A Letter To Hipster Jesus
Dear Hipster Jesus,
I’m writing because I miss you. I used to write to you all the time. In my dozen or so journals from middle and high school — I used to address every entry to you. I miss the simple arrangement you and I had, and I miss the people who taught me to try and live the most crystallized version of your teachings. I know now how rare they were.
I moved to L.A. in early 2014, after living in New York City for 13 years. You might already know all of this, but just in case you’ve been busy, or have just simply refused to look down for fear you’ll see how we’ve trashed the place (do NOT look at Greenland rn)…here’s what’s been going on with me. When I moved to Los Angeles, I never anticipated that, in a place of perfect weather and easy access to a Target that isn’t post-apocalyptic, my life would feel so bleak. I’ve started to refer to that feeling as Lanely (LA Lonely). A few factors compounded to sink me into a depression. My TV show had been cancelled, though I wasn’t completely devastated by that news. I have grown accustomed to the frequent bashing the entertainment business delivers to your ego. You walk around knowing that the thing the industry just gave you can be taken away at any moment. Nevertheless, the cancellation still hurt, and it left me a little lost trying to figure out what to do next, and I sorely missed the work. I love to work. I have been a very busy person since I was 12 years old. Usually my stress comes from taking on too much work; now, I had no work, no deadlines, nowhere to be. It was just a blank calendar, a blank page, and a blank head.
Before long, that blank head was flooded with distorted thinking, a relentessly dark narrative delivered by a twisty voice. I tried everything to break out of what I have come to call The Sinkening. I have an indent in a couch cushion to prove it (a depression depression). I tried staying active, keeping a journal, self-hypnosis, meditation, healthier eating. Nothing seemed to be working. On one particularly toxic night in my brain, I desperately googled the phrase “detox your brain.” If you could juice your way to health, was there a way to “juice” my brain into a more positive place? I came upon a website that offered a program to do just that: cleanse your brain of all the nasty thoughts and mean voices. It told me that in just a matter of weeks, all that thinky sludge would be washed away with positive, life-affirming feelings. I read through the FAQ’s and thought, this sounds perfect for me! I feverishly entered my credit card information and awaited instructions.
I was in. I clicked on the introduction to the course. But almost immediately, I started hissing “No, nononononono!” I frantically hit the back button to see if there was a way to cancel the transaction. It’s like when you realize you booked your flight to the wrong city on Expedia. But instead of the wrong city, I had booked a flight to the wrong self-help program. Because: In the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first step to free my mind was this little phrase: “God’s plan.” GOD’S. PLAN.
I HAD BEEN TRICKED INTO SIGNING UP FOR A CHRISTIAN PROGRAM.
No offense, Hipster Jesus, but at this time in my life, I wasn’t in the market for a devotional program. Oh, and I know I know I know: if a devout Christian is reading this, I know they are thinking: “Maybe this was all part of God’s plan! He brought you to this! The Lord works in mysterious ways!” You see, that’s the problem. This wasn’t an accident or a magical mystery; this was a well-set trap by human beings. That’s exactly what the founders of this website wanted to happen. They wanted to lure me, in my most vulnerable moment, with their sticky sweet message of hope, and then, once I was inside, clap shut, like a venus fly trap. A well-intentioned venus fly trap, but a predator nonetheless. And I fell for it! ME!
I went back and examined the home page to see if I had somehow missed something. I am usually really good at detecting a stealth witness to Your Love. I know the ways in which well-meaning Christians — often perfectly fine people — try to get people to join their ranks.
You know I’m hip to that jam, because I used to be super into you, Hipster Jesus. Do you know why I call you Hipster Jesus? Because I want to be clear in my head about who I’m talking to. You’re not Catholic Jesus (skinny and bleeding). You’re not Baby Jesus (innocent and dumb). You’re not Political Jesus (a weapon to be brandished against that which terrifies). I was in love with you: Hipster Jesus. You wear flannel, can identify constellations, tell scary stories around the campfire. You like beer. You are surprisingly funny, and you just love everyone and everything, and you’re so so chill about it. God, I was so into you.
Remember the youth group retreats? The friends? The (perfectly harmonized) singing? The acceptance? The angsty discussions about our feelings? Remember that thing called “Clown Communion?” Clown Communion was when all the youth were brought into a barn and two clowns MIMED your story to a song called “Lamb of God.” Oh yeah, we were super skeptical about it too. A room full of teenagers being presented with Christian clown mimes? Probably the most awkward moment of my life. Except…by the end of the performance — we were all sobbing. I am not exaggerating. Even the boys were weeping. I have no idea how they did it, but that was just the kind of power you had over us. You gave us permission to feel.
