Tag Archives: Punk Theology

A Bit more Punk Theology Explained

The other day I unpacked Punk Theology a bit ,talking about some principles involved in it. Quick note here that Punk Theology is seperate to the Theology of Punk which was blogged at Never Mind the Bibles. I am not seeking to disect punk and look at the theology and practice flowing from it, rather in working out how my own journey, (and that of others I know who aren’t emerging church but are something), I want give a name to a type of grassroots thing which has been happening and isn’t emerging but is something. Emerging Church and all that is has obviously impacted the mix, but this is something different. This relates to the practice of those who have consciously struggled with church, ethics and modern life and have built their own ways of staying in and staying sane. As Tall Skinny Kiwi has said over the last decade emerging has become accepted within the mainstream and so it is obviously part of the mix, but as I say I think there is a distinction to be made between Punk Theology and emerging church.

Here are a few of the things that I think make Punk Theology distinctly different to emerging type stuff. Firstly emerging church has been intentionally missional and has been pioneered, largely, by professionals within the church who want to find ways of reaching those outside the church. Reading through the appendix of Gibbs and Bolgers Emerging Churches one can see this. Gibbs ANd BolgerThe pioneers of emerging church groups were generally staff members for youth ministry organisations or young priests newly out of vicar factory and often either professionally or as a hobby involved in the creative arts, (particularly musicians or visual artists). Punk Theology comes from “the grassroots” and is more to do with individuals, normally within or temporarily out of churches who want to live a lifestyle which helps to connect others and reflects Jesus at work in our messed up lives, but is not involved with things like church planting so much. We are more likely to be found getting involved in either community activities within our churches or networks outside of the church which may or maynot involve those who would regard themselves as Christians and may or maynot be electronic or physical, or often a mix of the two. Profession wise we are likely to be disproportionately found working in the public sector in careers like teaching, nursing or social work.

We are likely to get involved in odd acts of connecting with people and “mission” type stuff by thinking and acting outside the box in our everyday lives, subverting “the Christian subculture” and sometimes using it to our and our friends advantage, (note not for gain but to help others or bring about change to benefit people like us). We also look out for each other and contribute to helping each other when we can, whether you are Christian or not. Example of what I’m talking about here is from about a decade ago in my life now was when a group of us were going to Spring Harvest, we had a non-Christian friend with a few “issues” who needed a holiday and so we used our discounts, (most of us were students or on benefit at the time), to bring him along…not to try and get him converted to anything necessarily – it was clear he wasn’t expected to go to anything and could just veg if he wanted, more because we knew he needed a holiday and we thought mixing with a bunch of Christians for a week over meals and stuff would be a good thing.

Whilst the emerging church has often appeared to often skip the last 200 years in their searching for a historical model to reinterpret with Punk Theology we embrace the social history of that period.In our struggles with the church, and wrestling about fitting in, (particularly as many of us found ourselves moving out of the evangelical sub-culture but weren’t specifically post-evangelical), we have not rejected modernity. Rather we have used modern Christian thinkers to help us and connect us with the more sacremental traditions. Yes Celtic stuff, the desert fathers and mothers and things like that have been an influence but equally through the work of Henri Nouwen, Dorothy Day and other 20th century figures we were able to break out of our sub-culture and particularly gain an affection for the work of the Catholic Church. Punk Theology, therefore, is not afraid to name 20th century Christians as heroes. Equally it is not afraid to acknowledge the positive aspects of late 19th Century Victorian religion. Whilst the repressive Victorian religion is trashed Punk Theology seeks to acknowledge and learn from the radical faith which many Christians, particularly first wave feminists were displaying at the time. Punk Theology has and does involve searching around for books, for anything that might be useful and give inspiration. Biographies and autobiographies have been key to this.

We have not been city based. Look around the history of the emerging church and you’ll find out that most initiatives have been city based. We were often, but by no means exclusively, living in small commuter towns or rural communities where we were on a limb. Punk Theology involves living it out on our own, connecting with others online or through social events or meetings. Greenbelt wasn’t / isn’t our church; it’s the place we get to meet face to face with alot of friends who’ve kept us sane and shared our ideas.

