How to be counter-cultural

Counter-cultural. I was probably in middle school when I first heard the phrase, understood the word, was told that I was called to it. It was at a Christian music festival, and I was listening to an abstinence speaker claiming she often got mistaken for an albatross speaker when she told people what she did. THAT was how counter-cultural keeping your pants on was.

Abstinence wasn’t the only counter-cultural thing mentioned in my youth group days, but it was probably mentioned the loudest and most often. Mostly abstinence from sex, but drugs, alcohol, and swearing were also mentioned as things the cultural wanted me to do that I should also abstain from.


I wanted so desperately to be counter-cultural. I wanted to be different, for Jesus, for myself, for the world. I wanted to counter the culture. I wanted to save the world. I’d be lying if I implied it wasn’t all still true. And I don’t think I’m the only one, the only counter-cultural hopeful out there. I know because I see you.

I see you. I see you worried about the state of this world. Me too. I am worried about this beautiful world of ours too. I see you angry at the state of the environment, the political systems, the world. I am angry too. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It isn’t Godly. I agree.

We need something to CHANGE! We need a REVOLUTION! We need to FIGHT THE MAN, man! We do. It’s true. We need to counter this culture of ours.

I see you in my classroom with your funky colored hair, with the patches on your book bag, with your rolling eyes. I see you with your hard back copy of the complete works of Poe, with your indie band t-shirt and your hand crocheted slouchy beanie. I am for real, and unironically jealous of your flowered Doc Martens. I get it.

I get your teenage angst. I don’t know if you will ever grow out of it. I haven’t completely grown out of my. You are right to be giving the side eye to this world. You are right that there is sometimes nothing to do but sigh.

I see you on my Twitter feed, with your furry, your frustration, your sub-tweeting. I see you with your sarcasm and your rage. I get it. ragey and sarcastic are important and humor is one of the best ways to subvert an empire. I too want to subvert the empire, to counter this culture that I know is so damaging.

I see you on Facebook. Your deep and strong desire to protect the things that need protecting. I get it. I do. I have two little girls of my own, and 180 students that I also claim. I understand how scary it can be living in a world like this. Surely we can do a better job of protecting our most vulnerable.

I too want this world to be headed in a new direction. I too wish that something would change. I too long to see the church become radically different from anything this world has to offer. I can work myself into an angry, anxious, pessimistic ball of hardness if I let myself. I can run myself into the ground circling round and round the brokenness of this world. I wish to be counter this culture. I think maybe you do too.

I am learning that there are big bold ways to be counter cultural. I am watching people do it. I am proud of them. But I am not sure I am called to living on a mountainside in a yurt I have built with my own too hands. I am learning the quiet radical ways to counter the culture that is burning me out.


If we want to be counter-cultural, perhaps we should start here:

Take a nap when you are tired, even when you have a to do list a mile long. Decide that your body is telling the truth            and rest in the Sabbath that was created for you.

 Be kind. Be patient. Even when you get cut off, even when you are short on time. Even when it is hard and makes you feel like you are getting the short end of the stick.

Tip well. Especially when the service is bad. Assume your server is having a bad day.

Let people merge in traffic.

When someone who has a different political view starts talking, listen. Ask questions so that you can actually better understand their viewpoint.

Look the mom of the tantruming infant at the grocery store dead in the eye and tell her she is an excellent mother.

Be quick to praise your colleagues, your children, your friends, your spouse.

When someone tells you they are hurting, believe them.

Weep with those who weep.

Be honest about the doubt you have in your own house of faith. Honor the doubt of others and trust that the mystery of God is enough to cover both of you.

Break bread with people who are not like you.

Decide it is okay to be uncomfortable. Seek it out even.

Give away your power, your privilege, your seat at the table, especially if you have earned it.

Know your neighbors, walk your neighborhood. Look people in the eye and talk to people when it is inconvenient.

When you feel the inescapable urge to do something/eat something/get out/go home/post something/check Twitter, don’t. Instead, be still. Be alone with yourself, with your thoughts, with your God.

Don’t buy it, whatever it is.

Believing that every small change matters, that every kind word matters, that love does and love wins, that is counter cultural. Believing that it is here and now and in my own heart that the change takes place, and not later, when I have more money and influence.

So you want to be counter-cultural? Believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are enough, that God’s love covers a multitude of sins. Then act out of the radical understanding that every single person is an image bearer of God.

18 thoughts on “How to be counter-cultural

  1. This is so cool. I wanna join your gang.
    It’s great the way you reframe counter-cultural. It made me think of Addie Zierman and the Big Things versus the Small Things. It also made me think of the New Testament letters – when the disciples and later followers were wanting to overthrow the Romans, Jesus and then Paul urged them to live radically generous and gentle lives instead. Love this.

  2. LOVE this! Thanks for writing Abby, we moved recently and the experience of everything around us being new and different has caused us to really notice some of the choices we make without thinking about them. I love this perspective – and that I don’t need to get hipster glasses to be the revolution.

  3. Great post! I have a feeling that being counter-cultural is more about making a statement of the self than anything else; it’s to show others how cool and different I am. It gives rise to generations of individuals who do things for the sake of being counter-cultural rather. Being counter-cultural is amazing in cases such as yours–when someone arises for the sake of others and throws out of the window the status quo. Selfless counter-cultural movements are what we need, because then they will stop naturally–when we have reached a place where spiritual and material development go hand in hand.

  4. Pingback: Friday Fuel: Sharing with Toddlers and Being All Groan Up | The Church of No People

  5. Pingback: Friday Gasoline: Sharing with Toddlers and Being All Groan Up | Posts

  6. Oh yes, yes, yes! Did I not tell these things to my 14-year old son just yesterday who is emerging into new awareness? The truth of the power of small things is good and oh so Jesus.

  7. Pingback: What I’m Into: April | Don't Stop Believing

  8. This is the best Pentecost message I have ever heard. Jesus was the most countercultralist ever. That’s why he is my super hero. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s