I started touring with a lot of Christian bands who no longer consider themselves such. And not in the we-are-still-Christians-but-we-don't-use-that-descriptor-for-our-art-anymore kind of way. I get that. I don't really push that noun as an adjective anymore either, but that's not what I mean.
A few years back, I toured through Knoxville, Tennessee, and spent some time talking to a promoter who'd booked shows for myself and many of the artists involved in the scene at the time. He was cycling through bands' names, reminiscing of the first shows he'd booked for them as ministry-driven artists with a passion for the gospel. He went on to describe the last times they'd come through as self-proclaimed... whatever-ists.
He talked about how disappointing it was; how sad it was; how surprised he was.
I was not surprised.
I don't know what it's like for everyone - and I'm not as familiar with what touring looks like in the world of hip hop - but in the hardcore scene, when you tour, you tour all the time. Partially because you're paying your dues, and partially out of necessity. The hardcore scene doesn't have any money, so you're playing DIY shows and (maybe) filling up your gas tank. The first year I started touring, I was on the road for ten months. The second, eight. When my wife and I got married, she joined a band that I'd been touring with a lot so that we could all tour together. We spent the entire first year of our marriage on the road in an RV with three to four other people and two dogs - newlyweds "sleeping" behind a curtain on the bed above the cabin of the truck. When we "moved" back to Albuquerque, we lived with my in-laws and spent the next two years on the road, five to seven months each, out all over the place. Last year was the slowest year I've had in the history of Levi The Poet, and we were still gone for close to four months.
Consistent moving only means inconsistent everything. It means new places, new faces, new cultures, new conversations every single night. It means introductions to new ideas and the upending of old ones. And for most of us who start out in the scene, that all happens straight of out mom and dad's house because that's where we ended up when - in our insecurity - we found ourselves attracted to the "rebellion" of hardcore dancing (or the "edginess" of screaming Bible verses). Or just because we liked it. I'm not throwing us all under the bus - some people just straight liked it.
I say all of that to say that it takes extreme intentionality to stay grounded.
To stay connected.
So what doesn't make sense when, after years of leaving, you don't find yourself staying where you started?
When I started touring in 2009, I stumbled across the Mars Hill Church podcast. Trust me, I'm as familiar with downfall of that church as anyone can be, but when I first discovered Mark Driscoll, the Lord used him to radically change my life. His sermons became a semblance of consistency to me while I was gone and then, when my church merged to become the first out-of-state satellite campus that Mars Hill launched, my grounding became even more solidified. Because our church was so big, smaller community groups were huge for discipleship and development. And because our community groups were largely based upon sermon discussion, I was able to stay connected with my church from afar, as one of its first members, through the technology that Mars Hill triumphed.
I hope that what has happened in recent years regarding MHC will not overshadow the point here: we are designed for community. It's another part of the Imago Dei that we have been gifted with reflecting. We need one another, and I am on the conviction that it is not just vague togetherness we need, either. I think God works to save and keep his people through the local church. I have all kind of disconnected togetherness on the road, but what I need is grounding in and submission to a local body, and local authority, who are there to provide a reality check when mine begins to run askew.
One of the dominating principles of the scene when I was more heavily involved in it was Don't go to church - be the church. Bands would print it on their merch next to shirts that said, "I'm not going to hell for my tattoos" and stuff. Cool. To be fair, though, the hardcore scene was and is made up of a lot of disillusioned outcasts whom the church has practically excommunicated for reasons that weigh heavily on openhanded issues having more to do with outward, preferential disagreements or judgements than they do with true, inward, gospel realities. I will not go into a critique without compassion. I am that kid. But while I like the idea of being the church 'cause, uh, we already are...
But go, too. Go to church.
I'm reminded of Paul's charge to Timothy for the church at Ephesus. In essence, he was to lovingly guard those in the faith; guard against speculative wanderings from the truth of the gospel. I think it's safe to say that touring artists are especially prone to those wanderings. I know we all have those leanings away from truth, so I don't want to get all hierarchical, but... yeah, I'm just gonna call us high-risk. I don't know what the future holds for me, but I pray that the Spirit would lovingly and continually reinforce my conviction that devotion to a local grounding is essential for my preservation that he himself is devoted to.
Let's not kid ourselves. It can and will suck, sometimes. But let's not neglect the bride. And to those who lead, thank you. To those who've worked hard to help keep us grounded, thank you. To those who've texted and called and prayed and been there when we've come back, thank you. I'm convinced that God has worked through you more than I'll ever be able to give you credit for, and I hope your reward in heaven is great in proportion to the great annoyance that we free spirits can be in your midst.