Anyone who has spent any length of time with me—like let’s say more than five minutes—will be able to tell you that being counter-cultural is something that I am very comfortable with. In fact, to go with the flow often feels more unnatural than going against it. However, there is always that point when the tide turns, so to speak, and you go so hard against the grain that you give yourself (and often those around you) a giant and painful splinter. So where is that line to be found?
A few years back, Jim and I were visiting the upscale suburb of Detroit in which Jim was raised, before it was quite so upscale. After enjoying the beautiful playground and charming downtown, we were discussing what it would be like to raise a family in an area so different from the small town setting in which we live. We came to the conclusion that it would be nearly impossible to raise our kids in such an environment unless we saw ourselves basically as missionaries. There the kids were swimming in pools that cost more than our house! What would they think of our kids who have holes in most of their jeans and swim in a dirty, but delightful, pond all summer long!
There are lots of ways our family is counter-cultural, even in the economically and socially conservative area in which we live. We don’t have cable, or any channels for that matter. Our kids have to duke it out over who gets to choose the next Netflix or check out movies from the library to get their TV entertainment. We are a Wii-less and non-X-boxed family. We drive very used cars and pass down shoes from one kid to the next. Even the size of our family exceeds most of those we know. Still, we spend more than we should and buy what we don’t really need. There are families, of course, who are more frugal or more indulgent than we are. But Jim and I do strive to question the decisions that we make and repeatedly ask ourselves, “Is this something we should do? Or is this something we are told we should do?”
Some of our decisions make life easier and simpler but some can make life less comfortable and awkward. Sometimes we have made concessions to cultural norms that have left us feeling a bit unsettled. We have horrible Internet service and a computer that moves slower than grass grows. In moments of frustration, I have wondered what would it look like just to get rid of the computer in our home altogether. What would it be like to be email-less in our society? A few years back we were without cell phones and quite happy to be so. Now I confess to having fully embraced not only my phone but texting as well. What would it be like to not have to shush my kids so I could make a few calls in the car? I have often longed to pack up the kids and be the 21st century’s Wilderness Family—though with better clothes and fewer bear attacks—or to circle the wagons and start my own little commune of like-minded, bread-making, truly wireless folk. As appealing as the idea sounds, I fear that is the coward’s way out, at least for now. Staying in the fight and pushing against the cultural tides is what we are called to do and is what makes us firmer in our convictions.
On a recent daytime trip to Target (we aren’t too counter-cultural not to worship at the house of the big red circle), my frustration with the kids was increased by noting that none of the moms around me were trying to corral four hungry and impatient children. I was surrounded by moms whose kids were apparently in school, and if a school bus had come cruising by, I might have been tempted to throw a few of mine aboard. Just when I was reaching my breaking point, I caught the eye of a similarly situated mom, surrounded by a brood of similarly school-aged and impatient children. We smiled encouragingly to one another and as I walked past I cheered us both on with a battle cry to the effect of “We can do it, sister!” In our fight against the tide, it isn’t just our principles that anchor us against the current, it is one another. Maybe in doing so, we can create a cultural trend of our own and turn the tide in our own small way.