Katie’s dad took us to our first concert in middle school, enduring 100 degree temps, ear plugs, and a sea of rowdy youth to win his firstborn’s heart. My parents would never in a million years have accompanied us to see the Violent Femmes, but they were down with handing over their mini van keys a few years later. Newly licensed and suburban bred, I was unaccustomed to highway merging and city driving, but hell if that would keep us from Phish with the hippies, Dave Matthews with the frat boys, U2 with the youth group kids, and myriad festival shows that endeared 90s alt-rock to us forever.
Do you remember when ska was a thing and how it got us dancing? Skanking is the genre’s two-step, an exuberant jumble of hunched-bouncing, skip-kicking, elbow-swinging, and air-punching. Ballroom it was not (and despite its name, it bore no resemblance to club dancing either!).
When I was in college, third wave ska was having its last hurrah. A local band played campus, and I danced my heart out, catching the eye of a cute boy with blue and blond spotted hair.
“I never met a girl who could skank like that,” he confessed with a smile.
That sounds truly terrible. Apologies all around.
I’d seen ska shows before–The Bosstones, The Specials, Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish–but I’d taken them all in from the sidelines as a spectator, afraid that the cool police might out me as a poseur for not abiding unspoken rules of engagement. I hadn’t learned to skank in any legit mosh pit anywhere. Nope, my technique was honed at Christian music festivals and in church sanctuaries, fists pumping to the Jesus-praising horn sections of The Supertones, Five Iron Frenzy, The Insydyrz, and The W’s.
This is my confession. Come and get me, cool police.
Teenage girls are culturally programmed to be self-conscious (which the public scrutiny of women’s bodies does little to ameliorate), but somehow I found momentary freedom from that at Christian rock shows, which pushed me out of living primarily in my head and freed me to exorcise my insecurities on the dance floor. In a sweaty Supertones concert pit on a Pennsylvania farm, I inhabited my own body with the sort of jubilance usually reserved for athletes, earth mamas, and the naturally confident. (And the heathens, natch.)
Christians can be a bit body-phobic, can’t we, uncomfortably embarrassed by our own bodily needs, desires, and weaknesses? I’m not convinced that Jesus was, though. He healed with his hands and looked fallen women in the eye. He broke bread with friends and used metaphors that connected spiritual truths to the stuff of bodies and earth. He stripped to the waist to wash his disciples’ feet and scandalized many by allowing a sinful woman to anoint his own feet with perfume, bathing them in tears and drying them with her hair. He defied religious custom to embrace those whose very touch would make him ritually unclean.
Jesus, the incarnate God-with-us, lived a human life replete with bodily joy, pain, kindness, and indignity. You know that quote that people falsely attribute to C.S. Lewis about how we aren’t bodies but souls who happen to reside in bodies?
That there leads to some pretty jacked up theology.
Our physical selves were knit by God to be wholly entwined with our spirituality, and the latter doesn’t trump the former. In the Nicene Creed, we affirm the resurrection of the dead. Even in heaven we’ll have bodies, and it makes little sense to live spiritual lives divorced from our bodily ones here on earth.
I grew out of my Christian rock phase but remain grateful for lessons learned there in self-forgetfulness and embodied living. In a strangely unexpected way, Christian concerts helped me to begin feeling at home in my own skin. As a wayfarer in the subculture, it did not serve merely as a “bubble” to protect, a mediator of the divine, or a fence to keep me separate from the world. Instead, The Supertones were a launching pad for me to learn to silence my inner critic, to see God outside the church, and to live a more fully incarnate faith.
And they basically introduced me to the blue haired boy, too. Thanks, Christian rock. I could have done a lot worse than you.