What The Church Can Learn From Punk Rock

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It was a hot Canadian summer Saturday like any other. My friends and I had made our usual trek on our bikes about a mile up the road to the local hockey card shop, Sliders.

I don’t remember if I bought any cards that day, but I did walk out with a used CD, which I found on a small rack by the cash register.

The artwork had a cartoon drawing of multiple bombs being dropped on a group of people and buildings. In the center, there was an explosion and emerging from the smoke in big green letters was the band’s name – GREEN DAY.

Dookie not only put Green Day on the map, but it brought punk rock music into mainstream popularity and introduced me to a subculture where I found belonging.

I wasn’t a loner growing up, but I wasn’t popular. I wasn’t lousy at sports, but I was far from a star athlete. I had the luxury of getting attention when I wanted to, but I also knew how to stay out of the spotlight if I didn’t want the attention on a particular day. When it came to authoritative figures in my life, I grew up mostly feeling misunderstood. I still do, if I’m being honest.

So when I discovered punk rock music at the ripe young age of 10, it clicked like a long-lost friend. And bands like Green Day, The Offspring, MxPx, Slick Shoes, Blink-182, NOFX, Rancid, The Ataris, New Found Glory and Jimmy Eat World helped get me through high school.

It’s been over 22 years since the release of Dookie, but Green Day are still at it. Their 12th record, Revolution Radio, dropped last Friday and it’s their best since 2004’s American Idiot.

Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, explains that the whole album is meant to reflect the current state of violence in the United States and its lead single, “Bang Bang”, is written from the perspective of a mass shooter.

You see, this is what punk rock does. Not unlike folk music or hip-hop, punk rock looks at the world and offers an unapologetic (and often prophetic) commentary on it, but in a very unique way.

But punk is more than just rock. It’s not just about the music. Punk is an ideology. And it’s actually very inclusive. Concepts such as authenticity, freedom, equality, sexual identity, non-conformity, anti-corruption, anti-war and direct action find deep roots in punk subculture.

This past summer, I took my little brother (Big Brothers Big Sisters) to the Vans Warped Tour. He’s a skater/punk rocker kid just like I was, so we went for him, but I found myself in nostalgic heaven. The last time I had attended the festival was 15 years prior and some of the same bands that performed in 2001 performed this year. Punk’s not dead.

We caught the bands he wanted to see and I introduced him to some I wanted to see, but there were times during the half-day festival that no one we came for was playing. So we hopped around various sets.

One of those sets was an Australian pop-punk band named Tonight Alive. I had never heard their music before, but something their charismatic 24-year-old female vocalist said as the band’s guitarist tuned up, stuck with me:

“If you’re like me, Warped Tour is important to you. When you come to Warped Tour, you are a living part of a culture, of a community, a historic event. But above all else, you know that Warped Tour is a safe way to express yourself and we must respect that. So I want you to look to your left and I want you to look to your right. Familiarize yourself with these surroundings and understand that this environment demands nothing from you. And these people, they expect nothing of you. At Warped Tour, my friends, you are not just accepted, you are celebrated. What we need to understand and remember everyday is that the people who suppress our creativity, suppress our individuality and our freedom – they are not the gatekeepers to acceptance in this life. Listen, I want you to remember that the way you feel today doesn’t have to be temporary. Don’t waste your energy living in fear of somebody else’s judgment and don’t waste your time explaining yourself to people who are not equipped to understand.”

As the words were spoken, I looked around at all the people in attendance (mostly teenagers), I looked at my “little” and I smiled. I was proud to be there and stand with that community of people. I was proud to be a punk.

The dictionary defines the word punk as “a worthless person”, but this subculture has hijacked the word and found worth in a community of other outcasts who have become a family.

You see, my “little” is not worthless. He is not what the kids at school have called him: “buckteeth”, “fatty” or “fag” (the fact that he’s not gay should be irrelevant). He will not be defined as a boy whose father has left him or a boy who has struggled at such a young age with drugs and self harm.

Who he is is a 13-year-old boy made in the very image of God. He doesn’t owe the world anything.

But you know what? He still gives the world a hell of a lot. He’s one of those people who walks in a room and lights it up. His smile is contagious. He’s funny. He’s generous. And he’s abnormally incredible with kids, despite the lack of role modeling from a father.

All this makes me wonder what it would look like if every preacher in the country, or the continent, or even the planet would take words like this punk rock frontwoman said and express them to the Church.

What would it look like if the Church was a safe place to express yourself and, despite possible disagreement, you’d still be respected as a person?
What if moral perfection wasn’t demanded or expected of you?
What if who you were was genuinely accepted?
What would it look like if your creativity, your individuality and your freedom were celebrated?
What if there were actually no judgements?
And what would it look like if we tried harder at understanding where other people were coming from instead of writing them off due to their different beliefs, choices or lifestyle?

Just like the word punk was originally intended as an offense towards a certain group of people, so was the word christian.

I think Jesus is the biggest punk in history. He hasn’t sold out yet. Neither should we.

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