Straight edged

I just finished the book “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Play List.”  It was outstanding, if a bit provacative. 

The title characters are “straight edge.”  A straight edge is a member of the punk/punk rock/hard core/loud, annoying music scene who publicly take a stand against drugs and alchohol.  They often commit to abstaining from sexual contact, eating meat, and consuming nicotine or even cafienne.  It’s not a particularly new or obscure movement.  They are pretty well known and take these comittments very seriously.

While I was aware of the whole straight edge thing, I’d never given it much thought.  One of the things that occured to me, while reading the book, was “Finally!  People at ground zero of all the destruction caused by drugs and extra-maritial sex are responding to this destruction!  We can use this to do some good.”

I’ve tried to explain the second thought I had about four times now and I keep deleting it because it doesn’t sound right.  I’m going to give up on trying to be delicate here.  I hope that folks who know me know my heart and will be able to hear this the way I mean it. 

My second thought was that it’s unfortunate that the whole straight edge thing is mostly a white thing.

This is probably because the larger world of punk rock (or whatever we’re supposed to call it now) is mostly a white thing.  And I’m all for people regardless of skin color staying away from drugs, sex, etc.  It’s not a bad thing that millions of white kids are making a public stance against these things.

But I wish that it could spread into the neighborhoods of other ethnicities.  The problems that straight edges resist are at least as large in African-American communities, Latino communities, even some South east Asian communities.

I found myself wondering: Is there an equivalent to the whole straight edge thing in other communities?  A  resounding, tough, and cool “No” to things like drugs?

The two closest equivalents I could come up with are going to annoy people.  Get ready, if you’re the sort who is easily annoyed.

The closest I can come to the straight edge experience in minority communities is The Black Panthers and the Fruits of Islam of Malcolm X fame.

Both of these groups have done and said terrible things.  But these terrible things have been distorted, over generalized, and taken out of context.   The Black Panthers, particularly, have done some remarkable things that get conveniently forgotten.

And so this makes me wonder: Do we set these groups up?  Out of one side of our mouths, do we wish for more “moral” behavior out of minority groups, but when minority groups actually behave this way, do we fear them and beat them down?  (The “we” here is a collective “we.”  All of us.  Society, the press, the whole thing.)

There is another important question here: Why can’t we, as followers of Christ, create something with the persuasive power of the straight edges?  That dude on the MTV music awards was an idiot.  But he went after promise rings, not straight edges.  Why are Christian morality stances such easy targets?  Is it simply because a straight edge doesn’t necessarily take a stance against violence?  Do they mantain an heir of cool and toughness because they’ll still stomp you with their combat boots, even if they are sober? 

I know that I’ve taken a sabbatical from politics lately and this might seem a violation of my self-imposed exile, to some people.  Clearly my reflections here have political overtones.  But I’m o.k. with that.  I’ve still got lots to work out around the whole Christian/political thing.  (And please know that it was so tempting, this week, to post quite explicitly about the goings on recently in politics)

One realization that is crystal clear, through this sabbatical is that in some sense Jesus didn’t at all care about the political ramifications of his actions.  He never tried to be political, I think, anymore than he tried to be apolitical.  He just was.  And if people saw that as political, or if they saw it as apolitical, it seemed to not matter at all to him.

And that’s how I feel about this topic a bit: I think that I’m speaking the truth as best as I can, here.  It’s quite irrelevant to me if we label this as a politically charged truth.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Straight edged”

  1. Jeff,
    Ahhhhhh! What a breath of fresh air!

    Not that your usual thoughts are stale…much;o)

    i don’t find this topic a breach of sabatical at all. i think you’ve actually come to the crossroads where true spirituality and politics converge, and depart.

    i ended up trying to have a discussion of this nature with a friend of mine the other day, but unfortunately i kind of stumbled into it by saying something “off-putting”. Any hope of salvaging the conversation after that was remote.

    She had made an off-hand comment about a certain candidate’s religious affiliations to which i replied, “…at least she’s not a Mormon”. You can kind of see where that one was going to go.

    The point i wanted to make before getting her back on her heels was that there’s a lot of good being done in the world, and there are groups that do certain “things” really well. These individuals and the organizations also have things they don’t do so well. Call them character flaws, if you will. Too often it gives fodder for detractors on which to focus and the net result is a loss of perspective due to an imbalance of worldviews.

    It’s the whole system of putting someone else’s thing down to make ourselves feel better about our own thing. It’s quite “lifeboat-y”.

    I’m reminded of the Don Miller observation about the unsightly kid in Middle School who was so beyond misfit that even the geeks were glad they weren’t him.

    This is one way the Adversary obfuscates the truth of Christ.

    Think of all the groups you mentioned – even Christianity; the flaw they all have in common is legalism. It can be very effective in disciplining its members to live ‘straight edged’ lives. The gains are great and tempting because of the structure and order that come with them; predictability and security etal. There’s even a component of moral self-satisfaction at the success of overcoming the destructive effects of depravity.

    This shared character flaw has unfortunately supplanted the only truly needed thing: grace.

    They have all set themselves up as enemies of God by denying the mercy and grace found in the person of Jesus. (At this point i’m wondering if anyone is aghast that i’m still including Christianity. i believe that ‘the church’ especially should be included. Because of it’s failure to adhere to this message, every other group is encouraged to flourish under its own tennets.)

    It is humanism run ammok (among other things).


  2. Garret, your comments are usually so thought-provoking that it’s a shame to bury them at the bottom of a post. I consider a lot of these interesting points and wrote a new post, called “Is it better to burn to death or to down”. I hope you’ll read and comment.

    A few things I didn’t say there, in reference to your comment:
    The stuff about character flaws is so right-on. We sometimes feel frustrated that there isn’t more guidance in scripture about what the church ought to be. Maybe that’s the point: it’s deliberately vague so that different churches can have different strengths and weaknesses.


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