It is in the ordeal of living the whole of human existence that one comes into contact with this dynamic encounter with the God who transforms us via the agency of our lives, to which the experiences that our sensory faculties (like seeing, feeling, and hearing) functions as the arena where transformation takes place. In this case I would like to highlight the sense of hearing as an arena to which I discover God and His loving identification with people in the midst of human pain and anguish.
As it is no secret to those who know me that a lot has been going on in my mind lately. Life and all its complexities that come along with aging and varying circumstances leads one to question so many things and to lose hope –to despair, get angry, cry out to for and against God.
I would write of the details of this pain and struggle but I am at the same time afraid to lay bare my soul as well as space cannot be enough to put what I am feeling into words that would make sense. It is in the middle of these things that I find myself clinging once again, in consolation to the music of my adolescence –to punk rock.
Many would define punk for its tendency to become a loud, fast and deliberately offensive style of rock music. That to me is but a shallow understanding of which as it is a genre and a counterculture that developed within a specific context of widespread youth disenchantment with the status quo of the late 1970s when their hippie role models, rock & roll heroes and the ideals of self-expression, individuality and revolution have been co-opted to become bearers of capitalist consumer culture –thus prompting youth to rediscover the do-it-yourself attitude that brought forth rock and roll as a reaction to the blandness of Tin Pan Alley music of the 1950s.
Unashamedly I would say that in my youth punk rock functioned as the anthem of my youthful anxiety and the chorus of my angst while I was growing up an outcast from all that was deemed ‘cool’ in my teens. It is in this genre of music once again that I feel a sort of comfort from the sting of life in particular it is in the songs of Bad Omen’s God Is Everywhere album that I find myself identifying with as I contemplate on life and the apparent meaninglessness of it all.
In the middle of all this I find myself confronted with this question: is it possible to find God in a punk rock record?
Being a punk rock fan I have been well acquainted with the band by listening to them in my teens during the early 90s as was introduced to their via their song Maling Sistema (Wrong System), while listening to the now defunct radio station, LA 105.5 FM.
My introduction to their music as well to that of the Philippine Violators, The Wuds and other more prominent punk bands at the time led me to find affinity in the local punk subculture that finds the streets of Recto, Manila as its melting pot of music, ideas and ethos.
I could no longer count the times that I’ve seen the band through the years. I can still vividly remember the time in March 2005 when my own punk band, PayItForward was finally able to share the stage with them at a small pub in front of the University of Sto. Tomas.
Later on I became friends with the band as their present bassist, was my nephew’s high school classmate whom we used to skate with in streets of Teachers Village, Quezon City, and what makes this record special for me is that he was gracious enough to include me and my nephew in the acknowledgements on the record sleeve.
God is Everywhere
With an album title like, God Is Everywhere one would think that it is a religious record, however that is counterbalanced by the band’s moniker that speaks of the album’s theme of irony in suffering where everybody who professes faith in God is always challenged with the demand to harmonize the reality of evil with an omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent God: to come face to face with the question of a Loving God in an evil world.
Musically, God is Everywhere is not your average punk rock record as it shoes hints of ska, hardcore, pub rock and Oi! Punk sensibilities, is sound is not confined to super-fast tempos and typical lyrics of adolescent whines. It features some mid-tempo songs and catchy hooks that nods to the 90s skate-punk sound that I was accustomed to listening to while learning to do tricks in my skateboard.
Listening to the record reminded of this certain feeling of discomfort that I felt when I watched the NOFX concert in Manila a few years ago, where after a few ignorant racial remarks NOFX then preceded to poke fun at Christians. This was not the first time that I felt this way whenever I would listen to a punk rock album or attend a gig.
As a Christian I would admit that it is in these satirized depiction of organized religion that I would always feel the sting of their sentiments, because they are poking fun at the people whom I (for better or for worse), consider as brothers and sisters in faith. I feel the sting mostly because whether I like it or not the punks’ take on my beliefs are for the most part true.
However it is also in these truthfulness of the punks’ parody of my personal faith that I find the ‘beauty of doubt’ in the way I live my life as a person of faith in the world. And Bad Omen’s new album, God Is Everywhere is one of those few records that challenges me to face the seriousness of Christianity’s failure to live up to the Gospel mandate as well as to ask those difficult questions about those that lie at the core of my belief.
