Tobin Bawinkel, frontman for the band Flatfoot 56 (and his new band, 6’10”) has had quite a journey. I first met him eight years ago when my band played alongside his at a festival. My first impression? This was a guy who had his act together. He carried himself confidently, yet humbly. He spoke with the seasoned air of a pastor, yet he was completely punk rock. And as I got to know him, I realized he was someone who was genuinely trying to follow God and live as Jesus did. In other words, Tobin was a guy who doing all the right things.
Yet, recently, his world was turned upside down. A deep betrayal threw his whole world into turmoil, and he was left looking for answers, trying put the pieces back together. He shared his journey into chaos, loss, doubt, forgiveness, and redemption when I had the opportunity to spend some time him not long ago. You will want to read this carefully and pay close attention if you have ever been hurt by another human. His story teaches a lesson we all need to learn.
AS: You have been on a pretty crazy ride as of late. You went from a peak to a deep valley, and now you are climbing a new mountain. Why don’t you give the readers an overview of your life the past several years?
TB: A couple of years ago, I was on my way home from a six-week tour. We had a long drive-twenty hours. My wife and I were having a rough go of it, and she had said she was going to leave. I was really hoping and praying that wasn’t the case, so we were driving like mad to get back in town. But when I opened my front door, I found my house torn apart and half-emptied. It was so shocking and scary. My wife was gone, like, for good. I ran from room to room looking for answers…for some clue as to whether or not she was ever coming back.
She wouldn’t return my phone calls. She only wanted to speak to me over email. Then after a year of attempting anything and everything possible to get back with her, she said she wanted a divorce. Her reasoning, basically, was that I just sucked as a person. I never cheated on her or mistreated her or anything like that. Of course, I didn’t want this in any way…I came home from tour and was completely blindsided and alone. I came from a big, close-knit family and I had never lived alone in my whole life! There were no pets, no answering machine, no sounds. Just a silent, half-empty house.
Right after our divorce was finalized I found out another devastating detail: she was living with a guy whom she had been spending time with during our marriage.
You have to understand, I was a guy that had never experienced betrayal. Who I thought I was got thrown to the ground and completely smashed, and essentially, I have been in the process of putting the pieces of myself back together for the last couple years.
My story is the story of a man who tried to do it the right way; I waited for my wife and I was a virgin when I got married. And then it just didn’t work the way I thought it would. And I had to work through the whole question of…God if I did what you told me to do, the way you instructed me to, then why didn’t it go well with me? Why didn’t it work out if I tried to do it your way? This seems like I got ripped off…
AS: Wow. How did you react? I know for many people, including myself, the natural reaction would be to implode, go off the deep end. I think it would be very easy to allow yourself to descend into destroying yourself and your own character when something like this happens. I have many friends who lost faith and started partying or sleeping around after they had their hearts stepped on. So what happened next?
TB: While going through all of the hurt I went out one night to a show to see my brother’s band play. It was a punk show, so the crowd was rowdy. Now, I’m a pretty peace-loving guy, but for the first time in my life I walked into the crowd and saw a guy across the room-a random stranger I didn’t know-and I said to myself I want to get in a fight tonight. I want to pound this guy. I want to let it out.
Now, I have been playing punk shows for a long time and had been in that environment hundreds and hundreds of times but I never had that kind of rage inside of me. I had never thought these kinds of things before.
As soon as I had that thought I heard God in my mind basically saying to me, Now you know the hearts of the people who have been all around you the last thirteen years. Now you understand the levels of pain and hurt that exist in so many people you have come in contact with. You had been blinded to that because you never experienced what it means to be truly screwed over until now. Everything you have gone through is a big deal, but it is nowhere near what some of the people in this room have gone through. Imagine their pain and hurt and what they feel.
I truly had never understood why people are so angry and miserable. It’s kind of ironic, realizing that fact after being involved with punk rock all these years. My mantra was always to keep it happy and positive. At that point I realized that as a believer God had given me an insight into pain and hurt by experiencing some of it myself. And I could either allow myself to be defined by that pain or I could choose to learn the lessons He was teaching me.
AS: Forgiveness is less a single event than it is a process. Talk about forgiveness as something that is vital for the one who has been injured, not just the one who is guilty of hurting someone else.
TB: It’s definitely a daily fight. Believe me, there have been days where I have woken up with the beautiful picture in my mind of walking up to a door and decking the guy who answers it (of course you know the individual I am referring to). Actively choosing to walk in forgiveness is not easy. I have had many bad days. But I had to choose to forgive someone who does not care about me at all and accept she was never coming back. I made a decision to forgive because I could not let the actions of another define my existence moving forward…and I repeat that to myself daily. That’s what it comes down to.
AS: That’s huge. That’s a lesson we all need to embrace completely. The evils done to us CANNOT be allowed to define us. We HAVE to forgive because that is what keeps us from becoming bitter and angry. We can’t control the actions of other people. No matter how hard we try to construct a fortress around ourselves to protect ourselves from hurt either in friendships or marriages or relationships with family, we can’t avoid being hurt sometimes. We can’t protect ourselves from being wronged by Christians or the church or bosses or work associates or promoters or guys in other bands. We have to learn that lesson! And we have to choose forgiveness. And sometimes we can only learn how to forgive by being wronged.
TB: That’s a fundamental part of what we believe. God, forgive them for they know not what they do. I’m convinced that many of the Pharisees and Sadducees that screamed for Jesus’ death never thought they were in the wrong. Jesus understood the heart of all of us and forgave us anyway. And I am included in that.
One thing I would tell anyone who reading is this: I had two choices. On one hand I could have acted out. I could have gotten wasted every night and slept around and gotten in fights because “God had failed me.” Or I could just seek God and put myself in environments that would preserve the man inside me that was left. So I just dove into my church and ministry and tried to help others. It was funny because as I was going through this I had so many people come up to me and say things like, “You are the realest you have ever been to me right now. For the first time I can relate to you, watching what you are going through.”
God had given me a new voice to speak into people’s lives. Prior to that the perception was that my life was perfect. I played in band that toured the world since I was in high school. I grew up with Christian parents in a good family. I looked like someone who had my act completely together.
But now I realize that my situation was not caused by the actions of one individual. It was caused by a broken scenario, a sin nature that all of us have. Our lack of desire to reconcile with God and others is something we all deal with. That comes to a head in broken relationships across the board, between husbands and wives, children and parents, brothers and sisters. Now I look back and I have a reminder of a time in my life when God was the most faithful. He never left me. He listened to me cry and yell and get angry. And now I can share my story in the hopes that it gives comfort to others who are experiencing brokenness in their relationships.
The Tin Soldiers is a book, study guide and national men’s ministry. It is for men looking to know God more. It is an easy read, just like this blog entry. We are currently embarking on a 52-week study based on the book and study guide in 2015 at Crossroads Church of Denver (every 1st and 3rd Monday of the month at 6:30 PM) and www.thetinsoldiers.com. I would love for you to be a part of it. For more info, follow The Tin Soldiers on Facebook and Twitter. Grab a copy of The Tin Soldiers book and Study Guide here, or get a copy of the ebook here.