Thursday, June 04, 2009

It's A Goth World After All

I'm not sure where to start this week - I've been thinking about writing this post/article for a couple of weeks now, ever since I read Chuck Klosterman's article "Something Wicked This Way Comes" in his book, A Decade of Curious People And Dangerous Ideas. In this article originally from SPIN Magazine (which is the link you see above), Chuck talks about going to Bats Day at Disneyland, where 500 or so goths descend upon Disneyland to make it The Gothiest Place On Earth.

At times during Bats Day, it was impossible to swing a dead cat in Disneyland without hitting a goth (of course, if you had swung a dead cat around Disneyland, a few of these kids probably would have found that pretty awesome).
Of course, I'm aware that about 1/2 of the readership of my blog (and most of the readership of my church newsletter) won't have spent a lot of time reading SPIN Magazine lately... or be used to Mr. Klosterman's expletive-laced gonzo/pop journalism style... which is why this paragraph (aka "disclaimer") exists: if you're easily offended, don't read his stuff. Really. He's never met an F-bomb he didn't like.

But regardless of Chuck Klosterman's wordplay, he raises a really interesting concept in the article... one that applies to more than just the goth community.
What do you feed a hungry goth? Apparently, Monte Cristo sandwiches from a restaurant called the Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square. A party of five goths waits for a table in the Blue Bayou's lobby, and I mention that Disney's mainstream parkgoers appear oddly unalarmed by the number of people bumping around in capes and hooded death robes. However, these goths feel differently about the level of tolerance.

"I was just in one of the stores," says 28-year-old chemist Jennifer Nogle, "and all the normals were asking the staff questions like 'What's with these people? Are they part of some weird religion?' Get real."

Nogle's reference to "normals"--goth slang for nongoths--raises an interesting point: People are constantly asking goth kids what makes someone goth. However, an equally valid question is: What makes someone a normal?

"They are not us," Nogle says with focused conviction. "They wear polo shirts."
My "you've got to be kidding" meter spiked when I read this - jumping right up from the yellow area of "smug condescension" into the red of "ridicule outburst approaching." How silly can you get - polo shirts are the key difference? I'm tempted to put a picture of me up next to a picture of a goth & ask if my choice of shirts is the first thing you notice.

So, in an attempt to bring down my level of personal sarcasm, I made myself a little outline of what Ms. Nogle was doing to differentiate herself:
  1. referring to nongoths by a code name ("normals")
  2. feeling as if questions about unusual life choices denoted a lack of tolerance
  3. stereotyping nongoths by an incidental fashion choice

And when I did that, I had to pause & take a deep breath... because simply substituting "evangelical Christian" for "goth" made this resonate in my own life.

  1. referring to nonbelievers by a code name ("lost", "seekers", "unchurched")
  2. feeling as if questions about unusual life choices (pro-life, believing the Bible, various moral issues) denoted a lack of tolerance
  3. stereotyping nonbelievers based on surface issues ("look, he's drinking a beer!" or "he watches R-rated movies")

I'm not suggesting that we abandon any kind of nomenclature for talking about folks who don't follow Jesus Christ... just that we don't use "seeker" or "lost" as a cultural marker to set ourselves apart.

I do think we've got to get over being offended by everyone who asks us a pointed question about what we believe and why we believe it. Peter instructed the believers to...

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NLT)

People not only have the right to question our beliefs... the Bible fully expects them to! And, if that isn't enough, it gives us clear direction on how to respond:

  • prepared
  • with reason
  • gently
  • respectfully

Finally, we have to quit dismissing people because they've made different life choices than us. (That's what stereotyping is all about, btw - if I pigeonhole you, then I don't have to deal with you as a meaningful human being. That is, if you're not clear about it, very much NOT in the character of Jesus Christ.)

While I may be taken aback by a non-believer's decisions and while I may believe that the choices they're making are sinful & destructive to themselves and to others, I'm never empowered by the Bible or the example of Jesus to write them off. From the thief on the cross to the woman caught in adultery to the demoniac chained in the graveyard, Jesus specialized in reaching the people in society who were marginalized by their choices.

Jesus would have loved goths, too. He would have even ridden Splash Mountain with them.

Five goths convince me to go on Splash Mountain with them. This is one of those rides where you sit in a log and get completely soaked, which I normally disdain. But I've never seen wet goths before, so I go along for the trip. I find myself inside a log on an underground river. Everything smells like chlorine and Hot Topic. The girls in front of me are giggling at the animatronic rabbits surrounding us, and I find myself thinking, "How did America become terrified of these people?" Two trench coat-cloaked kids in Colorado may have become twisted killing machines and ruined it for everybody else, but most of these goths are the kind of folk who laugh at fur-covered robots. The ride concludes when the log plummets 50 feet into a mini tsunami. I bid my soaked newfound acquaintances good-bye as they reapply their makeup.

May we be known by how we live rather than by our T-shirts & bumper stickers. May we care for people so much that their stereotypes crumble & blow away. May we see beyond the surface behavior to see the people Jesus loved so much that He died for them on the cross... and may we have that much love for them as well.

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