April 27, 2006
Cooler Than Thou
Believe it or not, as an alternate name for Likewise Books (the new line discussed in an earlier post), people at InterVarsity Press were at one point seriously considering “Cool Books.” Naturally I, the resident authority on comic books, was designated point person for such a line.
In fact, I’m in the process of editing a Likewise book titled Blessed Are the Uncool, which is in part a challenge to American Christians to pick the road less traveled by in how we conduct ourselves with others under God, but is simultaneously a stinging critique of American culture as a product. Ironically, I met the author and began discussing his book idea just a few short months after we began discussing the possibility of publishing “Cool Books.” Being a great fan of irony, I pursued the book with its author, Paul Grant, and we signed the contracts a few months later.
By then, of course, InterVarsity Press had realized that “Cool Books” is a dangerously foolish name for a line of books we hope people will consider cool. Ah, irony, how you continue to bless me with your presence.
The premise of Blessed Are the Uncool is that cool is a cultural force, a concoction made up of disparate cultural values from diverse sources: West African concepts such as itetu (the ability to defuse hostility and tension), hipi (a kind of savvy intelligence) and dega (“to understand”), mixed with the European democratic impulse and the American frontier spirit. Stir it up and add a dash of personal sin, a dollop of systemic injustice and a pinch of supply-side economics, and you have “cool,” defined as "a private performance of rebellion for rebellion’s sake." You can almost taste it, can’t you?
The problem with cool is that it runs effectively counter to Christian virtue.
Christians are meant to be communal, not perpetually privatized.
Christians are meant to be authentic, not preening posers.
Christians are meant to engage in revolution—acts of defiance against unjust principalities and powers that progress inevitably toward repentance and reconciliation—rather than just rebel for kicks.
Cool runs so counter to Christian virtue, in fact, that one could imagine Jesus adding to his blessings in the sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the uncool.”
The problem with me, I’m learning, is that I’m a slave to cool. Seriously—you should see how I’m dressed. I’m not tucked in. I’m wearing a Batman watch. I’m listening to Jewish reggae. I’m trying to be edgy, witty, cooler than thou.
I’m in the right job to be a slave to cool: I get to deconstruct other people’s writing all day every day. I get to weigh in on what will be pitched in the marketplace as “required reading.” I am building cool’s pyramids even as we speak. And I work for a Christian publisher. Ah irony, my constant companion.
Pretty insidious, this “cool.” It’s like a little serpent whispering in my ear. Thank God that he has not left us to overcome it on our own. If we’re willing to endure the social desert of cool-forsakenness, we may just find ourselves stumbling into the promised land of authentic reconciled community, flowing with the milk and honey of human kindness. That’s why God calls us out of cool and into communion with him. You can almost taste it, can’t you?