Saturday, October 28, 2006

New Birds in Paradise

A guy handed me a book and said; "To survive here, you've got to read this." The title was a bit off-putting. It seems like a sarcastic critique of the wealthy, with the SUV, lap-top, steaming cup of coffee in a carden setting, hip well dressed people and a mountain bike in the lower left. But the author, David Brooks, is one of my favorite columnists in the NYT's, so I picked it up and started reading. Wow!
His basic premise is that Bobo is a merger of bourgoise + bohemian. It's the new leader-class based on merit and achievement as opposed to bloodlines and inheritance, old-brains vs old wealth. He attributes this culture shift to John Bryant Conant at Harvard, who was key in getting the SAT testing used as a class-blind standard for applicants. In 1952, the average SAT for incoming Harvard freshmen was 583, but by 1960 it rose to 678!! Numbers were now a powerful key to unlocking the doors of elite educational establishments.
Brooks conducts a fun romp through the wedding pages of the NYT's over the decades, re-naming them "mergers and acquisitions." In the 1950's and earlier, the pages would describe the bride and groom by family names, locations of upbringing, ancestors, club affiliations and service work. But in today's wedding pages, the primary identifiers are college degrees, graduate degrees, career paths for both, and parents' professions. It's about achievements and not inheritances. Where in the 17th and 18th century, entering the established church was a pathway to power, in the 19th century the pathway shifted to business and in the 20th century the new pathway is academia.
But the problem this new, meritocratic society creates is the conflict of reconciling opposites; a new elite raised to oppose elites, a Steven Jobs in jeans and black shirt (bohemian) on the top of the pyramid of power (bourgoise). This commmunity genuinely wrestles with equality vs privilege, convenience vs responsibility, rebellion vs convention, and inner virtue vs worldly success. How does it do the reconciling? Go to a Starbucks, GAP store with the new Red Campaign, the French Meadow Restaurant in Minneapolis...Birkenstocks and Blackberries together sipping Ethiopian coffee.
I'm far from done, but this is some fun stuff for the church, especially in conversation with the emerging community to process.


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