To say, “I come from a punk rock background” sounds desperately pretentious. But I do. Sort of. Punk rock, as a kind of amorphous ideology, was a formative thing for me. Around fifteen years ago I found in punk rock an adaptable manifesto that breaks down into three basic ideas:
- Defy the status quo
- Sedition, rebellion, and subversion as values
- Homogeny and subservience to trends/expectations destroys art and creativity
it occurred to me over time that each of these three values were consistent with the way of Jesus. To clarify, I might offer the following elaboration on each:
- The Kingdom of God defies the status quo
- Sedition, rebellion, and subversion: Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.
- God is creative, homogeny is not.
Obviously, a disciple of Jesus adopts and applies the worldview of the 1st century rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, not of punk rock. That said, the way of Jesus, in my mind, is punk rock.
The pragmatic issue with punk as a community/cultural movement is when oxymoron creeps into a community who philosophically rejects homogeneity. Punk culture has, historically, adopted certain normative fashion statements, specific musical elements within the wider genre, specifications within the three ideas I’ve mentioned, and so on. Punks dress like punks. Punk bands sound like other punk bands. Punks impose specific world-views on the entire movement (e.g., straightedge, veganism, atheism, etc.) This isn’t punk.
As exciting as punk rock is (and was for me as a 15-year-old) to discover—to feel as though you’ve found something uniquely yours and yet shared in a broader sense by an “underground” community—something inevitably goes awry. The same allure that draws an individual to punk rock calls into question punk rock itself.
Who will subvert it?
Discovering Refused in 1998 was, for me, an invitation to step outside of the uniformity of punk rock culture. The spirit of punk, after all, is in its freedom to escape trends in art, to question authority and social expectations, and to go decidedly “against the grain” as it were. Punk can be music, philosophy, theology, art, work, speech, deed… It takes no consistent shape.
Bill Watterson is punk: he refused to merchandise Calvin & Hobbes even though he could have made millions. Jim Henson was punk: He emptied his bank account and bought The Dark Crystal back from his investors in order to preserve his vision for the film. Andy Kaufman was punk: where do I begin? Punk can be accessible or off-putting, popular or obscure, mainstream or underground, art or attitude.
But it isn’t enough. Punk is just a junk drawer term, for better or worse. It was a formative thing for me, but what can it do, really? How much can it satisfy? How many questions can it answer? How robust a manifesto is punk rock, really?
The way of Jesus, to me, happens to be punk. Punk is not the way of Jesus. And the way of Jesus, I believe, is (as he puts it) “life to the fullest.” Punk rock is not.
And that, I have to say, is a pretty punk thing to say.