Humor me for a moment. Allow me a trip down memory lane with you, my friends and readers, in tow. In this little series I plan to revisit some old memories from my past and reflect on how God has used various stages of life and development to help me grow.
I was a young punk in early college. I shopped, almost exclusively, at thrift stores and wore, almost exclusively, black t-shirts. I spent nearly every weekend at rock concerts and cultivated my most important friendships around music. There were a lot of good memories from this season of life, but my sense of style and personality created some interesting/unique experiences that helped to shape me.
I recall, for example, several occasions where I would visit a friend’s church and people treated me as if I were very clearly a non-Christian. One women expressly said to me, “I am praying for you.” To which I looked at my friend with raised eyebrows. “She thinks you need to be converted,” she said. If it had just happened once I wouldn’t have thought much else about it. It would have been a comical scene, but it was a recurring experience I had. It occurred to me, even then, that the church did not always do a great job at welcoming people who didn’t fit a certain mold. This sort of things still happens today. I recall one church we served in where community members complained that there were too many “drug addicts” attending our services. At another church one member told me about an older woman in the congregation made him feel bad because he didn’t own a “nice suit.” She offered to buy him one, but the point was communicated: you need a suit to fit in here. At our church in Louisville a visitor at our evening service lamented to my wife and I that she could not attend Sunday morning service because she didn’t own nice clothes.
Issues of inclusion and exclusion have plagued the church since its early days. Questions about whether to include Gentiles, and whether to first make them Jews, were major points addressed by Paul. And throughout the history of modern missions there has been evidence of attempting to intertwine England/America with Christianity. So, conversion, then, didn’t just mean become a follower of Christ, it meant dressing like us, singing our songs, and doing church our way. This was all nonsense and become a road block to actual transformation in some cases. This has always been an issue and remains an area of constant growth and self-evaluation for the church today.
Later in college I would devise a plan to pastor the First Punk Rock Church, as I called it. While many of my ideas and theological convictions at the time were deeply flawed and misguided, the motivation was, I think, good. There was an earnest desire to cultivate a place for people who did not feel that the traditional church welcomed them. The idea was in its infancy, and would require a lot of help, nurture, and reorientation to develop into something that could be potentially healthy, but still it was there.
I was, of course, a stupid college kid. My approach to life, my obsession with music, my fashion sense, were all pretty terrible. But God was using it, even then, to shape me into the person that I am. I still have those desires to embrace, welcome, and encourage those who feel like they don’t fit in. The idea of “misfit church” still matters to me – after all, aren’t we all a little bit misfit.
Clearly, in some ways, I have changed. I am not quite a young punk anymore. But maybe, I am still a bit punk. Maybe I am just a slightly older punk at heart.
Nostalgic Song of the Week: “Doing Better” by Shorthanded
Here was a short-lived pop-punk band from Tooth & Nail Records, circa early 2000. This song had a classic fast-paced rhythm, with a solid bass line in the background. Lyrically it describes an earnest desire to live in a God-honoring way, not because it was required for salvation, but because it’s what God deserves from His children. So, frontman Andy Wiseman sang:
I want to do better, cause it’s what you deserve and I owe it to you, I know.
Nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose, but I’ll try to get it right.
I know, they’re not brilliant lyrics, but they communicated something important to me at the time: Obedience wasn’t about salvation, but it was still important. It’s not exactly John Calvin, but it was good pop-punk theology!