Saturday, December 17, 2011

On Finding God at a Punk Rock Show

Admin note: This was going to be titled "On Finding God in a Hardcore Show" but I thought that might draw the wrong audience.  :)

I find God in places many might consider...unorthodox.

When I was 18 years old, I found God in a tent in the middle of an oppressively hot July evening on a pig farm in Bushnell, IL.  It was Cornerstone 2000, and the tent housed the stage where one of my favorite bands of all time, hopesfall, were finishing up a powerful set with the song "Broken Heart of a Traitor."  The air was thick with a mixture of sweat and anticipation as they began to thunder through seven minutes that would have a profound impact on the rest of my life.

As the song approached its climax, the emotion in the crowd seemed to reach a kind of other-worldly fever pitch.  It was as if every kid in that crowd who had spent the last 45 min beating the crap out of each other in the pits came together for one moment as Doug shrieked what we all felt but couldn't find the words for:

There's a question that plagues my Grace enough?
Is Grace enough to build a bridge once burned?
Is it enough to fill that which is hollow with the substance of virtue?
Though the wings of a dove have wiped the tear from my eyes,
My tongue has fanned the flames of transgression.
But Love suffers long and rejoices in the truth.
And this imperfect creation is striving nonetheless for that which is eternal.

We were just a bunch of scared kids, but we'd found a little taste of community in that fowl-smelling, sweat-soaked, authentic moment where we all willingly acknowledged our shared brokenness, and clung desperately to one another and the hope we found in that redemptive grace we were screaming ourselves hoarse over.

Those few minutes, for me, were heaven.

I felt a connection to a God that had been, until that point, nothing but an abstraction.  God was present in a way that felt as real to me as the trampled grass at me feet.

What happened next, I'm not sure anyone was really ready for.  Now you have to remember, this is a hardcore show.  For those of you who don't know anything about the hardcore scene, know this, your rep is predicated on one thing: your toughness.  But for a time, all of that seemed to come crashing down.  Kids were praying, weeping, collapsing from a combination of being equal parts exhausted and overwhelmed by what we were experiencing.

A friend of mine, who had never been particularly interested in things religious, was standing next to me frozen with tears streaming down his face.  He liked the band.  He had read the liner notes and memorized the lyrics so he could shout them at the show like a good scene kid does.

But at that moment, those words that before had been simply empty lyrics to a song became more real to him than anything he had ever felt in his life.

It's funny how this Grace thing works.  It's funny, it's amazing, it's beautiful, and it's unique for all of us.  Those words were exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted me to hear, and She chose the venue She knew I would relate to most.

Those words have been etched on my heart ever since that day, and every time I find myself overwhelmed with my own brokenness asking the question again whether grace is enough, I remember that day, and I remember those words, and I remember the answer She gave me:

Always.  It is always enough.  I will always be here.  No matter how many times you turn your back on me, no matter how fast you run away, and no matter how far you fall, I will be present, with you, always.


  1. beautiful. i love this. i always wanted to go to cornerstone, but living in PA, i went to its nerdy cousin, creation. i've always loved me some good punk, tho.

    have you ever read rob bell's sex god? he talks about how sexuality is about connection and all the ways we put the broken pieces back together, of which sex is only a fraction. transcendent moments--like at that rock show--truly are glimpses of God and grace and eternity.

  2. Thank you for this today. It's good to be reminded how God so unexpected crashes through the "normalness" and even gates-locked, windows-barred environments we try to sequester ourselves in. He is chasing us. Always wooing, always calling us back.

  3. @suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter} C'mon, Creation Fest wasn't THAT nerdy, was it? :) I knew a lot of folks that went to both and loved them both, though C-stone was usually a bit bigger.

    I've always loved the subversive nature of punk and hardcore music, and the 90's were kind of the golden age of Christian kids getting into and playing that style of music (or maybe I just think it was the golden age because I'm now old and nostalgic). It was a natural fit for kids like me who didn't fit into the traditional stereotypes of what a Christian teenager was supposed to look like and who were looking for an outlet.

    I haven't read Sex God, though I probably should. I've heard good things, I've just never made it around to getting a copy.

  4. @whispersonthejourney I think often we forget the fact that Love entails a certain element of pursuit. We get so focused on what we see as our obligation to pursue God, we forget that God is passionately pursuing us.


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