Understanding the Times – Part III

17 May 2018

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This article is the third in a series of four, designed to prompt and motivate church leaders to practice reflective discernment on important themes.

Theme Three: The Hype and Drop Culture

Have you noticed how post-millennials (born post 1997) are incredibly engaged on digital media? Recent data from McCrindle research suggests there are 4.6 million Gen Z’s in Australia who by 2027 will reflect one third of Australia’s workforce. Perhaps most strikingly, is that it estimated one quarter of this generation are constantly online – empowered by the devices they carry. 

Being shackled to a digital world, is itself not inherently bad, but it does precipitate trends or behaviours within culture that potentially have interesting impacts. The following story from the BBC is one such example:

On November 18 last year, a major event in the sneaker community came to pass. Adidas had just released the latest shoe in the Yeezy Boost collection, its famed footwear collaboration with Kanye West. This sneaker – the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 – was not a new model, and cost $220, the same as other sneakers in the range. The difference was the colour: Semi Frozen Yellow, a muted fluorescent hue with grey and red highlights.

For those in the know, this was a huge deal. Sneakers or trainers in this particular colour were the most limited release to date and would fetch big sums on the lucrative resale market. For days before the sneaker was available for sale, forums and Instagram accounts buzzed with hype of the release.

The hype reached a crescendo at 10 am, when these sneakers became available for sale. But less than a minute later, they had sold out: by some estimates, it had taken just 15 to 30 seconds for online buyers to clear the shelves. Welcome to the world of the “drop”, a sales tactic deployed by a number of streetwear brands to supercharge the traditional supply-and-demand model.

An announcement on social media about the limited release of, say, a new sneaker is all it takes to cue the hype. Next, the message is amplified across social media, especially Instagram, where celebrities, fashion-forward influencers, and collectors create an echo chamber of excitement.

Once these items are released, some can sell out in a matter of seconds before emerging on resale websites, marked up 1,000% or more. For the brands who have mastered the art of the drop, and for the legions of fans buying and reselling their products, such hype can produce remarkably lucrative results.’[1]

Apparently Yeezy had also organised a live drop in Moscow last year, with thousands of shoppers streaming in to purchase the shoes. You might say it’s a free market, and therefore whatever works for whoever – who cares! Perhaps even more importantly, should we care?

It makes me wonder – all this hype and drop – is it healthy for our societal functionality, and more so for our personal wellbeing? The last thing we would want to do as Christians is to attempt to regulate the behaviours of others; it’s not our brief. 

I am reminded we have a moral compass that could inform our perspectives. For example, should someone profit to such an extent from a pair of shoes that may have cost say only $50 to produce, when there is so much poverty and distress in our world? Is it ethical to use social media to ‘hype’ consumer sentiment to the point that it frenetically stimulates unhealthy lucrative gain for the few against the many who miss out? Is hype and drop a function of culture that reflects the ethos and values of Jesus and His followers? These and other questions are tough to answer, let alone contemplate collegiate or personal responses.

On a personal level, our well-being is impacted when we live in a ‘supercharged’ state or orientation. I fear we have become way too obsessed with the urgent, the immediate, the need for instant gratification, all fuelled by a pseudo digital world that constantly stimulates the amygdala (pleasure centre) of the brain.

An overstimulation of pleasure fuels addictive behaviours; hence the more reliant we become on ‘hype’ the more tolerant our neuropharmacology becomes, hence normalising ‘hype’ as necessary for living. This is in complete contradiction to normative rhythms or seasons of rest and work, recreation and purposefulness. So much of Scripture exhorts us to be ‘at peace’ and to avoid the pitfalls of ‘life on the run’ – a gentle beckoning to a different way of living.

I’d like to suggest three conversations for church leaders as follows:

  1. Gathered community as antidote to ‘hype’

I like to think that our personal self-awareness is intrinsically tied to our level of engagement in safe community. The more we have trusted friends and colleagues around us, the less isolated we become, hence the more aware we are of our own blind spots. Our faith communities are important spiritual communities that cause us to go deeper and mature together.

For reflection and conversation: How does your faith community model living beyond the immediate and urgent? Do you sense it’s important for your community to challenge the idea of ‘hype’ and if so, what changes might you envisage? What ideas could you action to help Sabbath become a core practice to arrest the busyness of the age? What would it look and feel like if you had a season of ‘rest’ in your church community, and what would stop you from actioning rest as a key practise?

  1. Transformational living as critical posture for holistic discipleship

The best in each of us, thrives when we live wholeheartedly for God and for others (in itself a reflection of the two greatest commandments). Ironically, we grow the most when we give ourselves away to others and to causes that serve beyond self. The genius of living in ‘body life’ is we need each other, and a crucible emerges where we can constantly grow, learn, develop and change. True transformational living under the Lordship of Christ changes lives and communities.

For reflection and conversation: What metrics do you use to evaluate fruitfulness in discipleship? How is maturity in Christ modelled in leadership to encourage or mentor others to grow in faith and love? What resources are prioritised and actioned in your faith community (apart from Sunday gatherings) to equip and prepare the saints for work of service?

  1. Impact through Jesus rather than relevance

The Gospel teachings from Jesus exhort those who would follow to be as salt and light. It might be said that Jesus is more concerned about substance than relevance. Our substance comes from pursuing our subject – Jesus; and so, we become less concerned about relevance and more focused on faithful living. Faithful living seeks to bridge the gap between what we know (as truth in Jesus) and how we live (as followers in His grace).

For reflection and conversation: The term ‘culturally relevant’ often appears in church strategy documents. How important do you think it is to be relevant? How can the church be contextual in mission without compromising its core values or Christian beliefs? How do you measure the ‘impact’ or fruitfulness of what you do in Christian ministry and mission?

Just maybe, in the age to come, the hype and drop too shall pass, for in vanity we chase after the wind.

Grace, peace and rest to you in abundance.

Dr. Andrew Ball
Executive Ministry Director

Suggested Reading:

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives. 2000, Bantam Books.

Hudson, Trevor. Discovering our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved. 2012, InterVarsity Press.

Kreeft, Peter. Three Philosophies of Life. 1989 Ignatius Press.

Hunter, James. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. 2010 Oxford University Press.

[1]   Accessed from:  http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20180205-the-hype-machine-streetwear-and-the-business-of-scarcity