Their song God is Everywhere and its questioning cry to, “look up on the sky on bended knees. Pray for forgiveness or ask for anything. Do you think God will listen to you? When everyday there are others who ask too?,” challenges me all the more to live a life of witness that attempts to vindicate the divine attributes of God, particularly with respect to holiness and justice.
Hearing a chorus that says: “When you’re in deep $h#@, God is testing you and if you don’t follow God’s rule you’ll end up in hell,” (Oh God), accounts for the Christian’s guilt in portraying God as the sanctifier of our desires.
While songs that bear the title, Jesus Hates Me, speaks of how we Christians offen fail to bear witness to our faith. In all of these I would say that as a part of the punk community, there is that undeniable sense of validity in the song’s claims and observations in human life, it is in seeing things from the margins of punks and other countercultural movements that one understands that indeed there is something wrong with the status quo –thus to ask hard questions about human life and its existence are important if we are dead serious at understanding the purpose and meaning of our lives on earth.
Theodicy and struggle
I would also like to reaffirm that apart from being a part of the punk scene I am also a Christian and I believe that such questions are not new to the Christian as they all fall to what classical theology calls as theodicy, that is the task of reconciling the notion of an all-loving and all-powerful God working in the midst of a world where evil and suffering demonstrably exist.
Like Nicholas Wolterstorff, in his book Lament for a Son, I respond to the question of theodicy with a realization that I do not know the answer. So in faith I live the question. The logical problem of evil and suffering cannot be deductively be solved, rather it is dissolved in the existential narrative of discipleship.
However, I believe that such questions are valid. And that these questions about the nature of life and the love of God in the midst of such incomprehensible suffering posed by punks (who are neither part of the religious establishment nor that of the secular status quo) should be given due attention as it poses a necessity for Christians to once again assert the basic and essentials of the Christian faith that we profess and that is the challenge to see the world and its apparent meaninglessness through the eyes of Christ who identified with people (like punks) that are living in the fringes of the cultural strata.
Through the eyes of God in Christ we discover that God shares the world’s suffering, no one will deny or at the very least remove the Easter story from the Christian narrative because it is in Jesus Christ that the Word of God suffers and dies. Human suffering touches God. God is not a distant or so enmeshed in nature that God cannot respond to suffering. The Easter story relocates the reality of God and redefines the holy, taking us off the sacred path of spiritual highs and into the wilderness of desolation. Easter tells us that God is precisely in those places where we would never expect to find him. Easter confirms that Jesus was not deceitful or deluded, it confirms that God was with Jesus in his ministry, confirms that his practices of forgiveness in the face of vengeance, truthfulness in the face of lies, and non-violence in the face of intimidation are the practices of God himself; but, further still, Easter asserts that the places such practices lead – the witness box of Caiaphas, the judgement hall of Pilate, the torturer’s cell and the executioner’s block, and, finally, the graveyard – that these seemingly most unholy of places are, in fact, the holiest of grounds.
Moreover this shows that God can bring about good from evil and that evil does not have the final say because the Christian faith professes that, God will triumph over evil. At the heart of the central events of the Biblical story, the crucifixion and the resurrection, is the redemptive love of God. Death will be overcome and new life will become reality. God’s promise will be fulfilled. A new heaven and a new earth await those who know Jesus Christ. God frees us from the fetters that bind the present to the new future. Christ’s solidarity with the victims of evil is their liberation.
Understanding this requires that we see the world as the concern of God, not just our concern. After all, it was out of God’s concern for His lost children that He sought to redeem them at the expense of His own Son. In Christ, God went into the world –simply put in Christ God in human flesh worked, moved and lived with His creation and in doing so comes into contact with the whole range of the human experience. Here the transcendent God became near through the lens of Christ we see that God can even be found in the midst of suffering –in the least obvious of all places, a including that of a punk rock record!
The dirges heard in the songs of angst, depression, hopelessness in God is Everywhere therefore can be looked at as a place where God is even there. The Apostles Creed reads: “He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again…” thus showing that God goes where Christ goes and comes out of the ordeal triumphantly –even unto the depths thus a source of comfort for those experiencing the depths of their existence.
In the meantime, all we can do is cry out in struggle…
Karl Barth in one of his often quoted statements exclaims that: “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world!” Thus a Christian response to evil is struggle – the struggle of taking God’s side against the world’s disorder, and of refusing to treat evil as an acceptable part of a larger harmonious vision.
For the Christian this is a call to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and to be awaken to the reality of the call to become salt and light in this troubled world –to bear witness to Christ in both word and deed. This is our prayer, this is our song…