Lessons Punk Rock Can Teach The Church, Part 6
*Obviously, if this is part six, there are five preceding entries. You can scroll and check them out, but keep in mind some have fallen off the main page and are archived–which you can access by clicking on the link to the left on the October link. Anyway, I’ve got one more of these after today, so thanks for humoring me as I ramble.
“The one thing that used to piss me most most about the Sex Pistols was our audience all turning up in identically cloned punk outfits. That really defeated the point. There was no way I was going to give them a good time for that, because it showed no sense of individuality or understanding of what we were doing. We weren’t about uniformity.”–John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) in his autobiography “Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.”
The punk movement in Britain grew from a working-class frustration amidst an economic downturn. Highlighting this reality was that garbage was piling up in the streets amidst a garbage worker’s strike. John Lydon’s band The Sex Pistols pulled a stunt that has made folks who know how to do it make a bundle of cash (re: Rush Limbaugh): “Illustrate the absurd by being absurd.” His absurdity was to only wear clothes that he pulled out of the trash piles that were on the street at the time. He felt that would make a statement. He understood that carrying protest signs down a street might make others aware, it’s better to make a statement.
And there was an honesty in his statements. They flowed out of who he was…and is. He’s still as cantankerous as ever. He’s still as in-your-face as ever. Even as he’s re-recording his songs for use in video game systems, he’s telling everybody how much cash he’s making and how much his son’s friends think it’s cool so he’s doing it for his family. Love him or hate him. Get him or misunderstand him. Overrate him or underrate him. He knows who he is and stays true to that.
Which underscores how I almost wound up in a brawl at the mall.
Let me explain.
I was going into a mall because there’s this specialty store that carries a specific type of perfume my wife wears and some gift-giving occasion was coming up. Between the entrance and the store I needed to get to is a store called “Hot Topic.” Teenagers primarily shop there and they market all sorts of alternative teen trends past & present. You can get replica buttons from the 1980’s for your bookbag or heavy metal spiked leather wrist bands or Nirvana t-shirts. That kind of stuff.
Anyway, these two guys come out of that store as I’m on my way to the perfume store. One says to the other, “Seriously, man. I think this Green Day t-shirt is awesome. It totally flies in the face of authority. Check out the grenade on it!” The other guy responds, “Man, punk rock rules!”
I laughed out loud.
The Green Day Grenade guy turns and barks, “Something funny, old fart?”
So, I stop. I turn around and say, “Yep. Something’s funny. It’s funny that you don’t see the irony in all this.”
Punk Rock Rules guy chimes in, “All what?”
To which I go on a tiny little soapbox rant. It went something like, “Well, first of all, Green Day’s good and I like them but I’m not too sure that they’re what those of us who were around the early punk rock days [I didn’t feel the need to go into the reality that I got into it 2nd hand myself, being from Alabama and all–but I was on a roll so I went with it] would call ‘punk rock.’ It’s a touch too corporate. But that’s not what’s ironic. What’s ironic is that you guys drove Daddy’s Lexus to the freaking MALL and purchased something that you think is anti-authority. You’re just wannabe’s. I just don’t want you two walking around believing you’re punk rock when you have no idea what it was about.”
Green Day Grenade Guy and Punk Rock Guy walk toward me, kind of threatening like.
For some reason, it must’ve been one of those days where I’m all hepped up on my principles and there’s no way I’m going to let these posers scare me, I decide to use my best weapon: My appearance. See, I might not be physically imposing and actually I’m a softie but I’ve been told with my long hair and tattoos that I often have to overcome the first impressions of others. So, I start to roll my sleeves up, revealing the tattoos and standing my ground. Oh, and as fate would have it, I’m wearing the Doc Martens that I purchased at that same mall.
Well, they take notice of the tats [failing to take note that one’s a ballet shoe and the other is a paintbrush with my daughters’ names] and that I’m not retreating. So, then I ask, “Really?” trying to sound tough while still rolling up my sleeves. Punk Rock Guy points his finger in my face and tells me how lucky I am there’s security guards are around and that he doesn’t want to go to jail for beating me up. Frankly, he’s right on both. This guy would’ve made short work of me.
I just smirk at the finger in my face and walk away because I realize I did provoke the guy for no real reason so I’m gonna save face by just walking to the perfume store. When I turn around and get about 10 yards away he yells, “Yeah. That’s what I thought you’d do.”
I say over my shoulder, “Tell all the punk rockers in Southlake I said hi.”
Now, aside from the irony on about 100 levels of my own behavior, did you catch what it was that got me amped?
They were POSERS.
They weren’t being themselves, really. They were being what they thought was punk rock. They were no different than the guys showing up at Sex Pistols shows with leather jackets and torn clothes and safety pins on them and all that.
Johnny Rotten was just being himself. He put the sleeves back on a sweater with safety pins because he was salvaging the clothes and wearing the garbage to make a statement about what he thought was a bad situation. He spit on stage not because he was angry with the fans but because he has a chronic sinus problem. He exposed one of Britain’s beloved television hosts as a drunk [getting him fired a week after the Pistols appearance on his show] because instead of talking about the band’s message he kept talking about how the girls dressed…so he provoked the drunk and the guy lost his cool on the show. He disliked the British Royal family and rented a boat and sang outside the palace.
He was authentic and true to himself. Still is.
And most punks were. From Exene of X to Lee Ving of Fear to Henry Rollins of Black Flag…
…I could go on.
But even as they are now “aging punk rockers” they’re still being authentic.
And I think the individuals in the church in America need to be true to ourselves.
All too often we’ve reduced the wonder of a relationship with Christ to a series of moral codes of conduct and political agendas/alignments and activities and uniformity to patterns and…
…we lose who Scripture says we are.
And who we’re supposed to become.
And who we are becoming in light of who we used to be.
Grace is dangerous, man.
In all it’s messy reality and transforming power. We should have little tolerance for those who are buying their Christian life at the various malls of Christian subculture. It ain’t about showing up at the show dressed in all the right clothes and singing all the right songs and being polite at the right times and voting the right way and reading the right books and staying in the right protective bubble holy huddle and keeping our kids safely following that “well worn path to successful mediocrity.” [not my phrase]
It’s about following Christ for real.
And experiencing His transforming grace.
About moving from what we were, leaving it happily in our wake and living out who we’re becoming.
It’s about living for an Unseen Audience of One.
It’s about dying to self.
It’s about offering ourselves as a living sacrifice as a spiritual service of worship.
But heaven help us all if we’re posers.
Because the stakes are way too high.
We can’t fake THIS…of all things.
We have to understand fully what we’re doing, man. And if we do, it’s not nearly as polite, and miles more threatening, as my little exchange in the mall.