What follows are my reflections on Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Every Day Life, Chapters 6: The Idols of Coolness and Sex. Click here to read my other reflections on Scalia’s book. There’s more to read than my reflection contains. I highly recommend you check out the book for yourself.
Chapter 6: The Idols of Coolness and Sex.
Oh, to be cool. That word. With tongue-in-cheek Elizabeth Scalia writes this chapter smoothly pulling out cool slang from decades ago, emphasizing, I think, the absurdity of the worship of cool. Coolness, she writes in Chapter 6 of Strange Gods, is about the here and now. The here and now imply, sometimes overtly, a throwing out of traditions, of the old, of the way it used to be done. It is a phenomenon and worth examining our attitude towards the image of cool in our own lives.
I am grateful to acknowledge that I knew a long time ago that cool was beyond me. I looked over during class at the cool kids, preppy, wealthy, stylishly dressed with over-sized Addidas jackets, and boyfriends. I didn’t want to be like them, but I wanted to belong. This is Scalia’s insight, beyond the obsession with throwing off the old, idolatry of coolness is rooted in a desire to belong, to fit in. I wanted that, desperately. Many junior high and high school girls do.
I had individual friendships with older peers, but in their groups I had no place, which I learned time and again. I wanted the attention of boys, but did not get it, until later, when it was consistently boys too old for me, to the grief of my parents. I wanted friends. I prayed for it. I met Nia. Freshman year, sitting in class, “what’s your favorite book” on a getting to know you paper handed out by our teacher. I wrote “Story of a Soul.” I looked over at her’s. She wrote, “the Bible.”
Nia taught me by her example and her confidence that coolness is meaningless. Each person has gifts and something to offer. It’s a shame when people hide it. When I served a year with NET Ministries, we often said a particular teammate had “instant cool.” And indeed he did. There was something about him. We didn’t address it so directly but a handful of others had that quality. Then there was me with my ridiculous, outlandish mingling tricks. Not cool.
Through my brother (in Christ), I learned deeper this distinction. With every bit of energy, he sought to affirm the dignity and goodness of those around him that year. He was the first “cool” person to love me (as a sister). And one day when we both were tired, our differences came out. I knew that the cool and the not-cool were meaningless. They were mere personality differences. We were bonded by Christ.
After NET I met a man, equally uncool, un-smooth, who like me, fit the description of a nerd because we are passionate about something. But he never was afraid of his personality, of his different-ness. He was never ashamed to admit who he was. He was proud of it, too. As an introvert, he did not desire so desperately to fit in. He was happy to be by himself. Nevertheless, he was hardly by himself at school as a likeable band member, handsome, always with a girlfriend. Together we are quite strange, and we hope to raise strange children, children who will know they belong, if only in their strange family, worshiping a God who made us like himself.
We have that power, in this school of love called the family. Richard John Neuhaus relates, “As Martin Buber classically explained, the I-you relationship between persons carries within it the hint of the I-Thou relationship to the mysterious, to the Divine, to the strange glory. Every child who is blessed with a loving mother first discerns in the mother’s smile the presence of a Thou by which the child is encompassed and by which his or her being is secured. ”
What a good thing that would be.