Jake has expressed on here before his love for the band Angels and Airwaves. Well, I’m a purist and so I mostly stick with the classic Blink-182. When the two of us take road trips, the soundtrack is usually their entire opus on repeat. The band got us both through high school by being a mouthpiece for what was going on in our hearts and minds. Clearly, if you’re familiar with the band at all, that was mostly angst. The two of us have often talked about how odd it is that three grown men (all at least a decade older than both of us) can express the feelings of teenage boys so well. There’s probably some deep-seated issues at play there, but their psychological baggage was our gain. Anyway, a duo of songs, Anthem (the final song on their 3rd album) and Anthem Part 2 (the first song on their 4th album), have always stuck out to me, even at 16. So much so that I made my youth pastor listen to them with me in the parking lot of our tiny Southern Baptist church one day after services.
The original song is mostly just about rebellion. “Mom and dad possess the key / instant slavery.” “I’ll pack my bags / I swear I’ll run.” The follow up song has a little more bite to it though, more of a diagnosis of why we wanted to rebel so much. The first verse goes, “Everything has fallen to pieces / Earth is dying help me Jesus / We need guidance, we’ve been misled / Young and hostile, but not stupid.” They go on to talk about political decisions that we didn’t have a say in, the general disdain for youth culture, childhood abuse, and right before the penultimate chorus, “Let this train wreck burn more slowly / the kids are victims in this story.” Which all crescendos during the bridge of, “Everything has fallen to pieces.” Over and over and over, until ending with a rally cry to not give up despite all of these odds against us.
As a teenager, I felt the weight of all of this and it was crushing. I needed an anthem, because the world just did not seem fair. Ironically, that was all before my actual life happened. Since then: I’ve had friends receive horrible diagnoses of things ranging from clinical depression to malignant cancer. I’ve had family and friends go off to fight in a war. I’ve had more than a few buddies die. In college, a close friend had an abortion that she hid from us out of shame. The pastor of church I attended, a mentor, skipped town in the middle of the night after being caught in an affair. I’ve watched people close to me having agonizing battles with their faith vs. their sexuality. Right out of college, newly married, I was fired from an unpaid internship and had to beg to do anything, which ended up being scrubbing toilets for a year. I’ve watched family members wrestle with addiction. I’ve counseled teenagers through suicide attempts. I’ve held people’s hands as they died in hospitals, unsure of what was waiting for them. I watched my wife nearly bleed to death on an operating table and in the process lose the ability to have more children. I have wept more tears over the brokenness of this world than I even want to think about. AND, the more I hear other people’s stories… I’ve had it pretty good.
All of that to say, I’ve been realizing for awhile that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. I think everyone feels it at some point and it drives all of us to different conclusions. For me it has always been religion because the problem just never seemed to be anything smaller than cosmic. I studied them all intently and Christianity alone actually gave me satisfying answers to my questions. The doctrines of original sin and total depravity took me about 2 seconds to accept. The only problem with the Christian religion for me, even though it took me awhile to put my finger on, was that after explaining how and why everything was so broken and the cosmic rescue plan of Jesus (to which I was screaming “Yes! Finally!”)… pastors then would go on to give us 10 steps of how to improve our lives… Wait. What? So everything was shattered beyond repair, God comes down and lays down His life to fix it, says, “It is finished,” and then, realizing there was some stuff left undone says, “alright, you guys take care of the rest…” ??? I may not be going to hell, but my life is still a train wreck.
For years, I bought into it. I beat myself up trying desperately to improve myself. If I only worked harder, if I only believed more, had more faith, if I only… and the success I found was… negligible. A couple years ago, completely burned out, Jake and I together were given relief. Yes, it started with Pastor Tullian, and that’s why we get maniacal sometimes when people start messing with him. But it’s not just him, through him we’ve discovered this underground army of lay people and pastors who have been shouting into the abyss about God’s grace for centuries. As Robert Capon so aptly puts it, “The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…” Jesus paid it all, so that those of us who have nothing to offer get in free. And suddenly, the shackles fell off and we can’t help but join the growing chorus that is shouting into the abyss as well.
And most shockingly? That improvement I always strived for has just started happening. Being told it was okay to mess up has actually made me mess up less, because I’m just so grateful to be forgiven. In conclusion, you should really listen to more pop-punk music:
“Everything has fallen to pieces… help me Jesus…”