Monday, October 8, 2012

I'm Too Cool to Like Happy Things

by Ben Howard

I really want to be cool. That's about as honest and direct a statement as I can make. I'm not quite a hipster, but I'm definitely hipster-adjacent. I listen to NPR, I own a fedora, I listen to indie folk music and think Mumford and Sons may have been inspired by God. I mean, I watch Community and if you believe NBC, that show is watched by like five people on a weekly basis. I am part of the one percent!

Sometimes though, that whole "trying to be cool" thing chafes a little bit. It's constricting. You are allowed to enjoy anything, but some of those things you are only allowed to enjoy ironically. But I don't really like enjoying things ironically, I like enjoying them genuinely. It's just more fun if you actually like the things you like.

For instance, this weekend I went to see the new movie Pitch Perfect. It's pretty clear to any outside observer that this movie was made to take advantage of the "let's put on a show" trend that Glee seems to have popularized recently. It's about dueling acapella groups from a fictional college competing for the national title in acapella singing and dancing. That's a pretty bizarre premise. If somebody had mentioned saving the rec center you could have called it Step Up 4: Sing It Out.

Here's the thing: I loved the movie! The songs were excellent, the characters were fun, the story moved, the writing was funny and snarky and playful. This movie knew what it was and didn't take itself too seriously. It wasn't mocking the genre or acting like it was only ironically connected to shows like Glee, it was just having so much fun being exactly what it was.

It's important to note that authenticity and being genuine are things that come from happiness as much as they come from angst and pain. My disposition and personality make me crave for things that have authenticity, maybe its inherent and maybe its part of my hipster-proximity. One flaw in this craving is that I find things that are dark or broken or flawed to be more authentic than things that are happy or bubbly or joyful. There's a special place in my heart for songs in a minor key and romantic comedies with bittersweet endings. I'm the guy who loves the movie Friday Night Lights because the team loses the big game.

I think a lot of churches may have this blind spot too. In fact, I think churches are deeply melodramatic at heart. If you really think about it, most churches mirror the plot of a soap opera. We celebrate weddings and births. We encounter death constantly, both in funerals and the crucifixion. There are often tears and life-changing moments of personal insight. There's even a sizable amount of backstabbing and political intrigue.

But when it comes to joy? To excitement and happiness? It comes across forced and out of place. Church is for propriety and solemnity, not fun and enjoyment.

Why is that? Why can't the joy and excitement of the resurrection inspire a church-wide dance party? Why would that seem out of place? Is the church too cool to be authentically deeply happy? Is it too concerned with what it looks like to just have fun being what it is?

The church is like the ragamuffin band of wannabe acapella singers in Pitch Perfect. Black and white, cool and uncool, traditional and iconoclastic, fat and skinny, weird and normal, yet somehow when we embrace those differences and just start to accept them and have some fun being who we are there's a chance for beautiful, transcendent harmony.


When he isn't writing about Pitch Perfect, Ben is listening to the soundtrack. Yes, he bought the soundtrack. It's really, really catchy. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at]

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