Today, RELEVANT (which you all know I love), posted this: The '90s Albums Every Youth Group Rocked. Certainly not definitive, but a good list. And I remember these albums, and others like them in the mostly-Christian-rock category, being the soundtrack to my Middle School and High School days.
Contrary to the title, in my case, it wasn't a youth group thing-- it was a Christian school thing. And the culture was strong. In my middle school years, a few people created a "choreography club" (because we were not allowed to dance, yes, like in Footloose). The Choreography Club seemed to be exclusively devoted to dancing to Kirk Franklin's "Revolution." We lived Jesus Freak in High School (complete with the devotional about martyrdom). I guess they were excluding compilations in the album list, but the WoW series... yeah. The middle school cheerleaders one time did an awesome dance to the W's Devil is Bad...
I gotta say, Christian culture is completely weird. Which makes it like any other culture, really. but I have some really good memories of this stuff. Pure nostalgia. Which is awkward because I have so many bones to pick with the culture too... I wish there was a way to capture the cool niche part while remaining as inclusive as Jesus was in the New Testament. The tables of WWJD bracelets overturned; those scorned by purity culture comforted, healed, and restored.
I grew up learning to defend my faith. Except the defense was usually an offense. We wore Christian t-shirts to spark conversation, perhaps, but they were also a shield. There was identity in the keyrings and bracelets. The magnets that were stuck all over the inside of my high school locker. The standard fare of Christian bookstores everywhere. But all the FROG (fully rely on God) and PUSH (pray until something happens) necklaces in the world won't get you into heaven.
I worry now about these things. I still have Christian bookstore Bible verse magnets on my fridge and in my office. Sometimes, I still wear my True Love Waits ring. And I still love visiting and shopping at Christian bookstores. But I worry about the tendency Christians have to make themselves look different. I mean, we should behave differently in some ways. Of course. But should we be different in vain? Should being counter-cultural be its own culture? I worry because I think anything that looks like a clique is usually unapproachable and appears to be exclusive-- and the Jesus I know is none of these things.
But then there is the good. I grew up with a decent amount of confidence. Even if I was dressing like Jesus' biggest fan, all decked like I was going to a concert in full band apparel, I did get that He loved everyone. I made friends with everyone. My school was incredibly racially/ethnically diverse. I didn't know many people of other religions, really, but I quickly made friends with people who didn't really identify with any particular religion at all-- they were experimenting, Gothic, atheist, Wiccan, simply burned by Christianity and seeking... I openly told them all about God's grace and love for them. They took it well. There were no arguments. There was deep discussion, usually. We shared something. Whether it was weird or not, whether they felt loved, whether they changed... it might not actually matter. The fact that we were interacting in an authentic, deep, meaningful way was probably the most Jesus-like thing I'd ever done without realizing it. It's not our job to convert people. It's our job to interact and to love and to build.
The Jesus Freak album also had strong messages about race relations and that the actions of Christians were often the block to others coming to faith. We identified with those messages. They mattered. Hearing about the modern-day martyrs made us grateful, and outraged, and wanting to change the world and make a difference. All of the things we should have been in our early-to-late teens.
I'm glad I grew up knowing that no one should ever pressure me to do anything sexual that I didn't want. I'm glad I had the time and space to think about those things long and hard, and in a sheltered enough place that it was years before those issues would come up. I wish that people would have been more honest, though. I wish all the messages hadn't been so black and white. I wish that the message of not confusing sex with love hadn't been given so many times that it seemed they were too easily dissociated. I wish that avoiding temptation, as I had been taught it, didn't look a lot like repression to me now. I wish that we talked more about brokenness than "sin."
And so this morning, reading a list of albums, I relived my Christian school youth. Immersed in a culture that would shape the rest of my life. For better and worse. It's a culture that I'm scared I'm not accepted by anymore, when I'm really honest. And I've had to give that fear to Jesus and remember that He's the only one that has to like what I'm doing. And I've found others, and felt that a movement is gathering.
I've dreamt of raising my kids so they don't have to struggle through some of these tough issues and re-learn some of the basic things I had to figure out. But maybe, just maybe, I still want them to ask for Christian t-shirts on their birthdays and grow up dancing to Kirk Franklin and the W's...
So this morning, I'm dreaming of a world that can hold both.