I grew up, got married, had children and have found the things I learned through punk music continue to inform my thinking and help me make sense of the world. I share with my kids 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 surprising. But what may be is that I am convinced that the coalesce of these ideals 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 in the Western world.
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 a band called, Bad Religion. A name, equally, as provocative. I grew up in a conservative, evangelical Christian home. The name and the image were overtly offensive to the community I was associated with. But I didn’t find these things offensive. It made me curious as well as a little sad. "Have we done something that has given reason to these gestures?" I thought. The music was enticing to me as well. Fast, aggressive riffs and rhythm along side well-harmonized and thought provoking lyrics. As a result, my music collection was quickly filled with punk and hardcore music.
About a year ago I was watching this legendary band play in downtown San Diego near where I live. They ended their show with "American Jesus." At the peak of the song the audience chanted along in mocking tone "In God We Trust," taunting the religious establishment that had reared many of us. But instead of cringing, I got chills. I think Bad Religion is actually right about many of the things said in the song "American Jesus" as well with many of their songs.
I can understand Graffin’s (of Bad Religion) cynicism. When I read signs that state, "God Bless America," I wonder, why us? What’s so special about this place? 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. If that is what Christianity is then I agree with Bad Religion; it deserves ridicule. But could it be that the intentions of the Scriptural story and legacy of the early Church had a whole other intent besides Christendom?
Four years ago we met a family of refugees from Somalia. Over time we became friends. One day, we dropped by to visit our new friends. A leader from the mosque they attend was visiting as well. He and I were introduced to each other and began to talk about Islam and Christianity. He asked if I was a Christian and when I told him I was, he asked, "You want this family to be Christian?" I answered his question by asking another: Do you think they want to be Christians? He replied "no" rather quickly and went on to say, "We all serve the same God, but Christianity is for white people. Poor black people can’t afford to be Christian."
I don’t know about you, but this bothers me. 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? When I interact with people like this, I realize that it doesn’t really matter what I think about this. The rest of the world clearly thinks something else. The question is, what can I do to change things and am I willing to do it?
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 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?