Shock and awe will be induced by the words that follow. Those that know me now will just not believe that: I WAS NOT COOL IN HIGH SCHOOL. I was a (I can see you holding your breath), yes, I was A NERD. Not cool; not even close. I was on the debate team. I was a member of the NFL (no, not that NFL; the National Forensic League [back when forensic meant mostly speechifying and not examining larvae from dead humans to estimate time of death]). My high school picture still makes me simultaneously laugh and cringe.
But I so wanted to be cool. Cool the way the cool kids were…cool enough to have people listen to me and emulate me (the fact that I knew what “emulate” meant was problematic in and of itself). Cool like the stars of the athletic teams and the drama kings and the other cool kids. The cool kids were cool without even thinking about it. But you know that they did–think about it that is.
I wasn’t alone in my desire to be cool; lots of kids who weren’t wanted to be cool. Sad, we were and brokenhearted (thanks, Yoda). Not content to be who we were and discover those things we were made to do, we sought the elusive (and ever fickle) prerogatives of coolness by feigning interest in the things of coolness. And, sad to say, we often scouted around for those further down on the coolness scale than we so we could have at least some segment of the population over whom we held some cool sway.
Those of us who weren’t cool were usually just slightly out of step with the latest thing. Like the lone member of a marching formation who just can’t quite get in step; we were trying to follow along but we couldn’t ever find the cadence of coolness. Oh, sure, we “marched to the beat of a different drummer.” But really, inside, we didn’t want to be aligned with the not cool percussionist; we wanted “in.” We wanted to be cool. We were, in today’s vernacular, carrying the iPhone 3G in an iPhone 5S world. And just when we upgraded, they brought out the next model; we never quite got to cool.
Fast forward fifteen years or so and I became a Christian. As I immersed myself in this new world, this Bible world, guess what I discovered? I was still with a group of people who wanted so very much to be cool. We have our own variety of Christian coolness and, sadly, it looks a lot like a knock off copy of the coolness of the world that swirls around us. Don’t believe me? Check our websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and Instagram pics. We want to be cool people who believe in Jesus so that the cool people who don’t believe in Jesus will want to hang out with us. Or at least not think us too weird, too strange, too uncool.
But I don’t believe God ever intended for us to be cool. He intended for us to be in relationship with Him. He intended for us to be “new creations” that flabbergast the world with our utter dependence upon Him and our utter disregard for the things that constitute coolness.
In 1964, the now classic Christmas Season TV special debuted: Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Featuring the Rudolph with his nose that glows so bright and his quirky wanna be dentist elf friend, Hermey, the old animated show never loses its charm.
Pivotal to the story is Rudolph’s and Hermey’s wandering to the Island of Misfit Toys. There they meet a Charlie (not Jack) in the Box, the toy cowboy who rides an ostrich, the polka-dotted elephant, the bird that swims (not flies), and other passed over toy misfits. These toys have been rejected Christmas after Christmas; being found wanting because they do not fit the toy norms. Dare I say they were not cool toys?
Of course (spoiler alert for those of you who have not seen the TV special in the last 49 years), Rudolph finds his place as lead reindeer on Santa’s sleigh and they redeem the Misfit Toys by delivering them to children on Christmas Eve.
It has hit me recently; what we Christians in our churches really are (or are really supposed to be), are collections of Islands of Misfit Toys; archipelagos of foolish things that don’t quite fit the world around us but who keep trying very hard to do so. God has made us into new creatures to confound the world. We want to have it both ways: to enjoy the counter coolness of God while trying to be cool in the eyes of those around us.
Just one passage from the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, “26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord’.”
Please don’t misunderstand, there is nothing inherently wrong (and very many things right) with intellectual, athletic, or cultural achievement, unless we allow them to fuel the desire to be cool rather than the desire to honor God: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Sad but true, I think, our innate desire to fit in can override our biblical sensibility. And that, is decidedly not cool. Surrendering our desire to be cool may be one of the most pressing discipleship challenges of our day and time.
Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys.