On Being Pretentious and a Christian Intellectual.
First, a warning about this post. This is going to be a navel gazing, horrendous example of blog self reflection. Feel free to pass on reading this if you don’t like such things. Trust me, I will completely understand.
My parents and friends call me an intellectual. I know they think they are giving me a compliment when they tell me that. And, when I was younger, I loved the label. For a kid who struggled trying to figure out his identity, it was something I could grasp on to and make it a huge part of myself.
But lately, I have been wondering if it really describes me very well. And if it does, I’m not sure that I like what it describes.
I loved (and still do) good, reasonable discussion about deep things. I read three or four books at a time ranging from science, theology, history or novels. I wear a tweed sport coat in the winter. I wear stylish hipster glasses. In short, I look and act the part. I love Indie film and one of my favorite movies is “There Will Be Blood.” Not exactly a blockbuster.
But, then there is the other side of me who watches Dumb and Dumber when he needs a good laugh. Or loves yelling his head off at an Ohio State footbal game, chanting O-H-I-O, or, I cringe as I write this, who actually has a secret love of teen movies. Two of my favorites include Can’t Hardly Wait and Bring it On. Yes, I just said that. I thought that the second Transformers movie was horrible in plot, dialogue and a general brain dead story. But, damn it, it was cool to watch robots crash around. As a pastor friend of mine once said, “Can you really get more male than cars transforming into robots?”
For the longest time, I had a hard time reconciling these two aspects of my personality. I think it’s safe to say the intellectual side of me was ashamed of the “other” side of me. The intellectual side wanted to be cool, hip, knowledgeable, and smart. That part of me is screaming that I just admitted my love for teen comedies.
As I write this, it seems silly and stupid. Why shouldn’t I just be who I am and deal with the contradictions? I think it’s because as a Christian, I have this desperate need to look credible to cool, hip and smart to people. I don’t want to be the typical dumb American Christian who gorges himself at Denny’s after church, then scratches himself as he watches football all day. I keep wanting intellectual types to notice how cool and with it I am, so they know that Christianity has some credibility. I want to impress all of you atheists out there with how hard I work at knowing the latest on science, evolution and philosophy.
This isn’t to say that Christianity shouldn’t strive to be smart and understand it’s culture. I would be the last person in the world to say that, as that’s pretty much what I do for a living. I despise how willfully stupid American Christians have become. Notice, I didn’t say ignorant. It’s not a crime to be ignorant. It just means you lack knowledge in a certain area. But, it is a crime to be willfully stupid about things like many in American Christianity.
But, I sometimes wonder if in the rush not to be “Stupid American Christians” if me and my fellow hip Christians are trying too hard. Instead of just being who we are, creating culture, loving smart things and generally being people created in the Image of God, we talk about how smart and credible we are. We whine when we aren’t given “our due” or “equal time”. We talk about culture a lot, but rarely do we actually, in the words of Andy Crouch and his most excellant book, become “Culture Makers”. And more importantly, to focus on the people around us. We have become too satisfied gazing at our navels and loving our own belly button lint as we pick at it.
For me, I live in many worlds. I live in a city neighborhood that is a mix of blue clollar folks, urban hipsters, and intellectual nerds like me. And I love it. I can talk to my neighbor across the street about the Buckeyes and then my next door neighbor about the need for health care reform. I can talk tonight about whether there is one true religion. I can sing “On Top of Spaghetti” at the top of my lungs with my six year old son at his Cub Scout camp out. It’s in these moments that I stop reflecting on myself as an intellectual or non intellectual to just enjoy the life God has given me. To enjoy the talents and abilities He has given me to love life, create good things and love people.
I really hope I can keep that lesson in mind. Hold me to it, will you?