I’m like any other punk rock dude right now, I grew up, got married, had a child and have found that the things I learned through punk rock music continue to inform my thinking and help me make sense of the world. I want to share this with my daughter, my friends, and my family what I have learned from both my faith and punk ethics daily. The two of these intertwined have assisted in helping me come to several conclusions about my spirituality that are presumably far outside of the norm of contemporary Christian culture.
This probably isn’t all to surprising, but what may be, is that I am convinced that the combination of these ideas informing my head, heart and hands has led me back to the heart of Scripture. Several punk bands, now and then, have several points worth reflecting on if you are a follower of Jesus Christ in the Western world.
I did not grow up in a religious family, and viewed that the many failed attempts of it that I saw from family or people I knew were just a facet to call themselves better people in life while making some vary piss poor choices in life. I grew up very much introverted (shy), and was very afraid of breaking the balance the world set so I can just passively get by in life.My early childhood I stayed plugged in and zoned out but, I remember the first time I saw a crossbuster, I was in junior high. Even then I knew that there was something very provocative about this emblem. I quickly came to realize that this design was associated with the punk band, Bad Religion. A name, equally, as provocative.
As I said I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, but I saw how the name of this band, and the image were overtly offensive to the community I have interacted with. I didn’t find these things offensive, In fact,it made me curious as I to was also starting to form my own thoughts and was starting to be against the idea of religion. I thought, that this music was enticing to me. Fast, aggressive riffs and rhythm along side well-harmonized and thought provoking lyrics. (As a result, my music collection in life was quickly filled with punk bands over the years such as the Sex Pistols, Blink 182, The Clash, The Ramones, Nofx, MxPx, Against Me, ect.)
I can understand cynicism from the band. When I read signs that state, “God Bless America,” I wonder, why us? What’s so special about this Country? What do we do, that would want to make this Almighty God want to bless this country? There is a stigma that has evolved not only here in the West but in the minds of people all over the world that Christianity is distinctly tied to Western ideas and an affluent, unsustainable lifestyle(Pick it signs, need for guns, hating others who live in sin) . If that is what Christianity is then I agree with Bad Religion; it deserves to be ridiculed. But could it be that the intentions of the Scriptural story and legacy of the early Church had a whole other intent besides Christendom?
To continue on, later in my late teens I was conflicted with repressing my feelings due to a custody battle between my parents. The young teen John, who was skipping school, fighting, stealing and causing all sorts of trouble, now was locked away, living with my father and hiding these rebellious feelings. I had to obey, I had to do what I was told, not even to be a better person in life, but what appeared to be a status quo for my dad. He wanted to look like a good parent, and I had to abandon my punk rock spirit for the next couple of years. I had seen how my dad, a man, a mortal, somehow was able to trump the justice system many different times. I love my dad and he is a better man now, but what he had shown me was the the justice system was garbage and the false religion I was seen burnt me up. I hated politics and I hated Christians.
Being a teenager trying to find my identity while fighting the identity that my dad was forcing up on me, led to many different struggles in my life. We were poor and somewhat trashy and the hypocrisy from “Christian” teens was downright cruel. As I being a teenage boy barely weighing 100 lbs and afraid of being overpowered by my father I, retaliated the best way I could. I fought back, but verbally. I learned how to really jam the planks in these kids eyes as they try to mention that I was sinning and going to hell. Why would I even believe that there was a God, when half of his people were mean, evil, hypocritical, and even at times ashamed to be called a Christian in front of their friends. I learned their words and was able to reverse their scriptures back at them at times. I was just as cruel at times.I was always thinking “You call yourselves Christians but you are told to love me, and yet you treat me like I’m dirt.”
I don’t know about you, but this bothers me thinking back on this. How did a religion that started in the Middle East, around the message and life of a poor man develop into an ideology of elitism? My story then shifts a few years later as I fought with my dad on my identity. I accepted my place in the household but even when I tried to live to his standards, I did not feel loved. This ended up turning me back to my punk rock craves. I started hanging out with some of the other punks, skaters, and outcast at school. These friend accepted me. They loved me and some of them today are still some of my best friends in life.
My dad had sought out church while I was going through all this. I obeyed and we all went as a family. I sat around people that I scorn and hated. (because I know Christians. They are all fake.) However a large group of these punks and outcast kids were claiming to Be Christians and I for some reason believed that their hearts were true with what they thought they believed and I started to trust them. I started to see these kids in the church and while I didn’t particularity like church or cared about the message, I hated being at home even more, so I jumped on every opportunity to go to church on Sunday and Wednesday nights. This was guaranteed time away from home, because I would use the old trick of playing to my dad’s image against him if he wouldn’t let me go.
