The Temptation of Cool

This week we’re in Atlanta for the Catalyst Conference.

For the uninitiated, this is the church world equivalent of the cool kids’ table in Junior high.  The one with the vibe that everyone wants.

Catalyst is for the young and hip – the guys who wear the rumpled uniform of untucked plaid flannel shirts or V-neck t’s, super skinny jeans and tiny black Rob Bell glasses.

They use product that makes their hair spiky or shave their heads if there’s not enough “there” there to mousse.  You used to see a lot soul patch and piercings going on, but not so much lately.

People like to write about Catalyst.  Tweet about it. It’s a good place to see and be seen.

It’s a place where you hear “Dude” a lot, and people talk about “your story” and use words like “revolution” and “mutiny” (against injustice and excess, that is).

Here’s the thing.  We’re really looking forward to learning from creative young leaders at this conference, but John and I are neither young nor hip.  We’re playing it fast and loose.  Sliding in on the coattails of our youth staff.

I feel kind of like that couple who snuck into the state dinner at the White House without a ticket.


The idea is for us to experience and process this conference with our young staffers as, kind of the older mentor types I guess.

But this post isn’t meant to be about Catalyst exactly…not about a conference, but about any environment where we’re tempted to engage in “image management”.

For you that might be the office or a wedding or a reunion or a happy hour…or at church.

I’m thinking about any environment where it’s tempting to drop names or numbers, or pretend you know what you don’t, or are more competent, more confident and less afraid than you really are.

Maybe it includes those times when we get a little anxious, afraid we’re not going to be “inside” or don’t have a place at the table.

Deep breath.

Similar to praying the hours, I’m wondering if the practice that will be most helpful is stopping periodically to do a spirit check and examine our hearts for idols of pride, anxiety, anger, envy…

Tim Keller talks about pausing at noon, even if he has to escape to the bathroom to do this kind of mini examen.

Maybe we stop, and with God, ask:

  • Where is there an inordinate need for approval?
  • Where (in what relationships) am I being exclusive or judgmental or proud?
  • Where am I preoccupied with appearances?
  • Where am I talking too much and listening too little?  Giving answers instead of asking questions?

I want to repent of the sin of image management.  It’s a type of control that is not of God.

I want to have the humility to be myself, with my embarrassing lack of knowledge of what’s trending, or what band is emerging, or how to do anything gangnam style, and just be a learner.

A fellow pilgrim on the journey who gets it wrong a lot of the time.

For all of us, young or old, this is the challenge… to take it down a notch, to have the humility to not make an idol out of cool, and say, “We’re all in this together.  What can we learn from each other?”

When are you most tempted to engage in “image management”?  What do you do that is helpful?

4 thoughts on “The Temptation of Cool

  1. Laura, it would be great if you and John could bring us back some ideas for living and serving dangerously! Following up John’s comments from early August sermon, what can we do to be more dangerous? Sounds like the Catalyst Conference might be a fertile environment for this topic.


  2. Girl – are you in my head?????

    Great post, and so relevant. Last week I went to STORY, an incredible conference/experience in Chicago for creatives. You think Catalyst folks are all young and hip and Dude and all that? Try reducing that to the creative element from that demographic and it’s magnified by a gazillion….

    The first time I went to STORY (last year) I tried. Tried to be hip. Tried for a look and a pose that was, “Yeah, I’m older but I’m still cool and creative…”

    I was so miserable the entire time. So this year, I abandoned all pretext and just went. Because you know what? – I AM older, but still cool and creative. And the benefit of being older is that I don’t really care who knows it or not. So I just went, I soaked up all the energy and the peace around me and quit worrying about how anybody else was evaluating me. And I had a blessed, blast of a time.

    Plus I met another woman just like me. A new friend from Dallas!

    I watched the young folks I’d brought with me and knew that their souls were being fed. So it was all good.

    Sorry about hijacking your post, but wanted to share – and say that the way you articulated the entire experience of Older Person Going To A Cool Conference was dead on. Thanks for your insight and the encouragement of your words.

    SO glad I’ve gotten connected with your writing. God’s using you…



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