I’m sitting here on a Saturday. Miles Davis and John Coltrane buzz wickedly out of my laptop speakers. An inner debate rages within my head: should I have tea, or a small cup of coffee? You see, I’ve been trying to let go of my coffee addiction. Yesterday, however, this letting go process gave me a terrible caffeine headache. Cold turkey may not be the way to go. So, here I am. Coffee or tea? Alas.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the phrase “Counter-Cultural.” I’ve been turning it over in my head, examining it from different angles. I hear the phrase rather frequently. And I always hear it as an inherently good state; it is better to be counter-culture than running with culture, apparently. I have some friends that I would deem “counter cultural” because they wear tight jeans and listen to bands no one else has ever heard and have hair that lets other people know they don’t really care what they look like. These friends may not appropriately be counter cultural but rather “underground” like the beatniks fifty years ago. They stand a step ahead of culture. After all, Kerouac’s beatniks helped pave the way for the cultural revolution of the ‘60’s.

I feel a little extra cool for listening to Davis and Coltrane this morning. A little counter cultural, maybe.

I feel like the church often tells me to be counter cultural. Is this true? Do others feel this way? I probably haven’t heard too many sermons with their basis as being a counter culture, but it gets thrown in rather subtly, rather self-approvingly time and again. I hear things such as “We act like _____, while the rest of the world goes and _____.” These two blanks usually stand in stark relief, one obviously being good, the other not so good.

The phrase counter-culture (whether you write it with a hyphen or not) clearly means against culture. In popular terms, this doesn’t mean a Marxist revolt but a decision to stand out and be different. Which means sticking your head up above the crowd, and determining whether you like the direction where everyone is headed. And if you don’t, then you go somewhere else.

Too often it seems like the church wants to be counter cultural, but is really side-cultural. On the surface, we really try to stick our heads up and walk a different direction. Unfortunately, this direction means moving to the edge of the crowd and following along on its cusp, complaining the whole time. We drink a little less alcohol and buy Christian music and figure we’re really shoving it in the faces of those MTV execs. Then we hop into our SUV’s and drive home to our house in the suburbs where we get on the internet and cruise around like the rest of America, catching up on the latest gossip and news. Or, take me for example. Not only am I giving up coffee, but I also am listening to music without words. Just jazz. I don’t watch too much television and my car doesn’t have hubcaps. I know this is hard to believe but it’s all true.

And I would like to believe that this makes me counter cultural. But my brother and his wife don’t even own a television. No TV. Also, they have one car for the two of them. Oh, they both can drive. That’s not a problem. They simply decided: no TV, one car.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone should sell a car or get rid of your television. That would be plain foolish. I am saying, however, that my brother and his wife stuck their head up above the crowd. They didn’t go along with the group; they questioned. The questioning got them a life that is probably richer and more meaningful for them. It’s exactly this that I believe being counter cultural means. Sticking your head up. Looking around. Finding the deeper things of life. Slowing down and asking: “Why a bigger house or bigger television or newer car? What will it do for me?”
I have not yet gotten rid of a car or television because I don’t like the direction we’re headed. I did, however, decide to go for the tea over coffee. And that’s something.