Saturday, September 30, 2006

Introduction: Jesus and the Punks

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine. – Patti Smith

I love the rituals of Catholicism. I mean, the mass is a magic ritual for God’s sake, it’s a transubstantiation, and the stations of the cross – I mean a crown of thorns? Getting whipped? It’s punk rock. – Jim Carroll

Christ was a punk rocker. – Billy Idol

It was 1977, punk rock’s big breakout year, and the British punk band the Clash was performing on a stage in Belgium, playing to two very different audiences at a single show. One audience was an inner court of fans, an “arena within an arena,” who huddled so close to the stage they could almost touch the band’s gravel-voiced lead singer, Joe Strummer.

The other audience was held at bay in an outer court. These were the “less privileged punks,” the outsiders, whom concert security had “herded like cattle” to the margins. Separating the two groups of fans was a ten-foot-tall barbed-wire fence.

In the midst of the performance, Strummer decided to attack this wall of separation and bring these two audiences together. A writer for the punk fanzine Zig Zag captured the moment, describing how Strummer, a tough James Dean look-alike, leapt from the stage and tore at the fence with his bare hands – intent on breaking down the barrier between the privileged, inner court of fans and the rowdy, outer-court punks. With a street brawler’s tenacity that belied his own privileged upbringing, Strummer “streaks straight to the fence, and with his bare hands he is pulling and tugging at the bastard as hard as he can.” Immediately a bank of security guards were on his back, yanking the singer from the wall of wire. Just as quickly, a mass of fans rushed to Strummer’s aid and struggled to pry the guards off of the singer.

The Zig Zag reporter doesn’t mention it, but I imagine some of the inner court of fans would have preferred a more orderly, controlled performance, one that kept the riffraff in the cheap seats. But if punk rock is about anything, it is about tearing down walls.

Joe Strummer knew this, and he lived it. As rock critic Greil Marcus wrote in 1978, it was “not hard to imagine [Strummer] ripping down a fence separating his band from its audience. A joyful loathing of such elitism is what kicked off the English punk revolt in the first place, and no band has tried harder, or more self-consciously, to live up to that revolt, to keep its spirit whole, than the Clash.”

As his actions in Belgium that night demonstrated, Strummer saw punk as a means to tear down walls. He wanted the music to be open to everyone. This same egalitarian, revolutionary spirit comes through loud and clear in much of the music of the Clash. Along with Marcus, rock critic Lester Bangs recognized this redemptive, spiritual side of the punk rockers. There was something “unpretentiously moral, and something both self-affirming and life-affirming” in the group and its music, wrote rock critic Lester Bangs in a 1977 article for New Musical Express. Yes, the Clash’s music “seethes with rage and pain,” but “it also champs at the bit of the present system of things, lunging after some glimpse of a new and better world.”

Punk lives!
Punk is not dead. Punk will only die when corporations can exploit and mass-produce it. – Jello Biafra

Nearly three decades after Joe Strummer’s attack on that fence of separation, the sound, spirit and fashion of punk lives on. This defiant, anti-authoritarian genre of rock and roll – “the cultural equivalent of the cockroach,” as one rock journalist has described it – has not only shown “a remarkable ability to survive,” but also to “adapt and flourish in any climate.”

Few would have given punk much chance at survival when it emerged from the underworld three decades ago. In the United States, supergroups like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac ruled the radio. In the UK, the glam rock of David Bowie and Queen had a firm hold on the charts. One of the biggest singles of the time – “You Light Up My Life,” a wholesome paean to Jesus Christ by Debbie Boone, the daughter of clean-cut fifties crooner Pat Boone – was the best-selling song of 1977, and was about as far from punk as a pop tune could get. Meanwhile, another new sound, disco, was poised to invade dance clubs, radio stations and the movies – a la Saturday Night Fever – as the next big thing.

