Saturday, November 28, 2009

To Write Love On Her Arms

Rolling Stone Magazine taught me something interesting about ministry today. This article is about Jamie Tworkowski and his ministry, "To Write Love On Her Arms". It profiles him as a surfer dude and hip apparel salesman who decided his life's calling was to reach out to depressed teenagers. Combining t-shirts and hoodies with compassion, hugs and simple words of hope he is making quite a splash.

It makes me think about something that has been on my mind every now and then - the place of 'cool' in the church. It's easy to be too simplistic about this and either say "the church has no business chasing after fads" or "we'll be irrelevant if we don't appeal to the next generation". I have sympathies with both sides. I definitely see ministries that seem to be so busy being 'hip' that they are shallow and off-putting to someone like me. I also see ministries that are so determined to resist even the appearance of interest in pop-culture that it is no wonder no one can relate to them.

Ultimately there is room for all types out there. I like knowing that monks on Mt. Athos are living much as they did 1500 years ago. I like having words and songs in my worship that were written by John Chrysostom. I also like being able to talk to my people and having something in common with them. It's good when we can share a laugh about the Daily Show, or my teens can introduce me to new music and I genuinely enjoy it - not just feign interest. I've never personally been a very cool person, and the thing about 'cool' is that it can't be feigned. You just look like an insecure dork when you do.

What do you think? How much 'cool' would you want in your church? In your ministry? Do you make any effort to stay current with pop-culture - or is that a huge waste of time, or worse - a path to sin and debauchery? If a given minister is 'cool' does that make his ministry more or less effective? What about the gospel itself - is it cool?


Doug Hagler said...

I hope that the gospel transcends cool, but like cool there are a lot of things caught up in the gospel, and the gestalt is more than the components. That is, I like that to a certain degree, when you define cool you destroy it. The same is true of the gospel - it transcends words. Unlike cool, I believe the gospel is accessible to everyone.

I've given this more thought than I expected, and might write a kind of follow-up (my habit lately I guess). I find cool-ness off-putting and sometimes intimidating, since I've never been anywhere near cool. It's also sometimes just contemptible emptiness dressed up in designer clothes.

I do think, though, that the gospel finds a new expression in each person it touches, and so the gospel reaching out and claiming a cool person will probably result in a life and ministry that presents the gospel as cool. The hope is that it is a lot more than cool as well - that there is still the germ of that which transcends.

I also support pretty much any attempts to help people not hurt themselves and get help for addiction. If I have to put up with some trendiness, that's fine.

Aric Clark said...

I think in adult life 'cool' is more complicated than in Middle School. For example, I'd say you are pretty cool among geeks. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say there is something which passes for cool in our social strata - it includes stuff like the Daily Show, Penny Arcade, the Escapist... we have common knowledge of aspects of various subcultures - gaming, blogging, liberal politics. Nick can talk about wine and beer. We can all talk about WoW (with 12 million players its pretty popular)... it's funny that the age of the internet has in some ways made geekiness cool.

I'm not saying these things are the essence of 'cool'. Nick is probably 'cooler' in the classic sense than either you or I. With his GTI and Jeep, and trendy t-shirts and buttons and subscription to Relevant Magazine and XBOX 360... jerk. :P

But, there are things we would think are 'cool' and there are many people who would agree with us. And those things could be off-putting and sometimes intimidating to people who aren't into the same things as us...

I don't know what I'm saying. Just that I suspect 'cool' sneaks into our ideas for ministry in many ways, even if we're not exactly 'trendy' people.

Nick.Larson said...

Yea I agree I'm probably cooler than both you'll (oh crap now I just used the word "you'll" that can't be cool)...but I digress.

I think the essence of cool is truly undefinable and thus will always be illusive. But as far as cool and the church goes I would argue that cool is different things. I would say that there are certainly things that would make coolness inherently good and things that would make coolness inherently bad.

As far as minister's "trying" to be cool...I'm pretty much down right against it. As a minister (as in life) I believe that you have to have integrity. If your trying to be cool, that certainly is not cool. Hense if you worry about your coolness you ultimately fail to be cool. I don't think churches should worry about chasing fads...but I also think church can be on the cutting edge of them. Who says we can't be early adapters and pioneers of coolness?

I would say you shouldn't spend time trying to stay current, but you should live your life in such a way that you are exposed to things outside the church that you truly enjoy and find ways to bring them into your ministry. So like for those of us who play WOW we shouldn't be reserved about talking to people within the church about it OR pulling from the daily show for a sermon reference (if it fits).

Ultimately I think the effectiveness of a person's ministry can be effected by her/his coolness but I think there are greater things than that in which we should worry about. I truly believe if you find a way to authentically live out the gospel in our culture then you will attract other people to notice you and desire to find out what makes you different (dare I say cool?).