I saw a piece of flair on facebook the other day that said, “I was uncool, before uncool was cool.” I love that because it’s so perfectly true. People go to extreme lengths to show their disdain for the mainstream or what they consider cool. For instance, I am starting to really love plain white t-shirts because everyone is wearing so many graphic t-shirts right now. But I’m not wearing them because I’m so abundantly secure in my coolness that I think “who cares what everyone else is doing.” I might like to pretend that, but I’m really doing it because I want to stand out like a beacon of white t-shirted sarcasm in a sea of visually complicated graphic t’s. And I don’t think I am alone in this silly thinking. But in reacting to mainstream cool this way, in trying to be unique and go the opposite direction, we’ve all ended up in the land of anti-cool. And if we’re all there, then we’ve transformed being different into something mainstream. So uncool is now the new cool.
These are the confusing, circular conversations that go through my head when I pick a t-shirt to wear to my church small group. That might feel stressful but it’s nothing like the stress I used to feel when we went on youth group retreats. We could probably do a million posts on that general topic, but the specific issue I want to focus on today is “riding on the cool van in youth group.”
It would be awesome if youth group was a safe haven free of cliques and gossip and all the other things that seem to first blossom in junior high and high school. I wish we all did fire drills together at gas stations and had walkie talkies to chit chat between the vans on the way to retreats and that the cool kids were evenly dispersed and we all got ponies and pants made of cotton candy. La, la, la.
But we don’t. There is a distinct caste system when it comes to which van you ride in. I can’t change that with this post. What I can do however is reveal to you the secret techniques I used to get on the cool van when I was in youth group.
1. Bring snacks
Cool kids are often easily tricked with snacks. Become the “gum guy” or the “candy chick” or the “lollipop lad.” (OK, that last one is probably going to require you wearing brightly festooned, stripped pants. Scratch that.) But eventually, once you have established that you travel with delicious treats, cool kids will start actually recruiting you for their van. That’s a great feeling. Whatever you do though, make sure you don’t give away your bag of food before everyone picks vehicles. If you do, you might find yourself on the uncool van while your bag of deliciousness lives it up on the cool van. On the highway you’d just see your big bag of tootsie rolls pressed up against the window of the cool van mocking you as it learned all the “you had to be there jokes” that are going to dominate every conversation during the retreat.
2. Be the first on the van.
Typically, before a retreat, we all stand around in the parking lot waiting for everyone to show up. People just casually hang out and load their bags. This is your moment to strike. While everyone is distracted, go ahead and get on the van. I don’t care if you have to sit in there by yourself for 45 minutes. Get in, buckle up and claim your spot. Which van do you get on? Do your homework. Get on the one that the cool kids sat on the last few retreats you went to. Chances are it’s the van that doesn’t regularly break down or have engine fires. Every church has at least one of these vans. You know which one I am talking about.
3. Smell nice.
I only buy deodorants that have a combination of some sort of the following words in the name, “Xtreme,” “Zone,” “Power,” and “Thunder.” Why, you ask? Because the smelly kid rarely gets to ride on the cool van. And sweating is apparently one of my spiritual gifts. But be careful on this one, don’t overdo it. Smelling nice also means you have not drowned every inch of your skin in Axe “Dark Temptation” body spray. (I wish I was making that scent up, but here’s how Dark Temptation is described on Wikipedia, “A chocolate smelling fragrance that implies that because women like chocolate, they will find men who smell of chocolate irresistible.”) Trust me on this one, don’t try to get on the cool van by smelling like a candy bar made of chocolate and nougat. Keep it simple. Just shower regularly and wear a normal deodorant. “Xtreme Thunder Power” works pretty well for me. (If you don’t have access to fancy deodorants, simply hang around the nicest smelling person in youth group. It’s like drafting, or running behind someone so that they have to do all the work of fighting wind resistance. You will smell nice just by association.)
I could share more of the secrets that helped me have an 87% percent cool van success rate over the years but if God ever calls me to youth ministry I might have to use them again. For although youth leaders might pretend that they are immune to the cool van phenomenon, they are not. They just call it the “chill van phenomenon” which refers to the van that has all the kids in it that are just going to chill on the ride up instead of lighting fireworks, throwing a variety of things out the window, and bouncing off the walls from 19 energy drinks. Or basically, acting like us pastor’s kids.