Welcome to Non-conformists Anonymous, a place where all of us recovering rebels can share and feel safe.
As absurd as that sounds, I kind of wish it was a real place. And for any of you who know me much at all, you are well aware of my anti-establishment tendencies. It’s not something I even necessarily do consciously, although for a time in my late teens and early twenties it most certainly was. I can’t help it — it’s in my nature: I have a very hard time listening to music that is ultra popular (although that does have something to do with the fact that most of it is over-produced, commercialized crap, but that’s another topic altogether), and for a period, I even stopped buying my T-shirts at Goodwill, because that’s what everyone was doing. And of course, like every good non-conformist Christian kid, my favorite Bible verse was Romans 12:2. It seems that I have simply been programmed to swim against the stream.
I’ve been watching the Olympics pretty much nonstop for the last two weeks, and what really got me thinking about this topic was a blog I read about some comments one of the American snowboard-cross racers made about other athlete’s pants. Basically he took issue with their “tight” pants and how it was ruining snowboarding’s outsider image. And as the blogger so astutely pointed out, the guy ended up looking and sounding like a hypocritical idiot, mostly because his own baggy pants were designed by a name brand designer, his team is sponsored by Nike, Microsoft, and Visa, and he competes on the ESPN networks, which are owned by Disney, one of the largest companies/cults in the world. You can’t get much more pro-establishment than that.
And that, I think, is one of the main problems with being an intentional non-conformist. In trying to separate yourself from the crowd, all you are doing is trying to get the attention of that crowd, therefore inevitably making you a bigger part of it than you were before. It makes you a hypocrite. It also can give you a sense of prideful superiority: “My collection of obscure indie rock vinyl is so much better than yours.” And that sort of thing.
It was relatively recently, however, when I realized how much my separatist attitude affected me in my faith. I never fully participated in worship because the music was too mainstream. I couldn’t relate to anyone at my church because they were too “suburban.” I fought way too hard to make my “alternativeness” obvious to everyone, and I complained about the ordinariness of my church. It took God slapping me in the face through the wise words of friends for me to realize what I was doing. I was making it about me, and not about Him.
Now having said all of this, I am still not in favor of uniformity and total conformity within the church. There is a place for individuality and self-expression, and if we deny that, I think we are also denying that God created each of us uniquely, and that each of us have a place and a job to do. I’ve realized that my aforementioned “alternativeness” is important in my church, because it is helping to make it a safe place for others who suffer from my same affliction. And let’s be honest–we all feel safer around people who look like us, even nonconformists.
I am who I am, and you are who you are. Embrace it, work with it, but don’t flaunt it. It’s not about you, dummy.
I just wish someone would have said that to me ten years ago.