Every place has a culture with both stated and discrete ways of doing things. Stop at a stop sign. Tip at least 18% at restaurants.
In Austin, there’s a coffee house called Flight Path. In college, it was one of my favorite places to study–mostly because it had a strong culture of silence. It didn’t take long to realize the largest room in the cafe was a place where talking was unacceptable. No rules were posted on the wall stating this explicitly, it was simply a strong cultural expectation.
Most of the rules and strong suggestions, like the silent culture of Flight Path, are good for us, but many aren’t. Maybe in your city, culture dictates a distaste for the homeless. Or it’s discouraging you to talk about your convictions in the work place. Maybe your culture has an aversion to people sharing their faith openly. Or maybe your culture tells you revenge is the natural next step after you’ve been wronged. But the truth is, we don’t live in response to cultural mandates. We live as members of another world, another kingdom–God’s kingdom.
This idea of an invisible kingdom is strange to some people. It feels weird writing it out, like it’s a fantasy land. But it’s not. The kingdom of God is a subculture, a different way of being in the world. I’ve written before about the dangers of the phrase “in the world but not of it” because of the way we can misunderstand the commands of God and become isolationists. What we really need to become are champions of a subculture that loves members of the greater culture at large, but is run by a peculiar, different set of principles.
Merriam-Webster defines a subculture as “an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society.”
Sadly, the Christian subculture is most distinguished in the news by firm stances on hot-button issues: gay marriage, gun control, abortion, etc. It can be a subculture built on fear of a takeover, defensively setting itself apart by declaring what it isn’t, rather than what it is. Clearly coming to a conclusion on these issues is important, but so much more is available to us.
When we see the person of Jesus, we don’t see a man that got his disciples together and spent his time on earth huddled around a table–discussing theories and reminding themselves of how right they were. It wasn’t a group that built a subculture on the foundations of condemnation and fraternity membership. No, the subculture Jesus created was one of truth and hope for the poor. It was a subculture where interacting with culture’s thrown out and downtrodden was an expectation, not an aversion.
This was a subculture that got furious with the rule-based Pharisees, a group I sadly can identify with far too often. I wonder how often our churches resemble a meeting of Pharisees instead of a subculture of Jesus followers?
Take stock of your culture at large. Join the subculture of Christ, choosing to live against the grain in ways that are consistent with the teachings of Jesus. What we will begin to find is that what makes us most against the grain is not the things we stand in opposition to, but the things we advocate for.