Nevertheless, from its underground bunkers in New York, London, Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland and elsewhere, punk rock took root. It took awhile for the sound to reach those of us middle America, but once it did, many of us were also drawn to this strange, new sound and the antics of punk rock’s leaders. Punk became a force to be reckoned with in American culture, and it has infused everything from music and movies to politics and publishing with a refreshing spirit of independence and a healthy distrust of authority and institutions.

Enter the antichrist
All I offer to others is their own individuality. Grab it! – John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten

As the front man for the pioneering British punk band the Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten has become punk’s most famous icon. He is also its most troublesome. To many of us, Rotten embodies the true sound and fury of punk rock. Taken as a whole, the Pistols – and in particular, Rotten and his sidekick Sid Vicious – came to personify punk as a movement designed to shock and unsettle, a defiance for defiance’s sake. Unlike the protest music of the sixties, which raised a figurative fist into the air, punk lifted a single middle finger to the world.

The Sex Pistols’ ghoulish appearance – their shredded shirts, bondage pants, creative haircuts – often made a bigger statement than their music. The band’s musical style “was initially secondary to their posturing,” Antonino D’Ambrosio points out, “as they seemed to be characters from A Clockwork Orange come to life.” The fashions, album cover and poster art, and performance styles of groups like the Sex Pistols were critical components of the emerging punk aesthetic. The music, the art, the clothing – all of it was designed to shock and horrify middle-class sensibilities. It was all “part of the punk policy of provocation,” writes Tricia Henry in her significant study of punk, Break All Rules!

Even so, the musical style and lyrical content was just as important to the Pistols’ persona. Their music was bombastic; their lyrics – about social unrest (“Anarchy in the U.K.”), alienated youth (“Pretty Vacant”), and the irrelevance of Britain’s royal family (“God Save the Queen”) – were cleverly designed to shock. And with their combination of outrageous lyrics, high-decibel power chords and the demented shrieking of Johnny Rotten, the Pistols delivered. Even today, nearly three decades later, the recorded belligerence comes through clearly in the Rotten’s shrill delivery of “Anarchy in the U.K.”
I am an antichrist
I am an anarchist
don’t know what I want but I know how to get it
I want to destroy the passerby.
Even after all these years, “Anarchy in the U.K.” imparts a claustrophobic sensation, as though the very foundations of western civilization are crumbling. As art critic Robert Garnett notes, the song “still possesses an edge, still disconcerts and resonates.” It is, in the words of Greil Marcus, “the sound of the city collapsing.”

Side B
I will always believe in punk rock, because it’s about creating something for yourself. Part of it was: “Stop being a sap! Lift your head up and see what is really going on in the political, social and religions situations, and try and see through all the smoke screens.” This is a fantastic thing to try and follow through on. – Joe Strummer
Then there was Joe Strummer and the Clash – the flip side of Rotten and the Sex Pistols. Strummer, who died in 2002, was one of the most socially conscious figures of the early punk movement. Collaborating with Mick Jones to write songs that challenged England’s social order, he and the Clash drew attention to the poor, the downtrodden and the underprivileged – society’s outcasts herded into the outer court. The Clash could be as loud and angry as the Sex Pistols. But whereas Rotten and company seemed to revel in nihilism and offer no hope (or “no future,” as a famous line from “God Save the Queen” put it), there was little doubt about the Clash’s political and social stance. Much of their music was infused with an Old Testament-style prophetic sense of justice.

For promotional purposes, CBS tagged the Clash as “the only band that matters.” A marketing ploy, to be sure, but the label made a certain amount of sense. While much of punk rock glorified nihilism and rebellion, the music of the Clash was, as Bangs put it, “righteous.” Writer Stephen F. Nathans, a self-professed reluctant convert to punk rock, admits that the band “offered more than a pose,” and adds: “There’s something about the Clash, and Strummer in particular, that inspires conviction, that makes conviction cool, yet insists that answering the band’s call-to-arms for fashion’s sake alone is nowhere near enough.”

