I’m like any other punk rock dude right now, I grew up, got married, had some kids and have found that the things I learned through punk rock music still continue to inform my thinking, and help me make sense of the world. I want to share this with my kids, 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 too 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. I mean, the way of Jesus is pretty punk rock! Several punk bands, now and then, have several points worth reflecting on if you are a follower of Jesus Christ in the Western world.
In the beginning….I didn’t 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, while making some very 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 cross buster, 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 too 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 alongside 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, etc.)
I can really 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, fought, 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 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 forced upon me, led to many different struggles in my life. We were somewhat poor and somewhat trashy and the hypocrisy from “Christian” teens was downright cruel at times. As I was 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 people’s 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 friends accepted me. They loved me and some of them today are still some of my friends.
Check out my blog post Atheist to Jesus: My “Born Again” Story on how I was an atheist teenager that was cast as Jesus in an Easter production. This is my salvation story and is pretty punk rock!
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 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 truly 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 as 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 I 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.
If you dug that song, you can own it for less than a $1 at Amazon. Support your artists! False Idle – He Lives