Counterculture Shock

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.

The Chicago Reader lets me assess the young adult culture weekly; the free newspaper in your city will give you access to the same. Please be patient while, for effect, I string together words and images at the heart of that culture. You'd expect to find: rock band, logo, T-shirt, rock festival, mullet haircut, punk, God, skateboard, hip-hop, tattoo parlors, podcast, sportswear brands, "the new shagginess," indie-rock ethos, rebel, "key to cool," etc. Aren't these the official (if in a few cases somewhat dated) icons of that young adult culture?

Sightings sighted them all, not in the Reader, but in a New York Times two-page feature, "Rebels With a Cross: The new counterculture is a Christian movement with music, clothes and alternative churches of its own" (March 2). Author John Leland capably, if a bit breathlessly, looked in on self-defined "rebels," "subversives," and "nonconformists" of the -- yes -- "counterculture." Do your own comparing: What Leland writes about is not "counter" at all; it's "the" culture, but with some Jesus terms and Christian T-shirt slogans (we are shown a sample: "My God Can Kick Your God's Butt.") Does not a counterculture have to inconvenience someone? This one may elicit some "kids-will-be-kids" shrugs among adults, but as Leland describes them, they are as market-oriented as are those against whom they think they are rebelling. Fine. It's their form of witness.

Fortunately for my morale, son Joel this week e-mailed me an item that describes a true counterculture, one that does inconvenience others, is subversive of convention, and is strong on human services. First in the printout is reporting by non-Christian "leftie" Ira Chernus, who was awed by some Christians whose Jesus language put him off even as their works turned him on. Then comes Dr. David Hilfiker, admired around our place ever since another son, Micah, interviewed him some years ago. Hilfiker is "a former poverty doctor" visited by Chernus in the company of 200 Evangelical Lutherans, etc. in Fort Worth, gathered for CBOSS, Congregation-Based Organizing Strategy Summit.

Chernus: "Among the local triumphs some of them claimed were: affordable housing for thousands of families; guaranteed access to health insurance for all children; treatment centers instead of prisons for criminals; a new community center where a meth house used to be; free day-care centers; water and sewer lines for 150,000 rural poor who had none before; laws requiring public contractors to pay a living wage; surveillance cameras in police cars -- to watch the police themselves." And all this motivated by the "called by the Lord to do his work" language that at first nettled Chernus. Hilfiker's witness in "Onward Christian Organizers" tells of his Washington, D.C. church, whose fewer than 150 members have helped house hundreds, placed over 1,000 people in jobs, built 1,000 houses for very low-income people, while asking no "faith questions" of partners or of those who benefit.

These folks are by no means alone, but now look at the culture, then look at them, and you'll know what a true counterculture looks like. "We've been invisible," Dr. Hilfiker says. John Leland, look them up.

For further reading, see: Dr. Ira Chernus teaches in the religious studies department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and can be reached at Dr. Hilfiker is now with Joseph's House, "a ten-bed home and community for formerly homeless men with AIDS," and is author of Healing the Wounds: A Physician Looks at His Work.

This article originally appeared on March 6, 2006.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at Original Source: Sightings – A biweekly, electronic editorial published by the Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.