Strummer, too, was deliberate about his band’s intentions. “We want to sing about what we think is relevant and important,” he told NME magazine in 1976. “[W]e’re anti-fascist, we’re anti-violence, we’re anti-racist and we’re pro-creative. We’re against ignorance.”

Parallel lines
Well they blew the horns, and the walls came down. – The Call
Even in his most delusional moments, Strummer probably never saw himself as a messiah figure. Nevertheless, his assault on that barbed-wire barrier in Belgium resonates with the atoning work of another, more famous rebel: that carpenter-turned-itinerant preacher known as Jesus of Nazareth. You know, the guy whose life became the foundation for an entire religion called Christianity.

Obviously, Strummer’s attack on a wall of separation during a gig in Belgium is but a dim shadow of the miraculous, wrecking-ball works attributed to Jesus in the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. No singer or musician, no matter how “righteous” or deluded, could ever compare to the acts attributed to Jesus. Gary Wills, in his recent meditation on the four gospels called What Jesus Meant, puts it in perspective. Throughout the gospel narratives, Jesus “walks through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs” – healing outcasts, conversing with whores, breaking bread with tax collectors. Strummer and company hung out with their share of social outcasts, too, so the punks and Jesus had that much in common. What’s more, there is a parallel between Strummer’s attack of the fence that separated the inner and outer courts of fans and Jesus’s life, ministry and atoning death. And it’s a parallel that sheds light on the spiritual nature of punk rock and the culture it has nurtured over the years.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, Jesus – not only through his earthly ministry of healing, teaching and serving, but also through his death, burial and ultimate resurrection – attacked a “dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14, NIV) that was more real as any barbed-wire barricade, and even more divisive. The barrier Jesus fought against separated “non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders” in a figurative sense (see Ephesians 2:11-16, Message). Jesus’ destruction of that dividing wall brought Jews (God’s “chosen” people) and non-Jews together into a unity of spirit as part of the ultimate reconciliation of God and humanity. His earthly ministry pointed the way to that reconciliation, thereby removing yet another barrier – the barrier between all of humanity and our Creator. The Christian religion teaches that by tearing down these walls through his teaching, his atoning death, and his coming to life again, Christ opened the way for all of humanity – not just a privileged few – to gain access to God.

Joe Strummer was no doubt just trying to help the masses get a better view of the show. But his efforts were symbolic as well, for in attacking that ten-foot fence, Strummer connected the rebellious, anti-establishment, anti-elitist ethos of punk with a more universal theology that underpins the Christian faith – a theology as practiced by Jesus, preached by Paul and attempted, however half-heartedly or pathetically, by spiritual seekers today. A similar anti-elitism practiced by Jesus – his welcoming of the dispossessed of his day, the women, the poor and the sick, into His fold – also formed the foundation of the early Christian movement (even if that spirit is seldom evident in Christianity as practiced today).

This connection between the radically egalitarian theology of Jesus and the bombastic spirit of punk rock has been hidden for years, buried beneath layers of media hype. One of my goals with this book is to peel away the layers and examine this connection in the light of one Christian’s perspective.

The media painted punk as a raucous, self-destructive musical form – especially in the early days of the punk movement. Media portrayals focused on Johnny Rotten – punk’s antichrist figure – who was shoved to the top of the pop culture mosh pit and left to body-surf along our collective consciousness. (Rotten’s public image was all an act, we now know, but it sure scared us back in ‘77. As Simon Reynolds points out in his book Rip It Up and Start Again, a 1977 radio program featuring Rotten portrayed something less than antichristlike. Instead, the interview “revealed a sensitive, thoughtful individual rather than the monster of newspaper legend.”

So while Rotten and the Sex Pistols turned punk into a scarey and sacrilegious freak show, Joe Strummer and The Clash sang a different tune.

