Sunday, May 10, 2015

Coolness & Uncoolness

I have written on this subject before, but I'm musing on it a lot as of late so it is more than worth a second look. I dance with FRED ASTAIRE DANCE STUDIO. I have no natural talent, but they have gotten me to the point where I'm an okay dancer. My wife and I together are probably better than okay, but my wife has more talent than I do. I really enjoy working at the studio. I have grown as a dancer and as a person in my relationship with God (I do nothing that fails to get me closer to God). The artistry is great and the exercise is so beneficial. And I am at the level I'm at in no small thanks to the way FRED ASTAIRE does what they do.

That said, as with any human institution, there is a sinful alloy to the culture at FRED ASTAIRE. Even the church fails to be tainted by sin and to have darkness within it, how could it fail to infect something like a dance studio? At it's worst, Fred Astaire becomes a 'merchant of cool'. The people there are very good at making you feel cool. The instructors almost universally have coolness in spades and they are good at making you feel like you are part of the 'in crowd'. It is amazing to dance with a professional, and feels so good to explore your own art and exercise in conjunction with such people. But for someone like me, I will never be cool.

As the film ALMOST FAMOUS explores brilliantly, coolness can be like a drug some people feed you. There is nothing wrong with letting yourself feel cool once in a while. But if you are uncool, as I am, then don't ever fall into the trap of thinking you are 'one of them'. There is the very rare person who can live in both worlds freely, and chooses to. But most of the 'in' are 'in' and most of the 'out' are 'out'. Don't let people sell you 'coolness' without knowing that is what they are doing.

You see this with the artists at comic book conventions, too, and that really frustrates me. Nerd culture should be a testament to uncoolness. But the artists and celebrities at conventions exist as the 'cool crowd', and the artists in particular will sell you that feeling of being 'a part of their community' even when you are not. As much as the artists are selling art, and it is great to get art from them (I mean GREAT), they also often sell the feeling of their friendship and community, a feeling that will quickly dry up once the money is gone. Buy the art, not the cool. Enjoy the cool momentarily, but don't attach to it. If you do you are likely to be manipulated.

Churches, too, often create cultures of 'cool', in this day and age. This is especially true of youth groups. A group of 'in' kids goes to a certain church, and it becomes the thing to do. Or a youth minister who is really good at being 'cool' attracts all kinds of kids, sometimes using 'cool' as a preaching tool, sometimes using it to maintain their job. Every youth minister is in danger of doing this, and probably does form time to time. But if this becomes the foundation of your ministry,  you are buying into a most terrible form of modern manipulation.

Praise be to God, though, Jesus came as one of the 'uncool'. Remember Isaiah, "He had NOTHING that we should esteem him." There was nothing about Jesus that was 'in' that was attractive in the traditional sense. Inspiring, yes, moving, yes, transformative, yes, but not cool...not beautiful in the most common sense of that term. There is probably a reason why we get no physical descriptions of Jesus in the Gospel...His look were probably unremarkable. Jesus was the ultimate outcast, and He didn't even celebrate being an outcast for it's own sake. Jesus was uncool, and that is a very good thing indeed.

For, as ALMOST FAMOUS reminds us, and I think this is one of the wisest things I've ever heard, "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool"...this statement is tacked to the wall in my office. In the midst of moral bankruptcy, only sharing uncoolness has any value at all.

So if you are cool, that is great. Be cool. But try to be one of those people who lives in both worlds, and truly lives as one who does not care that they are cool. They are out there, and they are awesome. If you are uncool, don't worry about it. Embrace it. Explore the moments of coolness you get, but don't ever let yourself fall into the trap of thinking you are that. I know myself. I am not cool. 

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