Punk Theology involves people being honest about the wounds the church has helped inflict on us and our mental health. Punk Theology has often involved saying I am on x, y or z anti-depressant and whilst the church, in the widest sense or sometimes local sense, isn’t to blame it certainly hasn’t always helped. The networking aspect has given us someone there to say “I so get where you’re coming from”. But, and this is a crucial thing, Punk Theology also involves people acknowledging we’re not victims or problems…we are people who happen to have certain health issues along side, often, challenging and rewarding careers. The fact many of us sometimes have to rely on the happy pills or whatever doesn’t stop us living full lives, but might mean we need to go and hide sometimes. It is during those hiding times many of us do our deepest searching and reading. Mental health issues aren’t just seen as something marginalising and for “the seriously mentally ill” and “nutters” with Punk Theology, they are seen as part of everyday life that lots of people suffer from quite invisibly. Being honest about our depression or mental health issues or for some of us things like our sexuality is an important part of Punk Theology because in talking about these things, appropraitely, we are dispelling the myths. Truth telling is part of Punk Theology….not to shock but to challenge the dangerous ways of steeotyping, thinking and making stuff invisible which has become dominant, particularly in churches.

I’ve gone on too much in this post I know, so will wait a while before unpacking some more of what Punk Theology is about.

Punk Theology Basics – Learning from the Role Models

Yesterday I gave a list of interesting people that I had found it useful to find out about, and who I actually think express the ideals of punk theology. They ranged from a 15th century priest to a twentieth century rock band and had a good few strong women inbetween. Between them I think their lives can be seen to express the key aspects of what I refer to as “punk theology”. I’m going to distill the key elements into what I call the “punk theology basics”.

1. Forget your status – all have equal worth in the eyes of God
Some of the list were born rich, some were born poor, and some were born inbetween. However, one way or another they all forgot their status…..although at times some did use it to their advantage, in terms of networking.

2. Allow yourself to dream and think in equal measure
Each of the people I admire allowed themselves to dream. They also engaged brains aswell as dreaming though. They dreamt of different societies quite often but they weren’t afraid to use their brains aswell.

3. Challenge authority whilst not totally rejecting it -be prepared to cherish and respect the institution whilst you are kicking at the doors or punching the walls
Each of the people I value has been prepared to challenge authority one way or another, yet with the possible exception of the Clash all have also been prepared to cherish and respect the aspects of various institutions which they don’t see as corrupted. Part of the reason why each of these people gained respect was that they neither seeked totally to reform from the inside or remain totally outside either. They engaged with “the system” whilst seeking to do something new and different.

4. Knowledge gives power and occassionally creative inspiration
If you have the capability for study use it. To effectively change things or bring in something new you need knowledge. In order to talk to those who haven’t experienced some kind of suffering or prejudice about those who have you need to know all you can about the experience and frequency of the subject together with the language used by your audience.

5. Be prepared to make mistakes and generally learn from them
With the exception of Nannie Helen Burroughs, who I haven’t been able to get hold of a whole book on yet, (my interest in her stemmed from seeing a picture in a book of a black woman standing addressing the crowds at Hyde Park in 1905 whilst attending the Baptist World Alliance conference), all of these people can be seen to have messed up at some point. The nature of their mistakes varies but all were in their own way quite human. They all had, it appears,the ability to drive those closest to them up the wall sometimes, but also to obtain respect for their stances and crazy ideas.

6. Have a group of people looking out for you
All of them appear to have had people, families or others, looking out for them.

7. Don’t let a lack of finance stop you going for it
All of them seem to have realised the dream and creative talent were more important than the reality of the situation, financially, sometimes. (Note here if anybody is in a position to give a loan towards the end of the adventure please can they get in touch). Be ready to volunteer and use your skills as payment. Work your passage/ entry if necessary.

8. Use your talents to help others
All of them, at some point, used their gifts and abilities to help others not just themselves.

9. Don’t be ambitious for the normal things
Most people are ambitious for fame, getting as much money as possible or whatever. None of the above were really ambitious in these ways. Even the Clash and Billy Bragg have sold their albums cheaper because they remembered what it was like to be skint and weren’t ambitious enough to screw their fans, although sensible enough not to want to live on toast. Yet these people all did have some kind of ambition in life. Generally, it was an ambition to help others or break down barriers.

10. Push at doors
All of the people pushed at doors, sometimes creatively. If the doors opened they were brave enough to go through. If they remained shut they, generally, went and tried another one (or found a window to climb through). The doors they pushed at were sometimes pushed via networking, sometimes through writing, sometimes through speaking, sometimes through singing, sometimes through filling in forms and sometimes through just trying something.

There may seem like a lack of God speak in the above, possibly true….not all Punk Theology comes from Christians. For the Christians in there the added aspects were:
Studying the bible for what it actually said, not what you’ve been told it says
A willingness to work with others who did not always share your beliefs or strand of belief
A knowledge and appreciation for tradition
An openess to the Holy Spirit
Looking back at your own life and experience through the eyes of faith
Looking at the physical and emotional, aswell as spiritual, situation of others in society through the eyes of faith