When I was a teen, in the days before CDs or MTV, I would purchase a 45 record – a single, as it was known – solely because I’d heard it on the radio. Typically, it was a tune that had gotten plenty of air play, so the radio heavily influenced my purchasing decisions. While I’d make my purchase based on what the media told me, I would also spend a lot of time listening to the song on the flip side, the B side. What I discovered was that the song on the B side was sometimes better than the hit. It might be more creative, more experimental, more daring and less formulaic. But it didn’t receive the media exposure of the A side song.

So it was with the Clash and many other punk artists. Punk is not just the story of Johnny Rotten, as Neil Young once sang. Even so, Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols are an important part of the story, and his verbal assaults on hypocrisy and Western society are as prophetic in their own way as Jesus’ dressing down of the Pharisees. There is a deeper spiritual aspect to punk, a hope-filled Yes to the media’s overhyped focus on punk’s hollow, nihilistic No. That is the spiritually affirming song we find on Side B. The flip side of punk’s sneering facade is a theology that is authentic, but unsettling. How could it be anything else?

‘Throw out the rule book’
Punk is inherently oppositional. Screw your mainstream, this is our way. That very opposition is what traditionally limits it. It contradicts itself the moment it becomes popular, or even known. – Andy Greenwald
It’s been three decades since Rotten, Strummer and dozens of other performers ripped down the wall of pop culture to expose the world to the seething underground movement that was punk. From its shadowy beginnings, punk blasted onto the music scene in the mid-1970s, then seemed to flame out within a few short years. The Sex Pistols crashed and burned almost as quickly as they had ascended from obscurity. (By 1978, just a year after gaining notoriety in the UK, the band imploded in San Francisco, on the last stop of their American tour. Soon afterward, Sid Vicious, the Pistols’ replacement bass player, was accused of murdering his girlfriend, then died of a drug overdose.) By the time the eighties rolled around, many music critics had pronounced the punk movement dead; it had been overtaken and swallowed up by the more palatable (and profitable) “new wave” sound and the so-called “postpunk” music emanating out of Britain. The Clash managed to ride the wave of popularity and score a few hits, as did Blondie, which was one of the few bands to emerge from New York’s punk scene with any top 40 potential. But punk pioneers like the Ramones in New York, the Buzzcocks in Manchester, and X and the Germs on the West Coast never broke through to the big time. At the time, punk’s railing against the powers that be in the music industry, and its promise of ushering in a more egalitarian world, appeared to have failed.

Three decades later, however, punk’s influence in the world of music, fashion and culture has never been greater. Don’t believe me? Just visit your nearest mall and step into a Hot Topic. This retailer, a fixture at suburban shopping malls throughout the United States, is cashing in on the punk revival, selling T-shirts of punk pioneers and rag-tag clothing more extreme than anything Malcolm McLaren ever outfitted the Sex Pistols with in 1977.

Punk’s influence doesn’t begin and end in the shopping mall. Its influence on music, from the “secular” to the spiritual, is evident in every rock band from Audioslave to Audio Adrenaline. A number of “pop-punk clones” are cashing in on “the sound and look of vintage punk,” writes music critic George Varga, but they fail to capture “the rebellion against inequality and disenfranchisement that inspired it.”

The corporate world, too, has cashed in on vintage punk to push product. The automotive industry seems particularly enamored by the sound. What better way to plug your car as cool than to lay down a soundtrack of rebel music? Jaguar was one of the first to incorporate punk rock in its marketing, by using the Clash’s anthem “London Calling” in television ads to sell an “entry-level luxury” model in 2002. Nissan used the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” to underscore TV spots for its Pathfinder SUV. (The same ditty also serves as background music on TV ads for Diet Pepsi and cell phones. Hey! Ho! Let’s go – drink a Pepsi or use our anytime minutes!) Tunes from proto-punks Lou Reed and Iggy Pop show up in promos for the NFL (Reed’s “Perfect Day”) and Carnival Cruise Lines (Pop’s “Lust for Life”). More recently, Mitsubishi and Pontiac have joined the bandwagon by advertising models to the tune of Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge” and the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” respectively. Yet another indicator of punk’s assimilation into popular culture: “punk rock aerobics,” in which fitness clubbers sweat to the oldies of the Sex Pistols.

