Editor’s Note: Guest blogger Benjamin Griffin offers his thoughts on the Church of Metal. A fan of a broad range of music, Benjamin has blogged for Pop Theology before, writing on “The Quest for Contemporary Christian Music that Doesn’t Suck.” He has a keen perception for the sacred shining through the secular, and adds his voice as a Millennial to our continuing discussion on what attracts or repels young people about church.
No Reason Church Can’t Be a Metal Show
By Benjamin Griffin
Sociologists of religion tell me that I’m at the age where I should be churchless. I’m old enough to be disillusioned with my religious upbringing and still searching out the unanswered questions of my growing generation, yet too young to be considering settling down for the sake of a future family or establishing myself in a single community. While I will admit that I prefer to church shop these days (due mostly to my unquenchable theological thirst for all sorts of church experience, I’d say) I cannot say that I’ve been churchless during these youthful years of exploration. I have always had my concert church.
Now, I am not talking about modern worship concerts (although they have their place) and I am not saying that God is music (though there’s room for that too). What I mean to say is that I have never been left wanting when I go to worship God in a music venue. I have marveled at the joy of artistic creation, I have communed with strangers like we were family, and I have seen God at work in the same ways It can affect us in the pews.
Of course, this isn’t anything really new. Many “modern” churches might be found holding services in parks or coffee shops, dance halls or living rooms, so my particular venue of the music pavilion or downtown arena isn’t all that strange. All I want to do is some proselytizing on behalf of my community, because it’s a joyous one and, in truth, people still need to come around to the fact that when God is no longer confined to the Holy of Holies of the church sanctuary. God doesn’t need be confined by buildings at all.
But what makes me think that a “secular” concert could do? Especially when there isn’t emphasis on the Divine present? Well, it has to do with “capital-P” Presence. First of all, if you don’t find the creativity of Creation in artistic expression, generated from bouncy pop music or the complexities of progressive math metal, then I don’t know what to say to you. If everywhere we turn we are able to find the mark of the Creator, then why not in the music that we love, that moves us, that demonstrates the elation and struggle of life itself in such varied and remarkable ways? But it’s not only the Image of God reflected in the music that’s important, it’s also the people you share it with.
Think about church for a moment: where do you find God in a church service? If you boil down all of the theological presentations to their most basic source–from the sermons to the hymns–what you have is your fellow family’s experience of God. I see no reason why it shouldn’t be the same at a concert, even without explicitly labeling it such.
You enter into the concert congregation, a room jam packed with excitement, all carrying with them entire lifetimes of stories and how this particular soundtrack has helped shape them. Some are there to party, to truly embody the music in dancing, while some are there to let the experience wash over them, letting the venue become one giant headphone. All of them are there for some sort of lift, whether for ecstasy or for healing. There is a room full of people ready to become a part of each other’s stories as they continue to write their own.
Now, we don’t often look at church this way. For many, it’s in at 10, a quick ‘peace to you,’ and how-do-you-do it’s time for lunch. But at its best, church is meant to be the foundation of family, not in terms of one’s household but of the entire Body. We are meant to engage, we are meant to listen, and we are meant to share.
For me, I have found this fulfilled far more often in a concert hall than in a church hall.
For example, the most enlightening and encouraging spiritual talk I have had recently was at the Summer Slaughter tour, a metal fest filled with as much carnage as you can imagine. I struck up a conversation with an avowed atheist who openly shared with me his struggles with a friend’s suicide. This was a remarkable and beautiful conversation that I will never forget because in our shared presence, in our openness, I experienced Presence, even if my friend would never see it that way, we were both there together.
Recently, my girlfriend and I went to go see a show with Seryn and Polyphonic Spree, two ecstatically joyful and wonderful bands – and, to different extents, artists who wear their spirituality on their sleeves. Standing on the overlook, marveling at everyone in the crowd, from a large, dread-locked white dude in a polo shirt to a punk kid with a foot high green Mohawk, I felt something very specific, very certain: spiritual elation. As the music blared and the lights spun about, I considered all those aimless college days blasting Polyphonic Spree for the sheer joy of it, and marveled at the breadth of stories below me. The punk waved his arms in elation, the dready bobbed his head knowingly, and I couldn’t help but thank God to be a part of it.
- Benjamin Griffin graduated with a Master of Arts in Spirituality from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, CA in 2013.