I work out of an office that I rent. My landlord knocked on my door just this morning and he started laughing. It was the first time he had seen my new mustache. I’m not sure why I bothered to shave my beard off and why I keep maintain my ‘stache, but I like it. The trouble of course is that it might be ironic. I can’t tell anymore. As a product of a public university, where I studied the humanities, my existential thoughts are so convoluted at times, I can’t tell which way is up. Is this a real mustache? Or is it a fake one? Am I making fun of mustaches? Or do I really like mine?
I guess that’s the soul-sucking cost of irony. It has become such a part of our culture, it is now ironic to not be ironic. David Foster Wallace paved the way long ago, apparently. We are expert deconstructionists, who are so involved with what is meta, we can’t really tell what anything means anymore.
It is so hard to apply meaning to something, to put yourself out there and attempt to accomplish something, to build something, or do something real without getting devalued by the critic in the corner. I suppose I don’t blame the people doing that because lately our leaders haven’t given us a direction that can make us more than criticizers.
I feel this way every time I wait in line at the welfare office, or I am endlessly put on hold when I call my insurance company or cable company. I am literally given nothing to do as I wait to sort out another consumer obligation, so I end up just angry and sarcastic. The same applies for the 6.7 percent of people who are unemployed, or the students who are $30,000 in debt.
What is there left to do but make fun of everyone? Dissatisfied with the hand we’ve been dealt, irony might be the only option we have. I’m not going to bother cutting my hair because what’s the point? I’m not going to wear clothing that makes any sense, and if you tell me otherwise, you’re violating the way I am expressing myself. My identity will be formed around the anti-identity I construct by criticizing everything around me. A life deconstructing everything, to the point that our deconstruction is all that’s left, is really a life about nothing. Your life can really be like an episode of Seinfeld.
A lot of the time, I suppose I live in that world—a world that reacts, devalues, criticizes, pokes fun, whatever. And if it happens for long enough, it starts to be something—the thick-rimmed glasses are now a real fashion statement, the skinny jeans too. Even my summer cut-offs might be a real thing! And even though the expressions of our irony might produce something noteworthy, they might leave our soul a little damaged. So than being a reaction, why not try and be something real?
My concern about the reactionaries around me is that if they found me and Circle of Hope just as a way to react against some other thing they disdain, I might be next on the list. I want partners who are doing something, not just not doing something. My three suggestions.
1) Be in a cell. Relate to Jesus through a community. Have real friendships that exist outside of an oak bar. See life through more than the glass that you’re drinking out of, in the crowded pub where we long for connection but can remain just as isolated. Be vulnerable and authentic. Pray in a group. Worship together. Meet and include new people. Get into something deeper in your cell with people that are getting to know you for the first time. Take a risk. Try to be intimate in a real way—not just through a text message.
2) Know you matter, but you aren’t all that matters. Getting through our narcissism is a challenge, but losing our image-consciousness and actually loving yourself is a huge step to being more than a reaction. Self-obsession is a lonely place. Try to move through your own emotions and thoughts as they if are definitive. Be a part of something bigger than you are. Make a commitment. Stay in relationships. Don’t give up on your marriage. Don’t avoid your children. Do something that you wouldn’t normally do. Get rid of a bad habit.
3) Develop an interior life. Try to pray regularly. Don’t be too busy for it. Have the faith it takes to believe that God might move in you. Don’t corner the market on your own soul—let Jesus in. Find a spiritual director or use your pastor. See where God wants to move in your life.
Irony might be ruining our culture—but making sure our culture isn’t ruined is a problem in and of itself. Maybe the whole thing should be ruined. Maybe we’re too self-focused, too pre-occupied with ourselves. I’m committed to doing the alternative and need help doing it. I want to do more than react. I really want to build a different kingdom together. I want to tear down and up root, but I want to build and plan too.