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Listening to NPR the other day I heard a story about a metal band from New Zealand with the name Alien Weaponry. What makes their story unique is the language they use in their songs—Te Reo Māori, the language of the indigenous Māori people. Here’s a snippet of the NPR story:
“Brothers and bandmates Henry and Lewis de Jong, 17 and 15 respectively, were brought up on two things: Māori culture and metal music.
The two New Zealand natives fully embraced their heritage at a young age. They attended a Māori immersion primary school — known as a Kura Kaupapa — where they learned to speak fluent Te Reo Māori, the language of the country’s indigenous population. Meanwhile at home, the boys were also being brought up on metal music. Their father-turned-band manager, Niel, used to quiz them on the music of Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Lamb of God and Pantera.”
So I went to Spotify and gave it a listen, clicking on their newest release—Ru Ana Te Whenua. That was two days ago. Since then, I’ve talked about it with anyone who will listen, as my students would tell you if they weren’t busy rolling their eyes.
I’ve also been discussing Kenda Dean’s book Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church with these same eye rolling students. An important part of her argument is the belief that the American church is failing young people. Not because we don’t give them enough high tech entertainment, but because we’re not giving them the gospel. Dean argues that the American church has settled for a flimsy counterfeit gospel a mile wide and not even an inch deep. She uses the term Moral Therapeutic Deism, which makes sense. But it’s also an over spiritualized gospel—the same gospel that Marx and Nietzsche abhorred. You know, the idea that we’re going to some spiritual heaven when we die, so don’t feel sad when people die, don’t mix religion and politics, because Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” So just be nice, play ball, and fit in. Whatever you do, don’t rock the boat. In the end, the Christianity we give young people is boring. It’s moralistic, shallow, and often includes forcing young people to participate in “worship” with way too much moaning, guitar backed prayers, and lyrics that don’t make any sense. I mean, come on, we sing that God is “indescribable” as we spend way to much time describing God? And then we wonder why young people bolt when they get the chance.
So, what does this have to do with a metal band from New Zealand? Alien Weaponry taps into something deeper and more meaningful—a mysterious power expressed in the music, language, and symbols of heavy metal. These teenagers have dedicated themselves to something important—the preservation of a language and way of life—through a from of cultural expression that matches the gravitas of the subject matter. What do we give our young people? Trite slogans, bible verses pulled out of context, and a version of Christianity that renders much of life meaningless. Thankfully, Christmas is coming. A time when we remember the story of a baby born in a manger, who, it turns out, is a Lord and King born during the reign of another emperor and lord. It’s about a baby that reveals incarnation, God in the flesh, whose birth immediately infuses all things, material and immaterial, with profound meaning. It’s about a baby who’s life and ministry provides a sign of a different way of life, a “new creation”, that immediately threatens those in positions of power and authority. From the religious leaders, to the politicians, to those who have no regard for the lives of the poor, the young, the old, or the sick—Christmas is about a baby who comes to change things.
Sure, we can give our young people programs and systems that promote pious complacency. Or, we can faithfully bear witness to the gospel of revolutionary transformation, a way of life that can sustain their deep longing, their questions and doubts, and their desire for a deeper life.