“Hipster” Church”

          I aspire to be a “Hipster” Christian and belong to a “Hipster” church.  I am also 60 years old, definitely not “hip,” and tend to be a bit suspicious of “niche” churches.  Yet I still hope to be a “Hipster” and discover churches that are as well.

          You see, the 21st century version of “Hipster” church is neither the first nor the most profound expression of this kind of faith and church.  No, there is a biblical version.  And it is that kind “hipster” faith that resonates with me.

          Here’s the section of Genesis 32 where biblical “hipster” faith is narrated.  I’m using Eugene Peterson’s The Message.

          24-25 But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint.
26 The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”
Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”
27 The man said, “What’s your name?”
He answered, “Jacob.”
28 The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”
29 Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?”
The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him.
30 Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!”
31-32 The sun came up as he left Peniel, limping because of his hip. (This is why Israelites to this day don’t eat the hip muscle; because Jacob’s hip was thrown out of joint.)

A man named Jacob, a wily trickster-liar with a long record of deception and deceit on his resume, had a dream one night while he was on the run from his brother.  Jacob sees a ladder spanning heaven to earth with angels all over it.  Suddenly, God himself was there!  And instead of judgment for his many betrayals, God graciously reaffirms to Jacob that he too is included in the promise given to his grandfather Abraham (see Genesis 28:13-15).

God encounters Jacob at this low point in his life and privileges him with the greatest news he could have ever heard.  He is a part of that people God will use to bless the rest of the world!  Instead of scheming to betray and swindle others, God tells Jacob he is now a part of God’s scheme to bless everyone else.

When we meet Jacob in Gen.32 it seems clear that this promise of God has begun to impact Jacob.  He’s apparently realized that he had hit bottom and risks to set some things right in his life, beginning with his brother Esau.  Jacob has sent his family on ahead of him and stayed behind to meet his brother and his entourage the next day.

Before that “reunion,” however, God intervenes again.  He’s gotten Jacob’s attention with his promise to him.  Now he wants the whole man!

Hence, this strange story of a human-angelic/divine wrestling match.  As little as we can make sense of the details of this “event,” its meaning seems clear.  “This hand-to-hand combat” between God and Jacob goes on all night.  The seriousness of this struggle could hardly be made clearer.  In this struggle Jacob becomes a biblical “Hipster” when his divine combatant wounds his hip and leaves him maimed for life.

More curious still is that though wounded Jacob prevails and receives the blessing he demanded from God!  And that blessing is a change of name.  No longer is he Jacob, the trickster, double-dealer, always seeking to gain an advantage over others.  Now and forevermore he will by “Israel.”  This new name means “you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through” (v.28).

Jacob/Israel knows he has met God, and lived to tell about it! (v.30)  “Hipster” Israel bears forevermore the mark of this struggle with God and it becomes the characteristic mark of God’s people from that day on.

Biblical “Hipster” churches, whatever their age or social demographic, then, are those who

-realize they have been caught up in God’s great scheme to bless the world through them by virtue of baptism into God’s people;

-make themselves vulnerable to struggling with God by stepping outside their comfort zone in faithfulness as Jacob did by remaining behind to meet his brother face to face;

-engage the struggle with God in utter seriousness (Jacob’s all-night struggle);

-expect a blessing from God (though without dictating the shape of that blessing);

-discover in the process that their true identity (Jacob’s name change to Israel) is cruciform (wounded hip), that is defined by the downward nobility and sacrificial servanthood of the cross; and

-become “Peniel,” the “face of God,” a people touched/wounded by God’s presence with a new tale to live out in the world.
Yes, non-hip old man that I am, I yet hope to be a “Hipster” Christian in a “Hipster” church in the biblical sense.  I hope and pray you do too!


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