DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Stock-Up!

Written by: on March 5, 2015

In their book The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter address some of the myths surrounding the countercultural movement. They state, “traditional political activism is useless”[1], giving numerous example of how the very attempt to force the system or cultural to change actually became part of the system they were trying to replace. A great illustration of this can be found in Jan Kershner’s book Little Dogs On the Prairie: Pride, Prejudice and Fudge.

In a small western town, occupied by prairie dogs, the owner of the general store hires and opera singing snake to help in the mailroom. The other prairie dogs hear Stanza the snake singing opera as he works, but they do not know who it was. When they realize that he is a snake, they insist he be fired and run out of town. The owner of the general store, a successful capitalist, refuses to give-in to the threats of the crowd and will not get rid of the snake. It wasn’t so much that he loved the snake, but that Stanza was a good worker and helped his capitalistic business be more successful. The town grew frustrated at the store owner’s insistence on putting his own financial gain over the good of society. After all, a snake posed a great potential threat to the health and well-being on the community! In an act of solidarity, trying to stick it to the man (or should I say the prairie dog), they did what anyone else would do to enact social change; They announced a boycott. In the midst of chanting “boycott, boycott…” someone pointed out that if they were really going to boycott the only store in town, they should stock-up first. The chant quickly changed from “boycott, boycott…” to “stock-up, stock-up…”. Within minutes they had purchased everything in the store. When Stanza the snake found out that the boycott had happened, he left town and wrote a note to the store owner apologizing for causing the boycott. The owner’s response was that the boycott was the best thing that had ever happened to him and that now he could afford to retire. He also admitted that he liked the snake, even though he made obscene profits off him.[2]

This simple story illustrates that realty of the typical countercultural efforts. Heath and Potter do a great job of showing how countercultural movements quickly become intertwined with and actually help sustain the very systems they are trying to dismantle. Whether it is a rapper getting rich off selling records with a counter cultural message or bikers working long hours to buy a $30,000 motor cycle to “be a free rebel” on the weekends, the results are the same, the message is rendered defunct by its dependence on consumerism and market capitalism.

Heath and Potter make an argument that rules and not inherently bad. In my experience, when I encounter people who rebel against societal rules and insist that rules are only there to oppress them, I usually find that they want to do away with all rules that apply to them, but still expect others to follow rules. They feel that they should be able to say or do anything they like, but do not want people to say or do things against them. Heath & Potter point out that “Some kind of social control is required in order to maintain the system that generates the mutual benefits—hence the punishments for disobedience.”[3] They go on to say, “it is important to draw a distinction between acts of rebellion that challenge senseless or outdated conventions and those that violate legitimate social norms.”[4]

My question is this, as followers of Christ we are called to be in the world but not of the world. How can we impact culture around us for Christ without falling into the same trap of simply being part of the culture? I believe that we have a call to live under different “norms” than the world, but as I look around the Church, sometimes it is hard to see much of a difference.

 

[1] Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed (Toronto: HarperPerennial, 2005), 7

[2] Jan Kershner, Little Dogs On the Prairie: Pride, Prejudice and Fudge (7 Quick and Easy Bible Lessons for Combined Ages) (Group, 2001).

[3] Heath & Potter, 79.

[4] Ibid., 79

About the Author

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Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

11 responses to “Stock-Up!”

  1. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, Love them prairie dogs!!! One of the books I am mining for my Essay stuff was emphasizing the greatest way for the church to create social change is for it to truly be the church a community of people who live in this world that way God desires. I know that seems overly simplistic but I think most of us readily agree. If we had the real strength of character to be bold in our faith and courageous in our love as the Gospel calls us into a story of living in such a way . . . I still have to believe that radical change would take place in this world as the Kingdom would come and God’s will would be done. After all think Stanza has been stomped on:)!

  2. mm Jon Spellman says:

    Brian, you quoted “it is important to draw a distinction between acts of rebellion that challenge senseless or outdated conventions and those that violate legitimate social norms.” I had made a note to go back and re-read that section through the lenses of constructive deviance. CD is generally accepted to be those behaviors intentionally undertaken by individuals within an organization that run outside the implied or expressed “norms.” But the reason for the deviance is that the individual is seeking a greater outcome, a better path, for the organization at large. The problem is, it is a largely subjective assessment on the part of the “constructive deviant” as to what are “legitimate social norms” and what are examples of outmoded nonsense.

    See ya later, I have to go tend my aquaponic garden now…
    J

  3. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Brain, Great summary of Jan Kershner’s book Little Dogs On the Prairie: Pride, Prejudice and Fudge. Loved it and gave a great visual. So in the illustration of the General Store how is the church supposed to respond? Do we shop there? Do we boycott? Do we take the snake in a find help him find a new home? I think nowadays the church would just open it’s own General Store, make money, and try to ignore the issue.

  4. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Brian,
    You asked, “how can we impact culture around us without falling into the same trap of simply being part of the culture?” This is the question of the day! I believe the issue is well illustrated in your story. Many times we think we understand the snake, but we don’t. In my own life, I am more aware of those snakes and I know how to better respond when I listen and take my lead from the Holy Spirit. Thinking about this within a corporate church context, I believe we have failed to teach and model how to let the Holy Spirit lead. Instead, we establish rules and guidelines on how to recognize and deal with snakes. We often fail to recognize baby snakes and new species. Or, we classify non-snakes as snakes.

  5. mm Dave Young says:

    Brain, Great story. I hadn’t heard of that book before and teasing out the ‘buying the Harley’ to be a rebel also reinforced the point. Of course the harder reflection is always Francis Schaeffer’s ‘How should we then live?’ In it the culture, out of it, showing ourselves to be counter? It’s overly simplistic but I’m thinking of false worship versus true worship. The culture is trying to make us false worshipers, and it’s up to us to ensure our worship is true. Worship of course isn’t a song and a prayer on Sunday. It’s (arguably) living in response to the supremacy of God. So true worship on Monday to Saturday, in the culture would be actively responding to God’s supremacy in everything; including our consumption. So if buy a motorcycle, a house, a meal at a restaurant it’s bought and used as an act of worship.

    • mm Brian Yost says:

      “So true worship on Monday to Saturday, in the culture would be actively responding to God’s supremacy in everything; including our consumption.”

      Since this style of living is not the cultural norm, living a life of true worship strikes me as very countercultural.

  6. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    First, love the story!
    Second, you made me think about the irony of buying our Prius two years ago. I’ve always wanted to buy one “to help the environment.” Yet, what I found is that it gave us a great excuse to drive all the more (probably emitting as much emissions into the air as we would have with my non-hybrid car which I didn’t drive as much). In a session the other day on confession, one of steps mentioned came after acknowledging the initial sin; the act of confession also requires acknowledging the consequences. I think sometimes we stop short of reflecting on the consequences of our choices.

  7. mm Brian Yost says:

    “I think sometimes we stop short of reflecting on the consequences of our choices.”
    Mary, great words of wisdom. Making a difference for the sake of others is far more than just talk and promotion, it is about understanding how our choices will really effect others and doing what is best. Sometimes, this actually goes against the counterculture.

  8. Travis Biglow says:

    Brian you hit on some real stuff right here!!!!! That is a trip they boycotting a store and then stock up for themselves before they finish the boycott. That is the problem with fake counter culture people. They are fake about their message because they are hypocritical to their actions. I hate this most.

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