What became of the 90's Christian ska kids?
As a teenager in the 90’s, pretty much everything I initially needed to know about worshiping Jesus, I learned from Christian Ska music.
Before that, I had spent much of my free time videotaping popular music videos from MTV onto VHS so I could watch them whenever I wanted. (I realize that sentence just made absolutely no sense to younger readers... Let's just move on.) Music gave my adolescent self a way to try and understand the world, and express myself within it. Music meant everything to me.
That’s why, when my new church youth group friends gave me Christian ska CD’s for my sixteenth birthday, they were essentially changing my life forever. The music was fun, creative—and dare I say good—with passionate devotion to Christ that spoke of deep spiritual truths worth living for. The first Christian ska song I ever liked was Suckerpunch by Five Iron Frenzy. Then, Unite by The OC Supertones. Then, pretty much all of it from there.
I learned to sing the songs by heart. I learned to mean the words by heart, too. And this was learning to believe in Jesus. It was my initiation into the Charismatic Christian Youth culture of the 90’s.
Church youth groups like ours were popping up all over the country. We loved to sing, shout, jump up and down, clap our hands and raise them up in the air, do skits, and in our free time, pass gas on dirty couches that people were going to throw away at some point, but instead, decided to donate to the youth group.
And the music wasn’t just about the ska, or the punk, or the alternative, etc. We also loved our contemporary praise and worship, too, because it was church music with guitars and drums—Darrell Evans, Hillsongs (before they were United, I guess), and the Passion CD’s. The adults and leaders of our church were so proud of us, too, because—while most teenagers thought churchiness was super lame—there we were being so obviously on fire for Jesus. They loved to point us out, and make examples of us so that maybe adults could learn to be as excited as we were, or something.
But then, the reality of the situation was that we were just kids. It’s hard for kids to understand that everything now old was once new, and everything new will eventually become old.
I think we've since figured that out for the most part.
Sometime in my mid-20’s, after the new millennium had arrived and I was still immersed in Christian youth culture on account of being married to a youth pastor, I hit a music crisis in my faith. Music crisis... Sure, it's a thing! I could no longer find many Christian artists who were as spiritually inspiring and stylistically creative as the Christian bands of my teen years. So I messaged an old friend from youth group—one of the original guys who gave me a Christian ska CD on my sixteenth birthday. I asked him what he was listening to these days, and if he knew of any great Christian bands that I haven’t heard of yet.
He got back to me: “I actually don't listen to that much Christian music these days. Honestly, I don't think the Christian music world has much to offer these days.”
Not only did he confirm my suspicions—that there was no new musical equivalent to what we had in our teens that would carry me through this rut—but he was also revealing something I had not seen coming. As our enthusiasm for specific styles of music was fading, so was our passion for the messages that music had carried. Our core values had been wrapped in passing trends, and now, those trends were fading.
I thought about this yesterday as I sat in morning Mass, chanting with my fellow Roman Catholics the hymn responsorial, “I will praise your name forever, Lord.”
I remembered how—as evangelical kids—my youth group friends and I would passionately skank along as the Supertones sang/shouted, “Last breath before the candle flickers out, I will speak the name of Jesus.”
How we’d close our eyes, lift our hands and sway gently as we sang, “I could sing of your love forever... I could sing of your love forever... (Repeat 200x)”
And I can’t help but wonder—what happened to us?
I know there are a few of us are still the kind of Christians our youth pastors would be proud of. But so many of us aren’t Christian at all anymore. That old friend I reached out to for new music? He is not. At all. The youth group days are a sore subject for him, and he’s definitely not alone.
There are many complex issues and reasons as to why so many of us have walked away from Christianity at this point, and the analysis could go on and on. But I can't help but recognize how much we relied so heavily on fleeting sensations to fuel our interest in eternal realities. And this could not have helped the sustainability of our faith very much.
Who would have known that singing upbeat songs about wanting to go deeper wouldn't mean that we actually would? Or that when the music actually did fade, and all really was stripped away, we would forget to come and bring something that’s of worth?
I'm not just pointing fingers and talking about someone else here. This was me, too! I walked away from Christianity altogether for a season, until obviously going off the deep end by becoming a Roman Catholic. Now, it's true, you can find me sitting in a pew and singing along with the ancient Church who has always sung, is still singing, will always sing, “I will praise your name forever, Lord.”
I could never deny the gift of a cultural trend like 90’s Christian ska that could introduce me to some of the timeless realities of God. Trends can be great for teaching and encouragement! But now I also see how Christian trends can be a double-edged sword. At some point, the enduring truths they present have to be made distinct from the transient nature of the fads they're presented in.
Somewhere amid the ever-flowing stream of new things and old things are the things that are timeless—have always been, and will always be. These are the most important things to know in life. The only things to cling to. And no matter how we first meet Christ, one of the most important things we have to learn about Him is that He is the King of all these things. He is worth the hype, but He doesn't depend on it. He doesn't come and go. He just is.
Every once in a while, I still put Five Iron Frenzy on in the car, and I realize how much those simple truths I initially learned from that music still influence my understanding of God today (Dandelions can still make me cry). I remember my old friends, how much we once loved Jesus together. How "on fire" we were for the Gospel. Mostly, I remember how passionate and courageous we were about our faith. Maybe eventually, like when ska is in the height of being retro-cool, or sometime... Or just when life's circumstances turn our attention upward again, it will remind us all of a God who has always loved us, ska or no ska. Cool or not. And if that does happen, I can only pray that when the music fades again, we really will go deeper this time, and that deeper faith in Christ will stick.