, genuine LOVE - straight from the heart of our heavenly Father and intended to be shared with the world out of the overflow of our hearts.

Please don't misunderstand, I am glad that people recognize the flaws in legalism and judgment in the church. I am glad that young people are desiring to pour into the lowly, the poor and 'sinners' as Pharisees would call it. At least needs are being met!

The challenge is that we must remember who we were, and who we are. We are all unworthy of the Father's mercy. We are ALL called to LOVE those around us, and we are most importantly called to die to self. As it says in Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

So who are you?
Do you have the heart of a younger brother, humbly returning to your Father?
Or do you have the heart of the older brother, unable to rejoice in other's joy because your eyes are turned inward?
Are you trying to look like a Prodigal? Or have you found yourself at the place of actually being a Prodigal?
Do we love because He first loved us?

Signing out,
The Buckland Fiddler


  1. Amen, brother Bowman! :D


    P.S. I'm following your blog now!