Two days ago I saw a documentary on Netflix about a group of young post-evangelical Christian pastors who played Blackjack to support themselves. Holy Rollers: The true story of card counting Christians is a painful view for an ex-evangelical like myself.
The Seattle based group was run by church-planting pastors and members of Seattle bands. Their conversation, and especially their justification for playing Blackjack was peppered with post-evangelical, emerging-church lingo that grated on my nerves just as badly as evangelical-ese (and the lingo my old sect I grew up in uses). Phrases like: “living in the gray”, “Christians think that if they just make up that extra rule it will make living by the book easier”, and “God spoke to me”, all the while learning how to fool the casinos into giving up some of their money to them, felt like sandpaper on an already irritated soul.
There were a few moments in the documentary that were beautiful portrayals of the evangelical subculture. When they were hauled into the back rooms and questioned, the casino security could not believe how they could be paid by the hour, when they could skim so easily without getting caught. They explained they were all Christian, which made sense to the casino operators.
Another beautiful thing was that most of the players (all male) were married with kids, as is not the case with most postmodern hipster youth in Seattle or anywhere hipsterish. Many in the hipster community are experimenting with pansexualism, gender bending, and open relationships, and eschew having children because this world is so ruined and overpopulated, not to mention collapsing ecologically.
But the faith expressed in the documentary, although discussed and fretted over, and modified somewhat, still was the result of having been raised evangelical, one’s parents being the most important factor in one’s faith. They were speaking more to their own subculture than to the community at large.
It was refreshing that they were willing to consider impacting the community at large, though beyond music, most of their involvement in the larger community was window dressing: tattoos, beards, and rolled-up skinny jeans. Their time was spent almost exclusively with their own subculture.
What one reviewer pointed out was that the arrogance of the Christians was particularly grating. Especially when “God spoke to” three of the men and they decided to kick out the only non-Christian member of their team.
One thing that was refreshing was that they were aware that their subculture was not impacting the community at large, and that troubled them. They were flirting with change, but clearly had not figured it out.
One disappointing portrayal of post-evangelical emerging-church culture was the sameness of the worship services. If you’ve visited one emerging church you’ve visited almost all of them. No differences at all. For all their talk of rebellion and change, they are followers wearing a uniform and raising money by the corporate outline in a ring binder.
One interesting thing that I experienced while watching the documentary was the Hopeful Child in me wanting to win at Blackjack. The psychiatrist Fairbairn posited that abused or neglected children develop a large Hopeful Child in adulthood that is taken in by big promises. I wondered how many of those in the card-counting group were raised in harsh evangelical and fundamentalist homes, and thus had developed a big Hopeful Child, just waiting to believe in a big promise that wouldn’t deliver.