Hey, Counter Culture...
When I was in high school, I prided myself on being ‘edgy.’ I listened to obscure bands; buttons and patches tattooed my backpack and I even shaved my head. On the last day of ninth grade, I dared to dye my growing out buzz cut a shade of deep blue. I made it to the commons of our high school before one of the principals marched me to the nearest bathroom to rinse my punk rock blues away. I remember that it felt “cool” on some level, but upon reflection, my continual “messing” with my appearance belied my own brokenness.
I’m not as hip to modern day youth culture as I was in the nineties; I will always prefer Doc Martins and mixed tapes over the contemporary equivalents. But I also think something is missing. Are there spaces today for young people to act out and express, to try on identities and music, to experiment with wardrobe and hairstyle as a temporary canvas for self-discovery?
Not every young person needs to embrace “punk rock culture.” But I guess I’m not quite sure what they’re embracing instead. I look around and see young people who are more over-scheduled than I am, dead set on achievement, success and fandom, but not all that grounded in who they are or what they believe. To be fair, I was pretty lost back then, too. But that’s what led me to the compass of my faith for direction.
And while pixie cuts and backpatches may or may not make a comeback, I actually think there’s a timeless “punk rock” narrative that begins at the River Jordan. It unfolds with a carpenter’s son who realizes his own calling when a wilderness prophet summons the wayward to begin again. You know who I’m talking about. A young nomad who, when addressed as “Son of God!” or “Divine Healer!” would shush the crowd and say, “yeah….but don’t tell anyone…”
When we moved to Utah right before my senior year in high school, a classmate who referred to himself as ‘Jesse Car Crash’ asked me for a favor. “Hey Counter-Culture,” he shouted in my direction. “Let me borrow your pen.” Bewildered, I asked why. (Not the pen request, but the epithet.) “No one at our school dresses like you,” he answered. Which may have been an awkward form of flirtation, as his attire of knee-high combat boots and a vintage flight jacket stood out, too.
I was flattered that day in Social Studies class. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have remembered it. But in reflection, I’d much rather be identified not because I’m wearing a second hand 1980’s Norwegian style sweater, but because I embody a faith that calls B.S. on the status quo. To be “counter culture” in our world today is a call to humility and service; to putting others’ interests before our own, to slowing down and reveling in the beauty of the earth. And, for me, I would not know how if it weren’t for Christ.