In the final years of the 20th century, Levi Strauss & Co. stopped selling denim.
I know this because I remember denim from my childhood. When my mother brought home jeans from the store, they were thick slabs of dense cotton. The first thing we did was throw them in the wash, hoping to soften them enough to be wearable by the first day of school. After half a dozen washings they began to yield, but even months later they still turned the rinse water blue.
Then some enterprising managers discovered they could charge a premium for jeans that had been put through an industrial-strength version of our home routine. Throw some abrasive rocks into the wash, and the jeans could arrive on store shelves looking like they had been lovingly worn for years. So what if they had been pumice-pummeled to within an inch of their useful life? Stonewashed jeans were a huge hit.
I've been thinking about the days of board-like denim as I hear people describe their longing for an "authentic" church.
Authenticity is the watchword of a generation that is suspicious of squeaky-clean, franchise Christianity. Last month I spoke at a young, thriving church that describes itself as "real church for real people." I could understand the appeal of that phrase.
Church, and church people, can often seem unreal. Among my personal unreal church experiences was the megachurch service where we were invited to turn to the stranger next to us and "share a deep personal need in the next two minutes." Then there was the heartwarming, personal account of a minor miracle that I heard from two different preachers, speaking in the first person, on two separate occasions.
But our longing for "authenticity" also bears a suspicious resemblance to the latest plot twist in ...1