Yes, punk’s influence in pop culture ranges far and wide. As Roger Sabin notes in the introduction to a collection of essays about punk rock’s influence, “it’s hard to imagine a modern Europe and America not transformed by punk.” The punk aesthetic, if not its ideology, seems to have settled comfortably into niches of popular music, fashion and commerce, as well as politics, literature, art, film, comics, television and journalism.

Does this mean punk has been reduced to merely fashion, commercial jingle, and MTV imagery? Has punk sold its soul to the devil of consumerism? Despite the crass commercialism rampant in today’s pop culture, the theology of punk espoused and embodied by Strummer and others is alive and well. Punk doesn’t survive merely because Nissan or the NFL keep it in our consciousness. Rather, the corporate world discovered something punks have known for decades – that the message of punk isn’t dead – and are merely cashing in on the trend.

After three decades, punk music continues to attract a strong, devout and diverse fan base. But why? According to Lars Frederiksen, guitarist/singer/songwriter for the San Francisco punk band Rancid, it has much more to do with the underlying philosophy of punk than its commercial success. “You throw out the rule book in punk,” Frederiksen said in an interview with USA Today. “That’s the whole point. ... I love punk’s cultural diversity. You can be gay or straight, black or white, male or female or eunuch.”

‘No division’
Just because I’m up onstage doesn’t mean that I’m entitled to a different lifestyle than anyone else. ... [Y]ou get cut off from the workaday people that way. I like to get up early, paint me flat, practice me bass. I see these geezers going off to work and I feel more like one of them. – Paul Simonon, Clash bassist
It isn’t a precise paraphrase, but Frederiksen gives an interesting twist to one of the Apostle Paul’s more famous passages from the New Testament Book of Galatians. In discussing punk’s continuing popularity despite the many reports of its death, Frederiksen – as much an apostle of Strummer as Paul was of Jesus – echoes the New Testament ideal of radical equality, about which Paul wrote:
In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26-28, The Message).

This is the egalitarian message of the New Testament. It’s a message that is often overlooked, even ignored, by major segments of institutional Christianity. Entire denominations refuse to accept the idea that women can be called into the ministry, despite the important role women played in Jesus’ earthly ministry. And a few congregations – only a few, thank God, but still too many – publicly preach a gospel of “God hates fags” whenever and wherever they get the opportunity.

Despite the exclusionary nature of many churches and denominations today, some Christians do understand that the message of Jesus is one of inclusion, not exclusion. It’s a message of tearing down walls and fences, not putting them up. As Spencer Burke, founder of the Christian web community, points out in A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity, this view is consistent not only with Jesus’ vision, but with the Apostle Paul’s as well. “Paul’s vision of Christian faith,” Burke writes, “was a celebration of diversity, an acknowledgment that differences exist, and a call to celebrate those differences within the horizons of Jesus’ kingdom vision.” To underscore his point, Burke quotes Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, who describes a yearning to escape the shackles of contemporary religion:
I am convinced that many long for an inclusive community that is liberating and not confining and in which they are allowed to think for themselves. I believe that a critical mass of people (though by no means the majority) long for a communion that is not authoritarian. And I do see a different kind of tribe emerging, one that doesn’t eradicate tribal differences but celebrates them.

Bad Religion front man Greg Graffin, an atheist, might not agree with Burke or Jones on the inclusive nature of Christianity. But, like Fredricksen, he sees Punk (with a capital “P”) as an egalitarian movement that celebrates individuality, even in a communal, tribal subculture. “Because it depends on tolerance and shuns denial, Punk is open to all humans,” Graffin writes in “A Punk Manifesto,” which is posted on the Bad Religion website. “There is an elegant parallel between Punk’s dependence on unique views and behaviors and our own natural genetic predisposition toward uniqueness.”

