I recently read an interesting article in Relevant magazine called "The Gospel According to Hipsters" by Brett McCracken. It was very thought-provoking and balanced, I thought. Although I doubt many of us would consider ourselves hipsters, I think most twenty-something Christians are influenced by hipster culture. I can see so many "hipster" characteristics in me, my friends, and other people my age. We can't get away from it, unless we're willing to give up our coffee shop hang-outs and thrift-store scarves.
First of all, here's a (very) brief sketch of hipster culture, if you're wondering what it is. Hipsters are 20 to 30-somethings that tend to dislike anything mainstream. They like indie music, obscure, artsty films, vintage or thrift-store clothing (fashion is a big deal), coffee shops, tea on cloudy days, fresh vegetables from farmer's markets, old-fashioned bikes, etc. They want to show their individuality above all and like to be a little rebellious. They also want to be well-read in literature, philosophy, art, etc. Finally, they pride themselves in being globally aware. Travelling is a big deal, and it's even better if they can go off the beaten track and see more "authentic" sights. Hostels beat out hotels, and they wouldn't be caught dead on a tour bus. See? How many of these things relate to you? All of these things influence their faith.
There are a lot of good things that comes with hipster Christianity, and not just the plethora of tea flavors. As McCracken writes, hipsters can find joy in the little things in life and really appreciate beauty. They rejoice in many parts of God's creation like red suspenders or great conversations. These are great qualities, since we shouldn't take the good things in our lives for granted. They also care about beauty and and appreciate well-crafted things, often wanting to incorporate this into worship or church. They also tend to be thinkers and love conversing about new ideas and how they can find God in culture. All of this is awesome.
Another great thing about hipsters is that they generally care about justice and helping the downtrodden. They are trying to meet a need that hasn't always been met by mainstream churches. Bring on the free-trade coffee and TOMS! Mcracken also points out that they tend to embrace the revolutionary side of the Gospel. Since they're into being counterculture anyway, they bring that to their faith. They aren't afraid of being different; they revel in it.
I also think that hipsters can change some of the negative attitudes people have about Christianity as well as reach out to their friends through their shared interests. When people watch TBN and see the ladies with blue hair crying mascara all over their face, they tend to be repulsed. Hipsters are living examples that not all Christians are like that. Christians can be young and thoughtful and artistic. Besides, they relate well to non-Christians our age. Instead of going door-to-door to talk about their faith, they can do it in the context of relationships while talking about art or movies. I have had many awesome conversations about God that come up when talking about books. It's natural to talk to your friends about things that mean a lot to you, and it doesn't feel like proselytizing.
Besides all of this, hipsters are just people. While internally Christians have a lot in common, we come from all walks of life. Yuppies, trash-truck drivers, fisherman, punks, politicians, homeless people, CEOs, and goths all belong in the faith. Hipsters are just one branch of the family.
Of course, as with everything, there can be some pitfalls that Christian hipsters can fall into. These are things that I often see myself struggling with. Rampant individualism is one problem that most American Christians struggle with, but I think it can be even worse for hipsters. Individualism isn't necessarily bad, but it can lead to a me-first attitude. It can also inhibit our ability to serve. Instead of asking how we can serve in a church, we ask how the church can serve us.
The coolness factor is the biggest pitfall for hipsters, I think. As McCracken points out, the problem with the obsession with coolness is that it alianates people and promotes pride. Sure, hipsters get along well with other young, cool people, but what about others? Would they be friends with a soccer mom? What about the people that like cheesy praying hands banners or WWJD bracelets? And people who shop at American Eagle? Or those who actually like contemporary Christian music? Even if they would be willing to include "uncool" people, would their attitudes be too intimidating for others? Most hipster churches have awesome music, smart people, and good coffee, but they also tend to be pretty homogeneous. Christianity is about accepting all people, whether they're cool or not.
Pride is also a huge problem, as it comes easily. We don't have cheesy services. We know what's going on in the world, unlike those small-minded bumpkins. What? You like Michael W. Smith? And Taylor Swift? Well I like the Radiating Space Monkeys. You probably haven't heard of them.
I know that this is something I struggle with. There's nothing wrong with wanting quality things, but I shouldn't look down on others because they like different things. After all, what do we really have to be proud of? Sure, maybe we're cool according to the standards of this world, but God looks at the heart. That's what matters.
So go ahead, have fun at farmer's markets and enjoy great music. But be careful about how these things affect you and don't forget what our priorities should be. Where is our money going? Are you obsessed with fashion (even if it's cheap)? How much time to do you spend on things that really won't matter in the long run?
Once again, I congratulate you if you've made it to the end of this very long post. Go buy yourself a free-trade hazelnut latte and read some War and Peace.