Jonah and the Hipster

Music is, mostly, a non-rival good; my having it doesn’t decrease your having it. There are exceptions: if you’re going to a concert, the seats are limited (my being there makes there less room for you to be there). But, if we’re talking about being a fan, listening to music on iTunes, there’s really no way in which my loving a musician and your loving a musician have any logical rivalry. Which creates a little mystery in my mind—the mystery of the “I liked them first!” cry occasionally lifted among fans of rising musicians.

Music being non-rival, why do we cherish that “I was into them before they were cool” badge? To be sure, there are some virtuous uses of the phrase: the almost parental pride of the first fans smilingly rejoicing as their companions grow, or—on the other hand—the lament that the musician “sold out” to reach a different audience. I can see what they mean.

At other times, though, it takes a more sinister tone: the disdain of the old fan for the new; the fan who begrudges his or her beloved band their fame. It is as though these old fans would rather the band fail, so long as they can tag them with the label “Mine.”

This “before it was cool, I was” mentality leans toward a selfish wish more for my success as a music-listener than the musician’s success. Clearly, the band is not being cherished as much as the fan’s ability to choose music. They love the band as they love a mirror, because it reflects their own good judgment.

I know the feeling because I’ve felt the same way.

By nature, I am not a generous person. I’m too afraid for it; always scared that if I give some away, there won’t be enough left for me. Consciously, I fight it, and, by God’s grace, I’m making progress. Still, if I were standing in line among the workers in the parable, watching God hand payment to the eleventh-hour workers and the ninth-hour workers, I could see myself nervously tugging at the hem of my shirt, thinking “What if He runs out?”

It smacks of Jonah. Sitting in the shade, overlooking Nineveh with the cocky, askance look of the hipster. The small, selfish, fearful caricature of love that says, “Your loving would make my loving less important.” It’s a jealous fear that assumes the “in group” can only be so big.

Divine love is a non-rival good. Music resembles the love of God in this way. It fills a room, creating more joy the more people experience it. The way it lingers on the air and can be held and known in that moment, but not forcibly possessed by the receiver. The person receives; the music or divine love rolls across them, generous and entirely out of their control. A selfish attitude toward these things seems almost impossible; how can you want others not to have something when their having doesn’t decrease your having?

I wonder what it does to us to prize these feelings toward music, and I wonder what it would do for us to train our souls away from them.

  • Sarah Rohrer

    I’ve often been annoyed by the music side of this, but I never would have drawn that connection to how we are with God, too. I remember having a discussion with somebody about development, and how communities dislike those who prosper because of “limited good,” and how missionaries need to make sure they work against this idea both for the physical needs and the spiritual needs. Sometimes people WANT limited good, because it makes the good seem more valuable – in higher demand.

  • Alicia

    You said, “Sometimes people WANT limited good, because it makes the good seem more valuable – in higher demand.”
    Well said! If I have it and you don’t vs. if I have it and you have it = no difference in my condition, objectively, but it seems so different (which seeming makes me act like a toddler!)