In the summer of 1991 I turned ten years old. I was younger than my peers with a July birthday and heading into 5th grade. Up until that point I had accumulated a collection of cassette tapes that included songs from bands like Poison, Warrant and Motley Crue, who were “hair metal bands” that wore spandex, teased out and dyed their hair, put on massive concerts with insanely expensive pyrotechnics, lighting, and stage tricks, and composed and recorded very basic, very poppy, at times extremely cheesy hard rock guitar songs (as well as corny, acoustic power ballads) about womanizing, having sex with groupies, getting high and drunk, driving expensive cars, living in huge houses, and blowing tens of thousands of dollars on a lavish lifestyle. This was all portrayed intensely in all of their music videos on MTV.
Then, right as my fifth grade year started, Aug. 27th, 1991 brought the release of Pearl Jam’s album “Ten”. All of a sudden those of us religiously watching MTV on actual TVs in living rooms before live streaming and smart phones were seeing these extravagant hair metal bands contrasted with Eddie Vedder, singing introspectively over beautiful, melodic, guitar driven compositions of a higher musicality. He sang about being grateful to be alive, about kids being bullied, suicide, homelessness, about heartbreak, and about radical, intellectual politics. All of a sudden instead of merely having my adolescent hedonistic, sensual fantasies catered to, I was being provoked to think, to be sad, and even to be moved by beauty or to cry. It was jarring. It was amazing. I bought that album on cassette tape and played it over and over and over on my yellow Sony Walkman with poofy headphones.
Sept. 24th, 1991 rolled around and Nirvana’s album “Nevermind” hit the cassette and CD shelves. All of a sudden those of us habitually watching MTV saw Kurt Cobain, who appeared unkempt and unshowered, wearing thrift store clothes, and singing wildly metaphorical, poetic lyrics about teenage angst and social estrangement. And this was laid on top of gritty guitar, bass and drums that seemingly infused the melodic pop sensibility of the Beatles, the muddy attack of Black Sabbath, and the out of box approach of Sonic Youth. It was jarring. It was wonderful. It changed culture. It changed the way people dressed, styled their hair, and spoke. It changed what people found interesting. It brought the underground to the foreground. It made substance and depth “cool”.
Jesus was Pearl Jam and Nirvana to the glam rock religious establishment of His day. What Jesus did flipped the status quo out! It was a new cloth, a new wineskin! It was revolutionary! People who thought they were ousted from God and His people were all of a sudden invited in with open arms. Those who appeared to have it all together for God were being called out for hypocrisy and fakeness. It was jarring! It was wonderful! It was life changing and life transforming for so so many, and unlike grunge, which fizzled out in a matter of months, it continues to revolutionize people’s lives today.
And new cloth and new wineskins are always needed. New expressions of ministry and the Church are constantly needed. We’re missionaries to a constantly changing context with constantly shifting philosophies, styles, and interests. I’m not saying we need to be people pleasers for the world. I am saying that we need to be both biblically faithful, bold, truthful, and relevant all at the same time.