Punk’s egalitarian ideal is not only popular among punk’s fan base, but also informs much of the business side of punk. “Despite its belligerent stance and rancorous vocabulary,” Fredricksen says, “the punk cosmos is nearly free of the rivalries that plague rock, pop and rap.”

Punk spirituality
Kristine McKenna: What do you think you represent to the people who admire you?
Joe Strummer: Maybe they see a good soul.
What is it, exactly, that drove Strummer to assail that barbed wire partition? And why does Frederiksen proclaim the punk ideal of egalitarianism amid a culture of vapid commercialism? Can it be that the lively spirit that energizes the music of the Clash, Rancid and a host of other punk performers has something in common with the spirit of Christ? Can the prophetic utterances in Clash songs embody the same teachings Christ proclaimed to His followers? Can it be that the “spirit of punk” is the same spirit the Apostle Paul reinforced in his writings to the early church? Could it be that the traditions of Christianity, and the lives and teachings of Jesus and Paul, have more in common with the punk movement than with the Christian faith as we see it expressed today?

That is a question that has haunted me since I first discovered the soul-saving power of Christ.

As a devout, lifelong member of the church of rock-and-roll, and a later convert to punk and its less edgy offspring, the new wave and postpunk music of the late 1970s and early 1980s, I’ve wrestled with reconciling my love of this music, in all its messy, angry, amateurish, nihilistic glory, with my desire to be a follower of Jesus. Soon after being “born again” at age twenty-four in the mid-1980s, when almost everyone had concluded that punk was dead, I joined a wonderful conservative evangelical church. A newcomer to the Christian faith, rootless and unschooled in matters of theology, I learned from well-meaning folks who were well-versed in their brand of evangelical Christianity and the study of Scripture, but clueless about the power punk rock music held in the lives of its fans. Intent on helping me rid myself of all the “worldly” vestiges of my old life, these friends – and many of them are friends to this day – helped me turn from many unhealthy habits. I am grateful for their counsel and prayers.

In the process, however, I also unwittingly set sail on a course that led me to take some actions that in hindsight can only be considered as rash as cutting my own hair. I began to view “secular” things through my newly acquired conservative evangelical filter. One weekend, in a fit of self-righteousness inspired by my newfound cultural mores, I abandoned punk altogether. I wanted to serve Jesus zealously, and having learned from the Sermon on the Mount that I could not serve two masters, I sacrificed my entire collection of rock albums in a garage sale. Goodbye, punk. So long, Ramones, Clash, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Pretenders. Farewell, too, to the lesser lights of rock – the Cars, Bob Seger, Pink Floyd, Pat Benatar and, yes, even the Knack. I had decided to follow Jesus. No turning back.

Now, if I had been any kind of Christian (or, for that matter, a real punk), I would have smashed up all of those precious LPs. The very act of foisting them on an unsuspecting public only serves to illustrate the depths of my hypocrisy. Not only was I unwilling to annihilate these instruments of impurity, but I also had the gall to exchange them for cash. In the end, it turns out I bowed to Master Mammon, after all.

More than two decades have passed since that garage sale, yet my passion for punk rock has not diminished, despite my attempts to deny myself the pleasures of those sounds for years. (I have since tried to restore many of the more precious recordings by purchasing CD versions of the vinyl originals over the past decade and, more recently, electronic downloads of particular songs.) Neither, I believe, has my desire diminished to be a true follower of Jesus and his teachings. I have come to realize that the two, punk and Jesus, are not mutually exclusive. I believe that one can love both.

This project is a book about Jesus and the punks, and my love for both. It’s a book about punk’s prophetic words to our culture – words that can expose hypocrisy as well as bring healing. It’s also an attempt to emulate the works of Strummer and Jesus. That is, to tear down a wall that separates two distinct cultures – the popular culture influenced by the punk revolution, and the church culture in dire need of an infusion of punk-inspired spirit. But mostly, it’s a book of musings on the spiritual connections between punk music and culture and authentic Christian spirituality.

