Lessons Punk Rock Can Teach The Church, Part 5

*I started this little series a few days ago with sporadic entries on this little topic…and you can scroll down and “read upward” if you want to get them in order. I think it’ll go a couple of more entries, at least. Anyway, thanks for putting up with it.

On a trip to Holland in 2000 (my first trip anywhere in Europe) I got to spend three weeks kicking around with Dutch students. One night they decided to show our teenagers what Dutch students do when they go out. Basically, they went to a club, had a few drinks and danced. I don’t think Dutch students were much different than anyone else in the world when it came right down to it. Name your country, and I think this is what students pretty much do.

What struck me was the loud, repetitive, never-ending dance music. Afterward, I commented to one of the Dutch teens how much I thought that TECHNO was loud, repetitive, never-ending dance music. I should’ve known better…given my own musical tastes.

Immediately I was told that what we heard wasn’t by any stretch “techno.” It was “trance.” And, in fact, it was “alternative trance.” I spent the next 30 minutes getting a lecture on the nuances between techno and trance and the varieties of categories each one had as well as other categories that existed that I was unaware of.

Similarly, I found that “punk” is applied to a variety of bands.

The Ramones.
Iggy Pop & the Stooges.
The Talking Heads.
Black Flag.
Social Distortion.
The Pretenders.
The Clash.
The Sex Pistols.
The Germs.

All very different bands. And you could do the same as my Dutch friend and break them down into categories and sub-categories…

See, the Ramones were coming out of the New York scene with their leather jackets, blue jeans and white t-shirts.
Iggy was a pioneer and really more of a performance artist who used music to enhance his stage show.
The Talking Heads were rolling through David Byrne’s eclectic genius.
Blondie took a street phenomenon and gave it pop sensibilities.
R.E.M. practically invented the genre of college radio.
Black Flag took an aggressive, urgent attack on society at-large and ripped across the country in a van in all their vegan angst spreading their message.
Social Distortion gave rise to the first generation of kids who heard all the other music, started a band in their garage and spoke to the suburban kid who couldn’t put their finger on exactly what was wrong, but knew something was askew.
The Pretenders brought their midwestern sensibilities to the CBGB sounds and they were influenced and well as influential.
The Clash were the first punk band with really talented members who evolved into a truly great band and not just a really good punk band.
The Sex Pistols took anarchy and made it urgent in a late-70’s British economic downturn.
X brought a serious female lead singer with a touch of Los Angeles glamour with a punk ethos.
Fear would attack their own fans for being posers (more on that tomorrow).
The Germs brought synthesizers and made them punk.

It’s like any other genre of music, really. If you like that genre there are groupings and categories and sub-groups and sub-categories and all that. When you think about it, labeling music can be difficult because those that like certain types are aware of the differences and it’s rarely as simply as “techno” or “trance” or “country” or “classical.”

But “punk” had a true appreciation for what everybody else was doing. Sure, there were little spats between the Ramones and the Clash as to who really “invented” punk, but they played shows together.

CBGB’s club in the Bowry in New York run by Hilly Kristal (which is now an upscale housing area, but they at least left an original wall of the club and keep it behind plexiglass, and you can buy t-shirts to say you were there) was a perfect example of how the bands supported each other. On one night, you might catch Blondie opening, Television supporting and the Ramones headlining. The next night you might have Television opening, the Talking Heads supporting and the Ramones headlining. On the weekend, the Ramones might open, Blondie on next, followed by the Pretenders and the Talking Heads headlining.

Can you imagine paying the cover and getting four unique styles of music on the same bill? And having the band members share their instruments/equipment and sticking around to listen to the other bands? Helping each other clean up afterward? Drinking beers together and hitting the town once you’re done cleaning up?

Or the idea of X and Social Distortion on the West Coast. Together. An artsy glamour girl and her band singing about relationships and the beauty of her city teaming together with a bunch of hard-drinking garage band teenagers with all the anti-prom-queen-high-school-socialite angst they can muster.

Same for R.E.M. and Black Flag. They played a number of gigs together. Shared van rides. Found places to stay for each other. Sure, they kept some timing distance between sets because the Black Flag crowd would be a tad aggressive after the show and the college frat boys coming to see their indie band didn’t necessarily mix well…but that reality alone highlighted that the bands were different and knew it, but found common ground to work together.

If you read interviews around the time, they all had an appreciation for what the other guys were doing. As much as Johnny Ramone disliked Richard Hell & Television (Johnny’s military-like approach had trouble figuring out the drug using, laid back, whatever-man life the other bands lived), he liked that they were doing their own thing and said so. Blondie, to this day, talks about how great the Ramones were. The Sex Pistols make every list of important albums ever made and all the other bands are happy about it. The Talking Heads went and entirely different direction, as did the Pretenders, and the worst you’ll hear from the Clash members (well, the ones still alive, anyway) is that they don’t like their later stuff as much as the early stuff. They all shake their heads at Iggy but all tip their caps at how much he influenced them.

And you know what?

I think the Church in America has lost a lot of that…if it ever had it.

See, we have our own little subgroups and categories, don’t we?

We’ve got Free Gracers and Lordshippers.
We’ve got the emergent (which has about 14 different sub-groups and categories as they all fight to stay out of sub-groups and categories) and the megachurch.
We’ve got Southern Baptists and Pentecostals and Independents and Methodists and the entire spectrum of denominations.
We’ve got churches meeting in pubs and churches meeting in sports arenas.
We’ve got militant home-schoolers and militant public school proponents.
We’ve got television evangelists and radio folks and Derek Webb.
We’ve got stadium rallies and house churches.
We’ve got Hell House alternatives to Halloween and folks staying home to meet their neighbors.

I could go on.

You get it.

But we seem to have lost that appreciation for what others are doing. There’s a lot of things that aren’t my cups of tea. Like, I fail to see how the church should have one political part to align with…but I’ve got brothers and sisters committed to that reality. I don’t get how scaring the hell out of teenagers and then presenting the Gospel message to them is a good way to do business…but I know full-well there’ll be teenagers in the Kingdom because of their work. I don’t understand how a church can mobilize resources to pray over every seat in a football stadium and call that evangelism, but who am I to question what God’s asking them to do? I don’t dig a banjo in worship, or a choir…but people are ministered to through both. I love the idea of a church meeting in a pub…but I know that some need the high polish of a great band and lots of technology and accessible preaching. I’ve used all sorts of educational opportunities to help my kids get their education, and had others tell me how the one I wasn’t using at the time was more Biblical and that as a pastor I needed to follow the Bible.

In other words, like there was room at CBGB’s for all sort and types and ideas and art…

…there should be room in the church for all kinds.

We should appreciate and support the diversity in our midst.

Instead of pigeonholing and stereotyping and accusing and all that jazz…and, lately it seems, if it isn’t our way, then it isn’t the right way.

And if my friends in Lost and Found are correct (and I think they are), then these words seem to fit:

(chorus) “The Kingdom’s big enough for you.
And you were made to be here, too.
The Kingdom’s big enough for you.
Where you are.
As you are.

So many people pushed away
Ones that are loved told they can’t stay
The question is what would Jesus say?


(repeat chorus)

God’s own people close the door
The loud and the angry take the floor
We know what you fear
But what are you for?

Furthermore . . .

(repeat chorus)”

And, I think we’ve lost that work-together mindset.
I think we’ve lost that appreciation for the different and new.
I think we’ve tried to make following Christ look a certain way…

…instead of appreciating the Ephesians 2:10 people that our Father is busy creating.

New creatures.
A collection of masterpiece works.

Which we try to edit and critique.

Who do we think we are?

Well, have at it, kids.