And then there was this:
I find myself strangely attracted to the Emerging Church, despite the fact that I’m African-American. I was introduced to it by one of my fellow students here at M.I.T. and I find it quite stimulating. I’ve even skipped meetings of the campus chess club on more than one occasion just to be there.
Some of the cultural adjustments I’ve had to make to fit in with the EC have been challenging, however. For one thing, I’ve had to learn to avoid expressing my opinions in matters of aesthetic taste. Don’t get me wrong: Green Day’s music isn’t as bad as it sounds. But I’m not sure how much further I can stretch.
Lately I’ve been living under the shadow of a brooding cloud of angst. Do I have to wear a goatee to really belong in the EC? At first it seemed that only the leaders wore them. But on the last two Sundays I looked around and it seems like everyone's growing one (or trying to)! I’m not sure if I can take that step. What should I do?
—Misgivings in Massachusetts
Like I gots me dis problem, dig? First wuz dat I couldn’ fine none of deez e-merging places in ma hood, so I hads to jet somewheres else. Den, when I gets dare an’ starts kickin’ it its like—’sup wi’ all deez crackahs wearin’ mohawks on der chins an ever-thin? Like, I don’ mine all da candles, cuz I tries to keep da lights down in ma crib anyhow. An’ deez “eye-kons” o’ whatevah—it's like, if yo’ wanna get yo’ crayola thing on, dat’s cool. But dat south-pole fuzz dat blows around on a windy day—to me it jes looks wack. But den I’s wond’rin: is dat what da thugs in dis hood wear o’ what? Cuz like—I don’ wanna mess wit no body’s turf—uh-uh! I’s already gots me ’nuff problems with da stuff ’round ma own crib! You down wit’ dis?
—Tryin’ to Chill in Philly
Believe it or not, I can strongly empathize with the plight you’re both enduring. The first time I saw a goatee on an emerging college sophomore a few years ago, I nearly shot a mouthful of Starbucks out my nose. You see, in my mind, goatees will forever be associated with the character of Maynard G. Krebs on an old TV show called “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” which had been in re-runs for a few years by the time I was old enough to notice it. By that time (the mid-to-late ’60s) Jack Kerouac, beatniks, and the “beat generation” had been replaced by the Beatles, hippies, Yippies, and the SDS, as the youth culture’s new avant-garde—a term that isn’t used as much today as it was back then, but it’s fairly descriptive of how the Emerging Church thinks of itself.
All this creates the odd dynamic of something being already passé for an older group of people while simultaneously considered cutting-edge by a younger group. But none of this solves your problem, and it probably doesn’t even address the precise reasons for your discomfort. And now that I think about it, it probably doesn’t even convince you that I can empathize with your plight.
But I digress. Is there a way around the issue?
First of all, our friend in Philly can relax. The only turf wars fought in Emerging Churches are over things like the color schemes for outdoor worship experiences, and whether to use Macs or PCs for multimedia Stations of the Cross. The presence or absence of hair on your chin is totally unrelated to any drive-by shootings that may occur. But what about the pressure to conform that our friend with the misgivings senses?
Well, the Emerging Church has no canon law—at least not yet (although the best-selling volumes of its “conversation” are approaching canonical status in some quarters)—and it hasn’t come up with anything remotely resembling a book of church order, so there’s no way of knowing its exact position on the issue of goatees. But it is, at least, interesting that Brian McLaren felt compelled to sport an appropriately middle-aged stubble for the cover of A Generous Orthodoxy. So we should not rule out the possibility that the EC may eventually break into two branches: the “FHR (Facial Hair Required) Emergents” and the “NFHR (No Facial Hair Required) Emergents.”
Meanwhile, take heart. When’s the last time you saw some white guy do something new or start dressing funky and millions of black people suddenly tripped all over themselves trying to act or dress the same? (Why do you think all those white beatniks started wearing goatees in the first place?) If you two found a way to grow your eyebrows long and tie them in bows behind your heads, most of the white guys in your churches would be Googling for hair-growing chemicals within the next half-hour.
So keep your chins up—and groomed however you please.