Last Saturday I joined my wife in taking my youngest daughter down to Oakland for orchestra rehearsal at Laney College with the Berkeley Youth Orchestra. We had three parts to our plan, the first being to stop in at a bakery in Oakland we'd not visited, walk around Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland, and then sit in a downtown McDonalds to work while we share a single mocha frappuccino and large french fry. Believe me when I say this kind of plan in an urban area is an adventure.
We started with Arizmendi Lakeshore in Oakland, which is a cooperative. Have you ever been to a bakery that is a cooperative? Growing up, I understood farm coops, perhaps the Grange, but there is nothing like the cooperative bakery. I had already been to a cooperative bakery in Berkeley, the Cheeseboard. To begin, these two places, Arizmendi and Cheeseboard, make a good product. In the end, people won't eat there if they don't like the food. The employees would cooperate alright -- in mutual bankruptcy.
I've talked to the participants of cooperation in Berkeley and they would say the beauty of their endeavor is found in mutual ownership, that is, when everyone owns, each does better work. Conceivably every person working knows that he could profit more with greater contribution to the cooperative. I think this concept can succeed in certain local only situations. Everyone else right there provides accountability. However, overall, the idea is a fail, because in general, if everyone shares equally in the profit, some by nature tend to slough off, like they did when the common store concept flopped in 1607 Jamestown. You reach a tipping point when takers outnumber producers. But I digress.
Arizmendi leaves a tiny area for customers to sit, ala Paris, with two rows of tiny circular tables crammed into a small front area. I squeezed into a spot and waited and watched the multitude as my wife chose our samples. Facing the front window in the second row, I was wedged next to four millennials on my left, who conversed about their jobs in the state school system, sprinkled with profanity.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, entering Arizmendi, looked the same. If you don't know the geography of the East Bay here, Oakland next door neighbors Berkeley, and it felt like Berkeley. It can't be a coincidence that everyone looked the same. What I'm saying is that you could see, feel, and hear a culture there, it's very own culture. I can also testify that I have witnessed this same culture -- identical -- in Greenwich Village in New York City, in San Francisco, in Portland, Maine, in Santa Cruz, and even in Park City, Utah. I just saw it in a short documentary of Burlington, VT, the political home of Bernie Sanders. It looks, sounds, and even smells the same. As much as people laugh at Bernie Sanders's hair, a lot on some parts of his head and not so much on others, it reflects his culture. Yes, Bernie Sanders's hair signals a message to his followers.
If everything means nothing, how does everything look the same in the above mentioned places? Uniformity does mean something. If someone dropped you down into the middle of Tehran, you would look around and know that you were someplace with great homogeneity. I see the same thing in modern evangelicalism today. A culture has emerged and then formed in evangelicalism. It is not biblical culture, but it is a distinct look and feel. You could step into an evangelical meaning and recognize many similarities from Hartford to Seattle. Evangelicals will say that none of this matters. It's all non-essential, and so non-essential that it looks like you must have it everywhere. It's not essential, but it is everywhere.
By the way, I'm not arguing against a culture. I'm not even arguing against homogeneity. I'm saying that culture does matter to people as seen in their absolute conformity to it. They should stop calling it a non-essential, when it's obviously essential. Labeling it non-essential means tolerate it even if it is essential to "me." The folks in Oakland and Berkeley want to express their solidarity with a particular point of view and you see it and hear it and feel it. Everyone really does know this. When you are in Berkeley, you know you are in Berkeley. Big time.
Let me throw some words at you. Bohemian. Shabby chic. Beat culture. Folk. Hippie. You, like, get my drift, I'm sure. It's very similar to what you would have witnessed in the rise of the proletariat in the Russian revolution and even quite similar to the cultural revolution of Mao or Che Guevara. It is a protest culture against the man, against industrialization, and postmodern in nature -- the noble savage, the idealized outsider not yet corrupted by civilization. Modernism didn't work for them, so they live in a constant state of protest. The various pieces to the costume exude the meaning.
What you see in Berkeley and Oakland does mean something. It expresses a particular point of view, a world view, that is quite uniform. As much as Bernie Sanders emphasizes democracy, which he sees the same as socialism, you don't get the kind of difference you might expect where supposedly you are allowed choices. How could everyone get a choice and then turn out the same?
Two millennial women met up at Arizmendi, friends, joined later by two brothers. One woman taught the disabled and one man taught freshmen in high school. They had graduated and launched out to change the world. Reality might have been smacking them in the face as evidenced by exhaustive complaining and whining, the educators employing four letter words, identical ones as both nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, the same two or three again and again.
The expletives characterize the culture. The adherents punctuate their dissatisfaction with foul words in harmony with their appearances. They spoke about nothing. Their conversation was perpetual superficiality -- shared grief and frustration and exasperation, or what Solomon called vanity. The culture doesn't function without debilitation and a mythical boogieman. They are entrenched victims where real solutions would eliminate their reason for existence. The uniform expresses their misery in a never ending struggle for utopian society. For now, they share pain with no real hope for shared pleasure. They find pleasure in sharing similar struggles.
Christianity once too expressed its own meaning, possessed its own sacred symbols of salvation and sanctification. Now the false front Christian embraces the culture of the world, attempting to harmonize its message with the disparate expression of paganism. By identifying with the various forms of utopianism, Christians have joined the hopelessness and vanity of the world. They defend their capitulation with meaning obliviousness. They "don't know what you're talking about." Many, if not most, do, but they play dumb like a petulant primary buoyed by superficial popularity and doctrinal ambiguity. They have embraced the uncertainty of postmodernism and shared its expression.
I hear evangelicals and fundamentalists complain about the vulgarity of Donald Trump and sometimes in a hostile way. They long ago embraced that very culture, the Trump culture, and still promote its perpetuation. The culture shapes the affections which generates a new doctrine and practice. They are the spiritual enablers of Trumpism, which I don't see that much different than Cruzism. Evangelicals capitulated to church growth, even professing Calvinists, and out of desperation to remain relevant in a lost world. They already sold their birthright for a mess of pottage.
The people most concerned with meaning in the loudest way denounce the importance of meaning in culture. They push comics and movies and rock music and whatever form of entertainment as indispensable to Christian liberty and the grace of God. They are the apologists of Charismaticism and deficient discernment. They too have trashed our culture and then defended those who have joined them, attacking those who criticize. They should sit down in silence in the mess they spawned, luxuriate in the the postmodern soup they have brewed.