Jesus Christ! Here come the punks!
There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation. – Madeleine L’Engle
This notion of uniting punks with Christians is no doubt a radical concept to readers on both sides of the dividing wall. To others it is no doubt offensive and a stumbling block, if not downright blasphemous, an unholy alliance. (Let’s face it: the church and rock and roll of any sort have always had an uneasy coexistence. Christians and punks alike regard the other side with some measure of suspicion.)

I’ll agree that on the surface, it’s an unusual combination, this mix of punk and Jesus. But I hope you’ll join me in this journey beneath the punk’s sneering veneer and cultural Christianity’s moralistic posturing to see just how much the two have in common.

It’s true that punk and the church are two topics rarely discussed in the same breath. And punk has gobbed our culture with some pretty nasty stuff (not that the church hasn’t). We might cast stones at punk for giving us bad haircuts, body piercing, neo-Nazi skinhead extremists, slam dancing, songs that glorify sniffing glue and teenage lobotomies, and bands like A Flock of Seagulls, to name just a few of the ills. Beyond that, some readers may wonder how such a scabrous musical genre – one associated with people and bands called Vicious, Rotten and Rancid – could offer anything of value to the church.

That’s a fair question. It reminds me of a question the disciple-in-waiting Nathanael asked a couple of followers of this guy from the seedy, dead-end town of Nazareth. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46, NIV).

Who knows whether Jesus approves of every aspect of punk’s legacy? If he’s anything like me, he would prefer to see fewer bad haircuts, less extreme body modification, and an end to gobbing and on-stage vomiting (which are pretty much passe these days anyway). He might favor warning labels on certain punk CDs that cross a line. He might not think much of Johnny Rotten’s infamous comparisons to the antichrist. (But Jesus no doubt was in on the joke, and foresaw the day when Rotten would reclaim his given name, John Lydon, and retire to “a life of genteel wealth in California, with his German heiress wife.”) Moreover, Jesus, well acquainted from his own life experience with the way the privileged look down their noses at those who are different – whether those outcasts hail from Nazareth or the streets of London – is probably much more willing to overlook the excesses of punk and see the seeds of godliness that lie beneath the surface. Jesus is more likely to overlook the spiked hair, crass lyrics and snarling facades and embrace punk’s egalitarian spirit.

Recall that throughout the New Testament, Jesus sided with the rebels and the dispossessed. He hung out with tax collectors and the prostitutes, healed lepers, fed the hungry and helped the dispossessed. He ministered to and among the outcasts of His day. Jesus also criticized the religious leaders of the time, exposing their hypocrisy in ways as disturbing and uncomfortable as any punk anthem. So, too, punk criticizes existing institutions of government, religion, politics – even the music industry itself. Despite its excesses and shortcomings, punk offers something of value to the world – something that keeps its spirit alive after all these years.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. Drink some grape juice! This is online communion brother!
Like you I got rid of my record collection. Gave it to my then best friend actually, didn`t worry about his soul. Well I did. He worried more about me missing my vinal and said he would keep it til I came to my senses... He has still got it. (well he may have chucked it all out, he is on the other side of the planet to me now...)
However I still find myself listening to secular music. I used to feel just buying Christian music was materialistic and locking oneself away in a subculture. On the otherhand, 5 minutes of MTV is nearly pornographic much of the time and probably best left alone. Yet how are we to relate to the world if we don`t listen to their music? It is the old problem of ``in the world but not of it.``
It certainly doesn`t seem Christlike to buy lots of cds when nearly half the planet seems to be starving, yet listening to music without paying on sites like Youtube feels like stealing...
Music is God`s gift to us, yet the anti establishment lyrics of much punk and youth music seems to dis the traditional churches in an overly negative and reductive way.Plus the sexual imagery of much pop is a source of temptation.. Sure we need to listen to the prophetic voices that tell us when the church has lost site of Christ`s true message, but surely there are a lot of false prophets out there too...Bono sometimes seems to get it right, but not always...

Sorry to go on. Your bro in Jesus.

9:16 PM  

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