December 22, 2016

Out of Step: 'You Are Not What You Own'

This is part 4 in a series I wrote with my good friend Dan So. You can also read part 1, part 2 and part 3.

At a time when there was a lot of unrest about unemployment and social problems, punk music suddenly burst onto the scene like a slap in the face. It said to the world, ‘Wake up; we’ve had enough of meaninglessness!’
— David O’Brien1, Northern Soul: Football, Punk, Jesus

Let’s review.

The two of us have attempted to share with you how punk rock may have saved our faith. In our youth, we found parallels between punk rock politics and the Christian tradition that reaffirmed what we had learned in Sunday School classrooms. Like punk rock, the biblical figures we had been taught about challenged the status quo, calling God’s people to live differently than what popular culture expected. Similar to the DIY ethic that encourages every participant to find a way to contribute, passages of the New Testament were to read us which encouraged us to be active members in the Body of Christ.

Open critique of prevailing systems. Open communities where all can contribute. Totally punk rock. Completely biblical.

There is little that is unique to our experience. Many have found an analog to Christian faith in communities formed through other musical genres, as well as, sports, recovery groups, and more. Part of this is simply due to how the gospel works; it finds its way into the everyday lives of ordinary people — no matter where that might be. As Justo Gonzalez writes in The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1:
The missionary task itself was undertaken, not only by Paul and others whose names are known—Barnabas, Mark et al. —but also by countless and nameless Christians who went from place to place taking with them their faith and their witness. Some of these, like Paul, traveled as missionaries, impelled by their faith. Both mostly these nameless Christians were merchants, slaves, and others who traveled for various reasons, but whose travel provided the opportunity for the expansion of the Christian message.
As this Advent season comes to a close, what might be next for us? Where do we go from here? Well, we’d like to offer a few recommendations.

Start the Conversation
Punk rock shows were always great places to get educated about the issues of the day. At shows, there would be tables set up in the back of a room with folks concerned about any number of agendas. In between sets, you would hear lively discourse about conservative and liberal economics, science, feminism, sexuality, gun control, the treatment of animals and more.

We were young and there were times when debates grew heated, even violent, but most Friday and Saturday nights were absent of this. What brought us together was that we were all punks and while we might disagree on some issues, we knew we needed space for each to find her voice.

There is a growing divide in this country along political and social issues. It is increasingly difficult for folks to talk to each other about the issues that most concern them and impact how they vote.

Create a safe space for dialogue. Provide opportunity for folks to hear differing opinions. This may be (or, frankly, will be) uncomfortable, but when has growth ever been easy? Pay particular attention to people whose voices may go unheard in your community.

Ask a friend with a different point of view in theology or politics for one book recommendation and commit to reading it. Or, if you don’t have any friends with differing opinions, consider how you might genuinely connect with someone who sees the world differently.2

Leverage the power of social media for the common good. Read and share meaningful articles on your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter streams. On social media, follow one or two thoughtful people outside of your usual circles.

Get Involved
Our words certainly matter but, as they say, talk is cheap. Or, to phrase it biblically, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”3 Find ways to act on your convictions, even if they seem small.

For example, as you hear about the atrocities committed against children and families in Aleppo, refuse to give into despair. Give $20 to the Preemptive Love Coalition to provide a warm sleeping bag to one person on the run from violence, just as winter is beginning.

Find Your Voice
As Ted Bond of California punk band, Craig’s Brother once wrote, “The gospel is punk in that it recognizes all governments as false gods. There is only one King. His name is Jesus, and he does not rule through fear.”

In the punk rock community, we found our voice. The church should be the same. There is no reason to hide your faith. As you boldly proclaim your allegiance to our unKing Jesus, again, you will certainly be misunderstood by people from all sides — continue in faithfulness and humility anyways.

You Are Not What You Own
In Merchandise, Ian MacKaye reminds us, “You are not what you own.” Actively resist our culture’s attempt to assign you value or worth based on outward appearances or more stuff.

Advent is a particularly important time to remember this, as you fight for your life amidst the bloodthirsty shoppers at Target. You were made for more than that. Find your worth (and see worth in others around you) by remembering that we have each been created in the image of God.

The notion that each of us is created in God’s image is very punk rock and incredibly good news! During this season, we read the announcement that a Savior has come, a Savior who embodies the ancient name Immanuel, God with us. God entered into this world in Jesus to be with us. You do not need anything else to attain access. Advent is the all ages, all access show. You are invited. You are welcome here.

Merry Christmas.

1. Once a street punk in the UK, O’Brien is now an Anglican vicar.
2. But, please , do not go and grab some random person of color, woman, etc. and thrust yourself upon them. Gene Demby and company offer keen insight here.
3. 1 John 3:18. John’s always messing with our comfort.