Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Chuck Klosterman and Stanley Hauerwas at McDonald's (No, Not Really)

When you google Chuck Klosterman with Stanley Hauerwas, you don't find much besides Brett McCracken's description of Christian Hipsters (link below). To me, that's really weird. Then again, to me it's weird that people go to Starbucks. Still, the lack of Klosterman-Hauerwas dialogue on the internet is even weirder. So, here's an attempt to correct that deficiency, if by just a little.

I recently read something from Klosterman that I think Stan would appreciate. It's from the beginning of his report on eating nothing but McNuggetts for a week (several years before the Supersize Me documentary).
We are a nation obsessed.
American culture is nothing more than a pastiche of fixations. We are obsessed with health. We are obsessed with pleasure. We are obsessed with speed. We are obsessed with efficiency. In simplest terms, we are obsessed by the desire to accelerate every element of our existence in a futile attempt to experience as much life as we can in the shortest possible time. We have all entered a race to devour the largest volume of gratification before it kills us.
Keeping this in mind, I ate nothing but McDonald's Chicken McNuggets for seven straight days. (Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas, page 58)
This assessment reminds me of Stan's maxim on wanting to get out of life alive.
We live in a death-denying world that seems determined to develop technologies that will enable us to get out of life alive. Yet the more we strive to be free of death the more our lives are shaped by the death-determined means we create to try to free ourselves of death. Even more paradoxical, the means we use to free ourselves from death only serve to increase our isolation from one another. (Stanley Hauerwas, A Cross-Shattered Church Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching, page 87)

Survive The Dollar Tree

Hauerwas considers healthor, at least staying aliveour greatest obsession. We might conflate their thoughts by saying Hauerwas defines Klosterman's gratification as survival. We want all the safety-health-security we can get our hands on or get out of anyone else's. We're even ok with it killing us so long as it keeps us alive. (a la Chris Carrabba, "I'll die in here just to be safe.")

Klosterman also connects our gratification-lust with the fragility of life. He begins and ends his followup to the McNuggets essay with the following comments:
Staying alive is complicated. It's the single most difficult thing every single person does every day. There is just so much in this wicked world that can kill us: cancer, avalanches, liver failure . . .
And life is dangerous. Like I said, staying alive is complicated. But I'll take my chances.

Something Else

So, what's the alternative, besides just taking our chances? For Hauerwas, it's the bread and wine.
The devil would have us remain fixated on death, but in sharing this meal [Eucharist] we learn to gaze upon Christ, who makes it possible to view our lives and deaths through the power of the resurrection. Death has been undone.
Klosterman reaches no comparable conclusion in his two-part McDonald's essay, and, granted, that wasn't his aim. Several years later, however, he said something that at least admits the possibility of life beyond staying alive until staying alive kills us.
There are so many things we don't know about energy, or the way energy is transferred, or why energy (which can't be created or destroyed) exists at all. We can't truly conceive the conditions of a multidimensional reality; even though we're (probably) already living inside one. We have a limited understanding of time, and of the possibility that all time is happening at once. So while it seems unrealistic to seriously consider the prospect of life after death, it seems equally na├»ve to assume that our contemporary understanding of this phenomenon is remotely complete. (But What If We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past, pages 11–12)
So Klosterman and Hauerwas agree that the popular understanding of death as the final end is at least possibly incorrect. That's a pretty solid starting place for conversation. They really should get a cup of coffee sometime—at McDonald's, not Starbucks.

Christian Hipsters

Follow the bikes to the book!

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