Exit 172. But it isn’t pretty.

As a new Christian and a youth group leader in the ’90s, I listened to a lot of Christian music.  Since 2001, when I was no longer working with youth, that has tapered off, to the point that I do not recognize many Christian songs anymore other than the ones I hear at church.  There are a number of reasons for that.  I don’t have a social group at church that purposely introduces me to new Christian music.  I have also matured to the point of realizing that some Christian music just isn’t very good.  I can’t reverently express to Jesus how much I love him when singing or even hearing others sing phrases like “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”  (Besides, didn’t you people tell me back in the Josh Harris era that kissing was bad, because it leads to temptation and babies and stuff, so I shouldn’t even think about kissing until my wedding day?)

But, as unfortunate as this is, another part of the reason I haven’t been as much into Christian music is because sometimes I feel like I can’t relate.  A lot of Christian music is just too overly sappy.  Sometimes I’m feeling angry at the world, and there is very little angry Christian music.  I’ve even been told my some ill-informed Christians that the reason for the lack of angry Christian music is because anger is not a Christlike emotion.  (Right… I’m sure Jesus was feeling all happy and cheerful when he turned over the tables.)

The other day, I was in the car, and I heard a song that I realized sums up my history and experience with Christianity pretty well.  But it isn’t pretty.  And it isn’t a Christian song.

This isn’t a new song; it was released in 1991.  It isn’t a new song to me either; this was a huge hit when I was in high school, and it was on MTV all the time back when MTV still played videos for part of the day.  But apparently it has taken me over a quarter century to really appreciate the song.

New blood joins this earth
And quickly he’s subdued
Through constant pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules

Late ’90s.  I’m a new Christian, and that’s great, but I’m quickly scolded by peers for telling dirty jokes and having lustful thoughts.  I learn the rules… there are cliques within the group.  Sometimes, from my point of view, the people who go serve Jesus in other countries during the summer seem more respected than those of us who don’t feel that calling, for example.

With time, the child draws in
This whipping boy done wrong
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on…

Early 2000s.  I’m in small groups at Church I With The Problems where pretty much all we do is confess our habits of masturbation and looking at porn and talk about ways to stop that from happening, or have long discussions about exactly what minute of the night we should leave our significant other’s house so that other people don’t see us there and think that we’re having sex.  When I share my thoughts that maybe there are more important things we should be concerned with, everyone just tells me I must not be mature in my faith.

They dedicate their lives
To running all of his

A few years later.  I’m at Church II With The Problems, where everything I say or do feels micro-managed, and every slightly socially awkward behavior or comment is treated like a sin I have to repent from.

He tries to please them all
This bitter man he is

After I move in 2006, I spend the next decade trying to live the good Christian life, but only becoming more and more bitter, as I see others who didn’t live the way I was taught find happiness and success, and my own life leads me to be more and more of an outcast.

Throughout his life the same
He’s battled constantly
This fight he cannot win
A tired man they see no longer cares

This has been going on for many years.  I’ve been looking for a place where I can find other people who live the way I’ve been trying to.  But I can’t win, I’m not going to find one, because I’m not 20 anymore.  There isn’t a youth group for 41-year-olds.  I don’t know how to live in my current situation, and I’m becoming more and more tired and bitter about it.

The old man then prepares
To die regretfully
That old man here is me

And this is the direction my life is heading if nothing changes…

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never be
Never see
Won’t see what might have been

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never free
Never me
So I dub thee Unforgiven

Unforgiven… ironically, that is the complete opposite of the gift that Jesus Christ gives us.  Am I unforgiven?  Have I not truly received the grace of Jesus Christ?  I don’t think so.  But I might be looking for the wrong things.  I might be trying too hard to do all the socially acceptable right things instead of just living in the grace of Jesus Christ.

But that is not who God made me to be.  I don’t want to fit in that box.  But I need to figure out how to do that.  I need to look to Jesus, not church culture.

And if I’m now hearing God speak to me through Metallica lyrics, I suppose I’ve taken a step out of the box already.

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7 comments

  1. I always seem to find God in places I’m not looking for him, he’s good at doing that. I grew up in a church, kind of, I stopped going right before middle school, so though I was raised christian I never fully committed to it. (though I don’t think anyone can say they are). There’s been a lot of my life were I’ve been christian without thinking about it, then in college I was grabbed by the back of neck with a bad break up and I was running in circles and thought, what could hurt? Since then I’ve had a rocky path with getting in a church. I’ve found a really good group which I enjoy, but in the college group I remember having the same thoughts “is this really the most important thing to focus on?” I remember hearing how they wanted to bring people to God and thinking, if you came to me that way as a non-believer I would push you as far away as possible. I think there is a disconnect a lot of the time, I’ve actually found a lot more community by talking one on one with people who are believers. I have a lot of friends who are Christians, and I didn’t even realize it when I was gathering them. I just was trying to gather the right kind of morals I guess. We didn’t really talk about God, but then all of a sudden we were, and those were the conversations that I can’t trade. And the conversations weren’t led in a group so they were vulnerable and honest- which you don’t seem to get as much in the church setting. People seem to put on face to seem better than they are.

    “I need to look to Jesus, not church culture.”
    It’s true, but I wouldn’t disregard people who reflect him. Because you’ll find him in some very interesting places and in a lot of interesting people, who don’t exactly fit the mold.
    I need to get better and looking for him in others. I often let him walk by.

  2. For me, it’s less to do with feeling like I don’t fit the “mold” and more with the lack of struggles I see in Christian music (and movies and books for that matter). Some Christian music has been especially meaningful to me, and I grew up in its heyday, so I know quite a bit of the older stuff; the newer stuff does tend to bother me, because it’s so cheerful—bordering on ignorant. Where’s the Christian music for the girls (and boys) who lost their father to cancer and occasionally wonder where to find God in the midst of that? Where’s the honest music that says, “hey, sometimes I can’t quite call God good and forget singing about Him like my lover or something”? Because I still believe in and love God, but it would be refreshing to see Christian music that talks about the crap in life in addition to all of the happier, praise-y stuff.

  3. Ha I feel the same about Christian music and don’t really listen to anything I haven’t sung in church. Thanks for sharing your journey- I love the Church and it breaks my heart that it is so often out of touch with our lived experience and so far from providing true life-giving community.

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