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Beards, Trustafarians and Memes

Beards, Trustafarians and Memes

We loved living near the Appalachian – that range of mountains that extends from Maine to Georgia. In that region they’re called the Blue Ridge Mountains, hiking, mountain biking, skiing or boating were never more than two hours away. 

Nestling at the foot of those mountains is Asheville North Carolina. Only a decade ago I remember visiting a dour, insignificant, economically depressed little place, a city whose time had passed. Today walking around Asheville is an absolute delight, there are street musicians on every corner and a sense of vibrancy in the air.

So what happened? Young people – mostly millennial hipsters – moved in, that’s what happened. Young people began moving to Ashville because of its open-minded attitudes and because of the opportunities that the depressed economy – cheap accommodation and available labor – offered. They opened coffee shops, bars, breweries, chocolate factories, cafés and eating-houses. And these places are cool – there's even a bar on a commercial building fire escape – surely the most novel location of any bar anywhere! 

Why is this happening? Beards, Trustafarians and Memes.


Beards have been an established fashion and style statement for a few years now. Behavioral scientists believe that beards usually reemerge during times of economic crisis or when men's perceived masculinity is under threat. That's as may be, but I think I've noticed that something else is going on as well. Beards and all other 'vintage' artifacts of the hipster and millennial worldview are associated with a period of history when people made things with their hands. The 'Makers' – the carpenters, metalworkers, leather workers, bag makers and brewers –in fact designers and artisans of all kinds, are making a comeback. The theory goes that now that people can no longer rely on a 'job for life', or any kind of employment security for that matter, they are turning to the ancient trades as a means of providing or supplementing their income. For me this is very close to home because my own son is one of these new craftsmen (@samsonandjay). Alongside all of this – functioning as symbols of a world once lost but now reclaimed – you have the beards and the boots and the long hair gathered up into a topknot.

And my guess is that this is not just a passing style or an ephemeral fashion, but the emergence of a new subculture, one that will become increasingly important in the coming years. People want to be 'Makers', they want to make some ‘thing’ – something concrete – and not just 'make money'.


The largest transfer of capital in the history of humankind is taking place right now. Parents and grandparents are passing on their wealth– often long before their deaths – to their children and grandchildren in unprecedented amounts. What was once the province of a tiny privileged few is now becoming a common phenomenon. Parents, wanting to avoid death duties on their estates are passing on their wealth to their children as soon as they can. Millennial's and Gen Xers – the most common recipients of this new wealth – raised amidst the uncertainties of a post 9/11 world and the strictures of the global economic recession are investing the money in themselves. Young people are starting businesses everywhere. And it's changing the fabric of the places where we live, like Asheville North Carolina. Even in Greenville, which has been blessed with brilliant and forward thinking urban planners, the effects of this new generation of young people investing their lives into their city are clearly seen. Interestingly, most of these young people have not decided 'take the money and run', but have decided to seek counsel, input and mentoring from those of their parents and grandparent’s generation.


Something happened – I'm not sure exactly when but sometime in the last 40 years – people began believing that  'old was good'. I remember when I was growing up 'old was bad' and I definitely didn't want input from anyone older than my friends. Only the new and the young seem to hold real value, I can't remember any of my friends or associates deliberately seeking out the mature or the elderly as a resource for life. In fact my parents assumed that my educational opportunities had more adequately equipped me to make the decisions that I needed to make than anything that they could offer and so they never expected me to seek their counsel. 

Of course I'm not saying that the idolatry of youth and of youthfulness – propagated by my generation – has been dismantled, that's obviously not the case. But there is a definite move toward seeking wisdom rather than just information and guidance rather than just support, and this move means that young people are looking for these things among the older generation.

I don't know when it happened but I think I know where it came from – The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

The Lord of the rings was not perhaps the greatest book of the 20th century, that distinction seems to be held by James Joyce's Ulysses and Star Wars was perhaps not the most important movie, some would say that The Godfather holds that position, but both stories revolve around the relationship of an elderly mentor and a youthful hero (in fact now that I think about it that's the principle storyline of The Godfather as well). This 'mentoring meme', which encourages people to look for their own 'Obi-Wan Kenobi' or 'Gandalf' (or in some cases perhaps even Don Corleone!), has been released into our culture. From the ‘Karate Kid’ (who can forget Mr. Miyagi) to ‘The Intern’ (with Anna Hathaway and Robert De Niro) this mean is visibly growing everywhere we look. 

This meme, not the bastardized 'meme' of social media, but the fully orbed understanding where a meme is a packet of cultural information passed from one person to the next, has been released into our culture reversing years of progress driven youthful ignorance. And I believe it was God who did the releasing!

Now we have a world where old things – beards, hawthorn wood tobacco pipes, and leather bound books – are seen as 'vintage' (i.e. good) and where old people are seen as  'wise'.

Into this world I believe we can place the Bible as a source of ancient wisdom and those who have learned from it as mentors of a new generation. I think that's why mentoring and discipleship is reemerging as such a significant feature on the spiritual landscape of the emerging generation and why old dudes like me get a hearing among people like you!

What do you think? Do beards and pipes, mentoring memes and discipleship go together? I’d love to hear from you.

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