Green Day are pretty much my favourite band. No, I’m not fifteen but that was when I first started to like them. The hit album, American Idiot, was released when I was growing up. I can still sing it ll the way through, more or less word-for word.
At that age, I realise now, that God had begun to awaken my heart to himself. That is, I met Jesus and we started to do life together. If you, like me, did not grow up in a Christian family, walking into the Church and becoming a part of God’s people is a little weird. Or a lot weird. Being fifteen and having God walk into my life was pretty confusing. On top of the whole adolescence thing, Jesus had invited me to follow him, though I had no idea what that looked like or even meant!
But I gave it a stab. I bought a Christian CD. I didn’t even like the CD. But it was sort a blind stumble towards working out what Christianity meant. Maybe it meant I listened to different music? If that was the case, I wasn’t going to be very good at Christianity.
No, the CD I listened to in the dark age before I owned an iPod was American Idiot by Green Day. I’d like to say that my taste was more varied than that, but when you only owned a Sony Walkman disk player, your choices were somewhat limited. The American Idiot CD took up permanent residence in my CD player. That’s not strictly true – I swapped it for that awful Christian CD when I went to Church. And when I need to feel extra-holy. Funny how the young mind works.
Green Day was the soundtrack to my teenage years. I tried to pretend it wasn’t. I was sort of embarrassed, especially around Christians. You see, to my mind – and in some of theirs – Christians shouldn’t listen to rock music with swearing, drug references and anger and all that. But when I was doing my paper round, and I’d had a hard week of school (I might one day talk about school, but not for a long time yet) and I was so angry and upset, there was no part of me that wanted to listen to someone with a perfect smile and a perfect, acne free, complexion sing softly on acoustic guitar about how great Jesus is/was. Every part of me wanted to hear the annoying, whining voice of Billy-Joe, the deep Bass sound of Mike Dirnt and the thumping drums of Tré Cool. They played backing music to my heart.
Of course, when it came to getting ‘serious’ with God, I’d put on a different CD and pretend like I enjoyed it. I didn’t.
Looking back now, I think the times when I would listen to that black-and-red CD on repeat were the times when me and God were closest. Looking back now through the lense of Scripture, I have come to understand that the way I was feeling and seeking to express those feelings is not something to shy away from, but something to be embraced.
The Bible is full of songs, and one of them goes like this:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
And that’s right there in the Bible!
In all my years of Church attendance, I have never – not once – sung a worship song based on the words like this.
But Green Day gave me the words to express those feelings. When that kid used to push me around and call me names, and I tried to love him in return, and all it got me was more abuse. Or when my friends walked out on me, when I had done no wrong. Or when I’d eat lunch alone because no one wanted to talk to me.
‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me’ became ‘I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known’ (That’s the opening line of Boulevard of Broken Dreams, the fourth track on the album, by the way). All that language of hurt and pain and wrestling and wanting is right there in the pages of the Scriptures. In the pages of the Bible, the saints of old had the same feelings about God and about life as I did. That is the best news ever.
Green Day sang the Gospel to me before I even realised it.
Since then, I have sang ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ to God more times than I care to remember, though I leave out the F-Bomb in the middle.
I think sometimes God gives us these means to work out what faith looks like, and what the good news looks like and how we should be changed. The mysterious paradox is that in all those times when it seemed God was far off and all I wanted to do was to yell at him – for letting people say I was gay, or the way they looked at me in the corridor and made me feel like a five year old, or when they beat me up in the changing rooms – were the times when he was closer than I could even comprehend.
Indeed, I have come to understand that being Christian isn’t about listening to different music. It’s about loving and caring and wrestling and hurting and all the stuff of life. Life in all it’s fullness.
For me, the Gospel has come to mean, time and time again, that I am not alone. Sometimes, that looks like screaming out with a lot of other people that I am alone, but strangely God listens and loves.