So now, this night, sitting here, why was I so angry to find someone peddling you as the solution to my problems? Why so resistant? I asked myself what had happened to us. Where did we go wrong, Hipster Jesus? I can’t pin-point a moment where I suddenly stopped believing. I didn’t have a moment where I decided it was all hogwash. In fact, I don’t think I ever had a literal belief in the Bible to start with. Even as a child, looking at illustrated stories from the Good Book, I got the sense that it was all metaphor. It just seemed too silly to be a literal transcript of events. Did Noah actually find a male and female version of all the animals? What about all the species in South America? And what’s this about Noah being 500 years old? Even at 9 years old, I gave this type of story the side eye. But, at the same time, I wasn’t the type of kid who would raise my hand and ask skeptical questions. Not because I was afraid of getting in trouble, but because I actually assumed everyone else got it. It seemed so obvious to me: these words were written by humans a very long time ago. They were fables. I believed we were all intelligent enough to understand that the meaning transcended the words. The writers of the Bible definitely got the message at times, but they were human beings, and they were writing during a very different time. I used to flip through the Bible and would stumble on some seriously questionable stuff.
Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, ‘Go up, you bald head! Go up, you bald head!’ So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the Lord. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. — 2 Kings 2:23–25
Oh hey cool. 42 kids make fun of a guy for being bald, so God was like, “oh helllll no” and sent some lady bears to slaughter them as revenge? Um, what?
There is a lot of crazy ass shit like that in the Bible. But at church, these types of stories were interpreted and explained and contextualized. They were “made okay.” In many cases, they were just straight up ignored. It worked for a while. But when I got into high school, I started getting into arguments with other Christians my age about homophobia and misogyny. I distinctly remember a kid telling me that being gay was wrong because The Bible said so. He said, “I take the Bible literally.” That’s when I really started to get frustrated. All of it? I thought, thinking about those 42 youths.
It was at this time that I started to realize my beliefs were fundamentally at odds with most Christians I came across. In my heart, I was growing more and more suspicious that human beings wrote the Bible, not God himself. Maybe they were inspired by God. Maybe God told them stuff. But still, a human being wrote it down. Maybe some of the writers of the New Testament met someone who knew you back in the day and they wrote all that shit down, “Like, whoah, this is some dope ass thinking right here.” Of course then, I also started to wonder if you, Jesus, were truly the Son of God, or if you were just a dude waaaaaay ahead of your time, someone who saw past all the bullshit. You tore that veil away like a boss. And then, some of the people who knew you managed to live that life and spread the word. But I had to admit: it got repackaged and manipulated thousands of times before it got to my head. I wasn’t sure I could trust it implicitly or take it literally.
Nevertheless, I clung to the kernel of what you had to say. I clung to the love, the light, the forgiveness, grace, and the perfect Golden Rule. It just made sense to me. But eventually, the politicizing of your teachings, the invention of rules about things that are never even mentioned in the Bible (abortion being one of them), the homophobia, the wars, the violence, the hatred — all in the name of you? And wait, what’s this about hell? So, let me get this straight, some kid born in the Amazon who has no contact with the outside world, who just lives her life, and dies eventually…she is going to hell? I couldn’t reconcile the pure love and grace with the hellfire. It all just chipped away at my faith not in you, but in people. I abandoned the church, I abandoned my journal entries to you. Jesus, I confess: at the end of the day, I just couldn’t deal with these impossible policies I was being asked to tout.
I’m sorry I abandoned you Hipster Jesus. But maybe I didn’t abandon you, maybe I just abandoned your name and the house of cards we humans have built around you. I have come to believe that maybe y-o-u, whoever you are, shouldn’t have a name, or at least you shouldn’t have such specific characteristics that fit my own needs. Y-o-u are indeed undefinable and unknowable and uncatchable but yet you are everything and everywhere. Once we start trying to put you in a box, that’s when the trouble starts.
Recently, I stumbled upon a hipster Christian Instagram account. I was mesmerized by it. Beautiful pictures, beautiful people, just trying to live #ThatAuthenticLife in autumnal settings. Attached to each picture were little messages of inspiration that felt so familiar to me, like tasting something that reminds you of your mom’s cooking. But then, one day, this account posted a picture of a fetus, with a graphic, wrathful caption about abortion. Sigh. I unfollowed them in defeat. When I tweeted in support of Planned Parenthood and the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag, I was heartbroken by the cruel, idiotic responses I got from so-called Christians. All these people, claiming to know you, claiming to know me, claiming to know what’s right for everyone else. So violent, so judgmental, so misogynistic. So afraid.
Hipster Jesus, you may have been a fantasy after all. You were an idea in my head, a naive hope that one day we would all agree on who you were (admittedly, my version of you!), and we’d all agree on what you wanted us to do. Maybe if I truly want to live what I say I believe, it’s time to stop defining you at all, even for myself. Life is short, and the only certainty is death. I don’t want to spend my tiny moment here arguing over what is right for others. I’ve taken the Wonder Bread of teachings I was given as a child, and I’m mushing them down, rolling them up, into these doughy morsels:
- Never give up, because I am loved.
- Try to love everyone, even those who have hurt me.
- Forgive myself.
- See that we are all connected, we are all the same, we are all one, we all came from the same explosion.
- We are all deserving of love, no matter what.
- We are more than our bodies.
- When we die, we go home.
Thank you for these morsels. They are my communion now. It’s a leap of faith. It’s time to let go. (And let God.)
Goodbye, Hipster Jesus.
p.s. in case you were wondering, The Sinkening ended, with help from the people who really love me, a lot of faith, and a damn good therapist.