The year was 1936, and it wasn’t just another rally for German superiority that had become more and more common lately. No, this one had Adolf Hitler himself there. And everyone was almost falling over themselves to show their support for their Fuhrer, well almost everyone.
You can see him in the picture above, he certainly sticks out, because he’s the only one who’s not drinking the Kool-aid. He’s obviously uncomfortable and doesn’t want to be there, and for me, the most interesting part of the story is where he wants to be, or more precisely who he wants to be with.
His name is August, he joined the Nazi party a few years earlier for the same reason that young, ambitious young men do most things. He wanted to climb the ladder of success and since the Nazi party was gaining momentum he figured that would be the best way to make some connections, get a well-paying job and start making a life. And it was working for August. Being associated with the Nazi party during the 30’s was the only way to get somewhere in Germany. August was doing fine…until he met Irma, a woman who just happened to be a Jew.
When August and Irma tried to get married, the German government refused, Apparently, they frowned on Nazi’s marrying Jews (in 1951, long after their death, the German government recognized their marriage) but no government was going to stop them from making promises to each other. Eventually, August and Irma had children together and then did the one thing that just couldn’t have made sense at the time.
They started dating publicly, as in where everyone could see them together. This mixed family of a Nazi and a Jew were standing out in the open as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
Despite the fact that he had been arrested before for breaking the racial purity laws of the Nazi, despite the fact that he had been warned that the next time they were caught together he would go to prison for years, despite the fact that she would be (and eventually was) killed as Jewish woman in Germany, they appeared in public in a time when the social momentum was against them.
And that’s why I love this story so much.
Captivated by Cool
I’m starting a new blog series today that’s going to run for the next few weeks based on this simple idea that’s haunted me for the past few years. I run in a group, and identify primarily with Christians of a more progressive stripe. I embrace my Christian brothers and sisters from all kinds of traditions and backgrounds, and have learned the hard way not to write any Jesus-follower off because they don’t see the world the way I do. But I enjoy talking with progressive Christians a lot, they seem more open to new ideas or ways of thinking about God and less afraid to push the envelope. I like that.
But I’m starting to have some concerns.
I’m worried that behind my pursuit of the next new way of talking about God is not just a relentless pursuit of the truth, when I get silent before God I’m starting to think what I’m really chasing after is a desire to be seen a certain way. In my more honest moments, I’m able to admit that what I really want to be seen as is cool.
After World War II was over, and people were trying to figure out how in the world a nation that was so civilized, so theologically sophisticated, become so dark?
Brett McCracken writes in his book “Hipster Christianity” about the way that culture around Nazi Germany developed. He cites Antonio Gramsci who studied the Nazi culture and made a very profound observation. It wasn’t that Hitler was some lone evil, it was bigger than that. Here’s McCracken:
In Nazi Germany control was exerted not simply by a fascist ruler but holistically throughout the entire culture—even the most free and democratic of cultures like America. In our most apparently benign institutions—churches, elementary schools, pop music, films, Boy Scouts—the hegemony extended its reach and reinforced dominant values. Ideology was subtle propaganda, and it thrived in mass culture.
It wasn’t just Hilter that made the Nazi’s evil. They weren’t trying to be evil, they were trying to be cool.
Which brings me back to August, this guy with his arms crossed refusing to pledge allegiance to Hitler on that sunny day. This guy had no idea the way that the world history would play out, he has no way of knowing that their vision of world domination is going to fail. He has no way of knowing that for generations to come the Nazi symbol is going to become an obscene gesture.
He could’ve just raised his arm insincerely, but he doesn’t play along, he dares to stand against the crowd, and he’s not doing it to be cool later. Which by the way, he is. Turns out what’s uncool a few years ago, tends to be the very stuff that people are drawn to later, but he doesn’t do it for that.
He does it because he has seen the face of the enemy in his children and he knows they are not the enemy at all. He doesn’t need you to think he’s cool, and I think that’s the kind of guy I’d like to be. That’s the kind of community I’d like to be a part of, one that values love over ratings, and self-sacrifice over reputation.
August is going to eventually die for crossing his arms on this cool spring day, but by now everyone else in this picture is dead as well, and he’s got a better story to leave behind.
He’s not just trying to be uncool. He’s not trying to be indifferent to the popular culture, He does it for the very best reason of all. He does it because he loves his wife and his family and he doesn’t care how much others hate them, or how much they can and will hurt him because he doesn’t. So what you think about him isn’t very important to him because something else is.
There are many reasons to be uncool, but the greatest of these is love.