In the town where I was growing up, there was a gritty, goth-flavored coffee shop on the main drag named In the Company of Wolves Cafe. Having been brought up right in the conservative evangelical tradition, I was careful to steer clear of the pierced, tattooed, androgynous X-ers who frequented that little patch of sidewalk, choosing instead to cross to the other side and hope to God I wouldn’t be taunted or teased for my religiosity. If that were to happen, I would have to defend my pride faith using whatever tools had been handed down to me by the God Police; to prove both the rightness of my religious persuasion, and the velocity with which they, on the other hand, were hurtling toward hell.
The cafe has since lost its’ lease in the larger scheme to gentrify the neighborhood by pushing in franchise productions. It was replaced by a high-end antique store and a St.Arbucks popped up magically across the street. What was lost, however, was not merely a hip, independent coffee house to the inevitability of big business. On a different, more personal level, I lost the freedom inherent in discovering the raw, untamed love of a Creator-God, the beauty of truly believing that he will remain within me as I remain within him in a powerful and present way. I lost my religion to the cultural apprehension and insecurity of an American brand of Christianity that didn’t really know what to do with the street-level manifestations of a philosophical postmodern shift. Not knowing what to do, we tend to either shame the behavior of what threatens our way of life (i.e., bohemians, democrats, queer people, etc.) or shore up the credibility of our own position by circling the wagons (i.e., position statements, manifestos, articles of belief that move beyond Jesus and even Paul and into the minutiae of life – a new law to replace a messy, grace-filled spirituality).
We culturally-insecure Christians do this all the time, this getting out of rhythm with the Holy Spirit, both personally and institutionally. Here’s a key example: in his response to the recently-published Evangelical Manifesto, James Smith points out that even the idea of a manifesto is likely a thinly-guised attempt to frame evangelicalism from a uniquely American perspective.
When the world finally reaches a tipping point at which the export of American Cultural Evangelicalism no longer carries controlling interest in the narrative of Christ’s Body (I think that time has already come, by the way), how will followers of Jesus here in the US respond? Will we be wolves, or doves?
I found out later on, after the cafe had closed, that it was run by a loving Christian couple who wanted to provide a safe haven for the social misfits who, for whatever reason, didn’t fit in. Looking back, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have been welcome at my youth group (and that’s not a knock on my youth pastor, but on the social currents of cultural Christianity). I’m also pretty sure that, while I walked by that cafe from across the street, holding my breath, Jesus was inside, sharing a quadruple espresso with a mohawk-wearing punk, loving him and talking about the Way.