A YOUNG REBEL JESUS, PART ONE
The following is the text of a message given at Wildwind Community Church on January 29th, 2012.
In my teenage years, I often found myself walking through the doors at 432 South Saginaw Street in downtown Flint. I was drawn to this particular location because of the sense of community I found there. The Flint Local 432 was an all-ages concert venue space that specialized in punk rock. Everyone was welcome, but you didn’t often find just “anybody” within the walls of the club. The people that frequented the Flint Local 432 were different. They were people like me. Most people I met within those walls had feelings that they didn’t fit in with the status quo. In my school, I lived on the margins. I showed up and did as little as possible to pass my classes. At this time, I was only interested in my education to the extent that it allowed me the freedom to pursue my passion.
My passion was music. I wasn’t interested in music as it was written on a page, but the kind that poured out from the heart. I did my school work all week because I wanted to be able to go see a show at the club on the weekend. This community that surrounded the Local, or the 432, as it came to be known, provided me an opportunity to express myself in my own way while learning different ideas that spoke to subjects that I was interested in. As the 432 relocated several times throughout my involvement, one thread remained that always made it feel like home. While different people and bands came and went I could always count on “A Young Rebel Jesus” to be there.
“A Young Rebel Jesus” was a Velvet Elvis-style, color-by-number painting of Jesus kneeling by a stone and praying. It was very similar to this painting that Lisa and I picked up at a thrift store a while back.
Pretty classy, right? This painting would have fit nicely in a traditional Christian home in the 60’s or 70’s. I think we paid about seven dollars for this because it reminded us of “A Young Rebel Jesus”. Now, while this painting is similar, it’s not quite the same as the painting that hung at the Local that had been adapted by a local tattoo artist. The painting was transformed when this artist added a neon mohawk to Jesus and painted a daisy into Jesus’ praying hands. The title, “A Young Rebel Jesus” was scrawled across the bottom of the portrait in fluorescent orange.
To many people this piece of artwork might have been considered a sacrilege but to me it was something special. Observing this painting week after week cemented Jesus in the forefront of my mind. For me, religion and authority were not topics I was that fond of, but this picture of Jesus gave me something to chew on. Maybe Jesus was different than I thought he was. Maybe Jesus was more than the authoritarian that I had conceived in my mind. At the time I was a lot more comfortable asking the questions than I was with the hard work of seeking answers to those questions. When I look back, I see this unique artist’s rendition of Jesus as a metaphor for my spiritual journey. The painting kept showing up in my adolescent life. The painting was a presence that seemed to follow me around asking questions that were stirring in the depths of my soul. In the same way, I can see how God continued to show up in my life over time. This thread of consistency had put me on a journey that I wasn’t always aware of.
Although “A Young Rebel Jesus” is a prominent touchstone in my spiritual journey, it is not the beginning of my story. My story begins with my family. My parents did not stress religion or spirituality as a key value in our family. I remember going to church a few times as a child. I believe that my attendance was a result of my mother’s longing for community that didn’t stick. My family went to church for a few weeks, just long enough for me to start getting comfortable with the other kids and getting a chance to perform in the Christmas play, and then we stopped going. No explanation was given by my parents as to why we weren’t going anymore. We just quit. I didn’t think too much about it. I guess I considered it similar to playing little league. It was something that you do for a season and then it’s over. So during this time, a seed of the idea of God was planted but was left to wither out in the field as we moved on to whatever was next for our family.
As I grew older, I got involved in the music scene. The community offered in this involvement fulfilled the desire of my heart. I wanted to be in relationships with people who liked me for who I was. As it turns out, the punk rock scene was not the only place to find people who extended unconditional acceptance. There was a group of students in my high school who were strangely polite and interested in me for me. Something was different about these kids. Now I can see that it was their relationship with Jesus Christ and His presence in their lives that made the difference, but I wasn’t interested in that just yet. They offered me caring community and I welcomed it.
Several of these friends showed up in my life in the places where I least expected it. I remember a time when my friend Lisa came home from college and invited me out for coffee. I had dated Lisa in high school but things fizzled as she sought the freedom that senior year brings. Although she dissolved our relationship, I didn’t walk away empty-handed. Over the course of the three months that we dated I had gotten to know her younger brother, David. He liked punk rock, too. After I was dumped, the only question I asked Lisa was if I could still be friends with her brother. So David and I started a band. I became a regular at their house; having band practice, listening to music, and skateboarding in their driveway.
Lisa and David grew up in a solid Christian home. They really seemed to take ownership for their faith and this was encouraging to me. I thought that if David could go to church and still like punk rock, maybe there was some hope for these “Christians” after all. After high school ended, I continued to play music with David, and Lisa went off to a Christian college in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
One weekend, when Lisa was home from college, she came down to the basement, just as band practice was finishing up. She invited me out to have a cup of coffee and catch up. Surprised, I accepted her invitation.
That night, at Colonial Coney Island, we went deep into our seemingly bottomless mugs of cheap, burnt coffee. I knew that she was a Christian and I had questions. I was testing the water. I wanted to see her reaction to my ignorance about God. She did react, but not how I expected. I asked questions and she answered them with more questions. She wasn’t judging me. She was trying to get me to think. She was trying to understand what was going on in my spirit and how she could serve me best. I’ll never forget her patience and kindness during our weekend tours of Flint’s finest greasy-spoons. For the next few years, she kept popping up in my life and helped me to keep the thoughts of God floating around in my mind.
Lisa was a great companion on my spiritual journey, but I had one problem. I wasn’t sure if I was seeking to know about God or if I was trying to impress a girl. Now I can see that if I was really trying to impress a girl I would have considered finding her a better cup of coffee. My friend Aaron provided clarity. He was that kid in high school that everyone thought was stoned most of the time since he was so laid back. I could see behind his squinted eyes and bed-messed hair that he was a person of character. He was the kind of friend most people only hope for. He often went out of his way to spend time with me. Before the time that cell phones became fashion accessories, he would drive out to my parent’s house in Davison, talk to my mom, discover that I was somewhere in downtown Flint playing with my band, find the bar, and show up just in time to see my strap on my guitar and strike the first chord. Coffee would always follow. This was our routine three of four times a year.
Our discussions often ended up on the subject of God. With all of this coffee and God-talk, it sometimes felt like I was cheating on Lisa, but I understood that God was trying to get my attention. Aaron had met God a few years earlier at Young Life camp. When we talked about God, he shared ideas that were different than I had ever heard before. The idea that God doesn’t care about how people dress, and that he is more concerned with relationships than rules, were new concepts to me. The questions that were brought about by the velvet Jesus painting were being validated. This Jesus character seemed to be something more than what I thought he was. It seemed to me that my coffee talks with Lisa and Aaron were leading me to a new place. When Aaron told me about a church that he was helping to start, I thought that maybe it was the place that I was supposed to be heading.
When I walked through the doors of Wildwind Community Churchfor the first time, I was met with the same sense of welcoming community that I experienced at the Flint Local 432. Wildwind was a place where my questions were welcomed and encouraged. I had stepped into a new community that wanted me to feel safe while seeking to know and understand God.
By this time, Lisa had moved to Chicago for a teaching job so I knew I wasn’t attending church for a girl. We kept in touch and she was excited for me. We e-mailed often about what I was learning at church. I remember when I told her that I had committed my life to Christ. I shared about the Old Testament Bible prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus. I told her that Jesus’ death and resurrection finally made sense to me. I told her I knew that God had plans for me and that I was headed in a new direction to find out what those plans were. My joy became her joy, and a year later she became my wife.
READ PART TWO HERE!