In his amazing post on the Superflat culture of 21st century Japan, Mark Sayers describes the existential crises many young Japanese people experience upon arrival in the Australian outback. Since the atomic bomb was dropped on their homeland, they have retreated to the opposite extreme of anything with gravity. They have breathed artificial life into a bubbly and cute culture where the adolescents are blinded by the flashing lights and noisy colors.
Nothing is serious. Nothing is deep.
Sayers writes about many of them graduating from college, vacationing to some foreign land like Australia, renting a car, and driving to the center of the continent where there is nothing but vast expanses of red ground and blue sky. “Deprived of stimulation, outside of their superflat world, they would have a spiritual and existential breakdown,” writes Sayers. “The superflat distraction was detoxed out of their system and the big questions of life, God, human existence and death were now at the forefront of their mind.” They find God in the middle of the desert.
The trouble for us is, though she wears a different colored dress, we live in the same kind of culture. Think about how we go about meeting people, particularly of the opposite sex. The conversation is built upon a foundation of sarcasm and small jokes.
We wash away our troubles, stresses, and fears by immersing ourselves in the oily waters of sitcoms and YouTube clips.
The notion of a hipster is someone who has built their core values on irony and satire. They wear a corny wolf t-shirt not because they think the shirt is cool, but exactly because it is not. They don ugly sweaters and nasty shorts to poke fun at them–the style is a fashion of irony. It’s a way of hiding in public, saying that you can’t make fun of them because they are already making fun of everything. Life to them is a joke that you’re not in on.
Have you wondered why the concept of a hipster did not arise until the past decade?
On April 20, 1999, two teenage gunmen marched through Columbine High School killing over a dozen people, mostly fellow classmates. This would result in countless copycat shootings over the following decades. September two years later, terrorists steered planes into the World Trade Center towers. Thirteen years removed, we can’t seem to bring any sort of weighty issue to the public mind. And if we do, it is quickly satirized by talk show hosts and late night comedians. Death is taboo, and what happens after is irrelevant. For Americans, it has become easier to escape into the world of comedy and irony than to honestly look at our spattered history and present reality.
I have recently realized that many of my relationships are built on nothing more than inside jokes and our shared ability to quote Nacho Libre or Monty Python. Internet memes and social games. It’s no wonder, then, that I have been battling loneliness while simultaneously wearing the smiling face of someone else.
In my previous post, I wrote about the fact that loneliness is something that takes place internally rather than externally. I still believe this to be true, but we humans were not made to function alone. We were designed for intimacy with God and one another. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it,
Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.
However, true community is not gathering together to stream Portlandia marathons or hop on the Youtube flow for hours on end. These are not bad things, but to initiate true fellowship, we need to shut off the electronics, the distractions, and dive deep. People of my generation in particular struggle with this because we so desperately avoid looking in the mirror and being vulnerable. Not physical reflective surfaces (we love those too much), but the spiritual mirror that allows us to know ourselves and be known by others. Conversations where we are allowed to ask hard questions and required to answer them. Simple questions like,
What has the Lord been teaching you lately?
What do you want? Really want?
Why do you keep returning to your porn/drug/alcohol/one night stand addiction?
What are the times in your life when you felt hurt the most, and, can Jesus meet you there?
What does God think of you?
I have realized that these conversations do not start themselves. We need to take initiative to begin them; to begin healing ourselves and one another. That’s why I began this series. Each of us is wounded from something (many things), and 99% of these are wounds from intimacy. From people who were supposed to love us, but left instead. Parents who hit us rather than holding us. From middle school kids who closed their circle of friends while we orbited in the atmosphere of rejection. Of ‘almost cool enough.’ I’ve been there and you have too.
It’s easier to float in the ethereal and substance-less realm of comedy and satire. It is both a shield to our vulnerability and an escape from reality. It’s even easier than letting the Lord love and heal you.
Look at Jesus, the most genuine and substantial human to ever live. Examine His interactions with people, even strangers, and you will not find small talk or sarcastic jokes. Rather, you will find that He dives straight to the deepest parts of who we are and gets to work healing old wounds.
In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in the middle of the day. She would have gone at that time because no one else would be around and she wouldn’t have to face anyone. She was a person drenched in shame. In her initial interaction with Jesus, she even seems a little snappy.
But Jesus, rather than avoiding the issues at hand, goes straight for her heart. He tells her that there is water that is better than this liquid; water so good she will never thirst again. He tells her to go get her husband and return.
But she doesn’t have a husband.
Jesus knew this, and pointed out that she has had five husbands, and she is currently living with someone new. He did not dance around the point, but rather pointed directly to her weakness. He saw that she had been trying to quench her spiritual thirst with man after man, but none could satisfy the resounding thirst in her soul.
He then discourses on the coming time when all people will worship together, and invites this hurt, broken, thirsty woman to join in the feast. Jesus was impatient in the best way possible. He did not wait to build relationship before he began loving them. He started upon contact, going straight to the deep wounds. Thirsts. Pains. Longings.
I want to be a person who is not scared of vulnerability or hesitant to engage the spiritual lives of others. I want to build relationships on a foundation of depth and trust rather than sarcastic pokes and hollow attempts to impress. I want to be someone who doesn’t hide behind a veneer of satire and a shield of cultural irrelevance. I want my identity to be firmly rooted in my relationship with the Lord.
And judging by the feedback on the first two posts, you are too.
Let us initiate this deeper conversation.