One evening my dad picked me up after track practice and had to meet with the pastor of the church. As I sat in the pews of the church, a group of southern Baptist women called me over and started the cute elderly ways of trying to reach out to the youth. Conversation led to the fact that I liked acting, and was asked to be a part of their Easter program. Hey, I liked acting and it would get me out of the house, so I said yes. It didn’t matter to me that I was faking my faith, I was given another way to get out of the house. Great the women said as they inviting the 16 year old, long haired, emaciated, teenage atheist to the team. “We have the perfect role for you……..John the Baptist!” (You really thought they were going to give me the role of Jesus, didn’t you?) Great, I get to leave the house more, really had no lines to memorize, and get to slide more into this church environment undetected of being a poser.
Little did I know that God was working here. Two weeks before the Easter program, the dude playing Jesus bails. (I recently asked my youth leader and we have no clue who was playing Jesus) Well as it turns out these ladies had an emaciated, long haired teenage actor, already in the cast, and really how important in John the Baptist in this story? (BAM, Gothca!) These women just asked the atheist, to play Jesus freaking Christ, their Load and Savior, their Messiah, their Son of God, for the Church’s Easter program. (What the HELL where thinking. What the HELL was I thinking.) I‘m tying so hard to fit in, so how could I not take the part.(Plus my ego said, its the lead role!!!) I had a pretty good grasp of most the bible from Sunday school and some of my previous encounters of being an a-hole to Christians in the past, but I always avoided the fairy tales of the Gospels. I knew, rules and laws, and proverbs and the practical stuff in the Bible, but I did not know anything about Jesus other than the fact that he WAS a real dude, and the events in which took place WHERE real.
I read the “big four” over the next couple of weeks and it meant nothing to me. I still did not care. My mind was made up, and I will someday get to live my life free from anyone controlling me and telling me what to do. I just needed to obey and get though school. Easter Sunday roles around and we began. (If any of the women in this production read this I apologize in advance but you really were not that great at acting. I love you all but this is the facts.) The poor overacting and fumbling over some lines made me only mildly nervous, but I was not prepared for what was to come next. As I come down the aisle painted up to look bloody, the real whip (WHY? ITS A CHURCH PROGRAM!) came around and made contact on my tiny little fragile teenage body. I came crashing down, heavy oak cross and all into the corner of a pew and hit my head, and got as gnarly rug burn on my knee. I was embarrassed and crying and in pain and humiliated, and uncomfortable, and scared and for the first time in my life realized that I know for a fact that Jesus was a man, and that he was staked to a cross because he believed he was the son of God, and was paying the price for our sins, and for the first time in years I felt loved. What if this was real, what if Jesus died for my sins because he loved me. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by people, and was feeling the same feeling as I was. I had no doubt in my mind that God was real and that Jesus was his Son and he died for me. I didn’t know what any of that meant, but I was relieved inside.
I have been a follower of Christ for over a decade now, and I will say that I had had my regretful fallouts, and ups and downs and even tried to do live a few years without God’s help and ran away while he was calling me. Through my on again off again years when I’m on fire I’m vary much fall into the radical evangelical Christian category. I have seen the evangelical movement over the year struggle to survive and grow. This spirit comes very much from my rebellious punk rock fight in me. To truely understand this movement means you have to try to understand the core passion of why this movement started in the first place.
John’s brief History lesson:
In the twentieth century, American Christianity seemed to propose two approaches to the challenges of modernity:
- freely revise traditional beliefs to fit the mold of “modern progress;”
- fortify against modern culture and hurl grenades from a distance.
A really small band of fundamentalists felt both these options were super lame and bad. So they left the walls of fundamentalism with no plan other than to share their faith with as many people as possible. This movement was organic, chaotic, and very exciting. Example:Billy Graham electrified millions with his simple, radical message of grace and new life as a “born-again” Christian. In his path followed evangelical organizations like Youth With A Mission, Campus Crusade For Christ, and InterVarsity, which converted and empowered hordes of teens and college students for the cause. (Think of it like a Jesus zombie bite! Hordes of student converting fast and spreading it to others! GNARLY Right!)
This new exciting movement was pure anarchic — punk-rock-like — in its willingness to reinvent the church for the sake of the mission. So Punk rock that these Evangelicals left old buildings with stained glass and pews and set up overhead projectors and folding chairs in warehouses, basements, and hotel lobbies. (Think Garage Band like) In the process, they created one of the most dynamic and influential Christian movements in history.
To go back to the Punk element of the post. The criticism of Christianity voiced by punk artists such as Bad Religion can seem appalling to some, but it can also be interpreted as prophetic. Just as the prophets of old testament challenged the people of God to turn from their idolatrous ways, punk rock has often challenged Christians to do the same. The Kingdom of God is not aligned with a particular nation state. Who do we follow? The god of affluence and consumer capitalism? Or the God of the Kingdom Jesus announced? The punk rock spirit in me working side by side with the Holy Spirit makes me have to ask these types of questions! I know it seems radical at times, but it is either me evangelize or throw bricks through the courthouse windows.
1 Thessalonians 5:10-11
Who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
Love You All!