I have to be honest.
Part of me is writing this post in an attempt to justify my idiosyncrasies and chosen paths of abnormality.
However, another part of me is writing this to capitalize on said idiosyncrasies/nonconformity, as well as encourage others to “walk a different path,” as my university proudly urges.
If you don’t know me in person, then you probably haven’t heard about my affinity of Richard Beck (and more than likely aren’t reading this blog).
Well, back in December 2014, Beck posted on his blog about his “10 Degree Rule.”
Don’t come at people sideways (at 90 degrees), or at them straight on (at 180 degrees). Instead, come at them at roughly 10 degrees.
In less technical jargon:
Instead of seeking nonconformity in outrageous measures where you don’t blend with the culture you find yourself in (including church culture), and instead of conforming in totality with your culture, find a few small ways you can stand out.
Not to be noticed or seen, at least, not as an end goal.
The end goal is to get used to being different and peculiar.
If you find yourself blending in completely with your culture, you may find it difficult to go against the grain if you ever have to disagree with the community on an ethical position or have to be the odd one out.
If you practice too much nonconformity, your community probably won’t take you seriously, and you’ll basically be excluding yourself unnecessarily. It’s more often than not, a cry for attention.
This is why you make intentional small decisions that go against the grain of your culture, institution, etc, in order to “build up your moral immune system,” as Beck puts it.
These small acts of being alone in an opinion, of nonconformity, of dissent, of social abnormalities – they give space to practice shame-resistance for times where you do have to come at the culture from a 90 degree or 180 degree angle, which is important, because courage and shame-resistance don’t appear out of no where.
I’ve been pondering this idea ever since.
As long as I can remember, I’ve worn some sort of hat whenever socially acceptable. So much so, that I think I abuse the social acceptability. You have no idea how many times I’ve been asked why I wear a beanie in Summer (honestly, I don’t think it’s very hot…). Before, it was mere psychological conditioning from my childhood. I felt naked without it.
As my hair grew long for the first time in high school, it became practical – it helped keep my hair out of my eyes – better than a ballcap could, and I hadn’t really thought of using a handkerchief.
Now that my hair is long again, it’s become another practical means to keep my hair-patted down after a shower, as well as keeping it out of my eyes. Once my hair dries, however, I usually resort to the bandana.
I’ve been asked countless times why I persist in wearing something on my head. It’s (slightly) socially obscure to wear a beanie as much as I do. I’ve become known for it. People are shocked when they see me without headwear – sometimes it takes a bit to realize it’s me. Sometimes it can get embarassing. I feel out of place because of my choice of headwear. I’m not complaining here, as it’s completely my choice, and not that big of embarassment. The point here is: it’s not obscure enough to render me marginalized or discredit what I may have to say. At least, I hope not.
10 degrees of social obscurity.
I attend a semi-Reformed Christian university. I hold to very little Reformed theology, and even less to Dispensational theology (what appears to be the second main stream of thought at this university).
A lot of my theology is informed by theologians that would label themselves (or be labeled by others) as Eastern Orthodox, Progressive, Catholic, and Anabaptist. I’ve also seen the term “Neo-evangelical” thrown around a few times.
That said, most of my non-dogmatic (going off of Greg Boyd’s concentric theological framework) theology differs from the main stream of thought here. Don’t get me wrong, I affirm the creeds and believe all the doctrines (most) Evangelicals would say are required for a (healthy) relationship with Christ, but after that, I’m a theological abnormality (for the university I find myself in).
Attending a Christian university leads to a lot of theological conversations. I’m generally the one with the dissenting opinion. It can get frustrating sometimes. Not a huge deal by any means (unless I’m tired or already annoyed ;P), but big enough to be different.
In summation, what I am proposing is to be done with wisdom and respect. Stay conformed enough to exist peacefully in the culture you find yourself (this is assuming you and your culture share generally similar values, of course. Otherwise it may call for the 90 or 180 approach!), but different enough that you can practice shame-resilience and moral immunity, learning to get used to having dissenting opinions.
Do you find the 10 degree idea compelling?
Do you already practice something of the sort?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
A note: My emphasis here is on where you find yourself. I appreciate the mission statement and values of my university, but even a Christian university can become corrupt and self-interested, as all institutions can, and I find the 10 degree rule to be wise here.
Another note: My theology isn’t influenced by this 10 degree rule. I am suggesting that the 10 degree rule creates space to ask questions and seek answers that might not be generally accepted by the culture you find yourself in.
Beck’s original post with image: