Monday, April 30, 2012

Confessions of an ageing mod

It was an early start for a Saturday morning. Up at 6.30am for an 8.00am meeting. That's right 8.00am on a Saturday. But with the promise of tasty bacon butties, washed down with a mug of two of steaming hot coffee, off I went to a men's breakfast at Clink Evangelical Church, Frome. Well, it was the food and the fact that I'd agreed to speak at the meeting that got me out of bed so early on a Saturday. I'm happy to say that the breakfast was great and I enjoyed the fellowship. Whether my talk was any good I'm  not so sure, but here's more or less what I had to say.

From mod to God

The 1980's witnessed something of a mod revival. Sharp three button suits and crisp button-down shirts replaced the wilful ugliness of punk. A generation of teenagers rediscovered Motown soul classics and reconnected with The Who, The Kinks and The Small Faces. All of this was inspired by a slew of mod revival bands; Secret Affair, The Merton Parkas, and above all, The Jam. In March 1980 Going Underground topped the charts for three weeks in a row. The mods were back. 'Bliss was it to be alive in that dawn. But to be young was very heaven!' (With apologies to William Wordsworth). At least that's what I thought at the time.

Being a mod was both a help and a hindrance in my journey towards the Christian faith. 

Man in the corner shop

In my mid-teens I became disillusioned with atheism and became more and more attracted to belief in God. It was all a little vague and hazy at the time, but I remember looking at the beauty of nature and thinking, "Wow. God, not the Big Bang must have made this world." That realisation didn't really change my lifestyle much, but it was a step in the right direction. Going to a local church youth group also helped to concentrate my mind on matters of faith.

Some of the music that I listened to at the time also made me think. There is a song on The Jam's album, Sound Affects called, Man in the Corner Shop. It's all about thwarted aspiration and inter-class rivalry. The shop customer is jealous of the shop owner, and the shop owner in turn is jealous of the boss from the factory. Unexpectedly, this social disharmony is resolved not by a Marxist revolution, but by the people of the area going to church,

Go to church do the people from the area,
All shapes and classes sit and pray together.
For here they are all one,
For God created all men equal.

But what is it that causes people to envy and hate one another? Paul Weller reflects on this in Carnation,  a song from the The Jam's last studio album, The Gift.

It begins,

If you gave me a fresh carnation
I would only crush its tender petals
With me you'll have no escape
And at the same time there'll be nowhere to settle -

The song continues,

I am out of season all year 'round
Hear machinery roar to my empty sound
Touch my heart and feel winter
Hold my hand and be doomed forever -

But what is this incarnation of cruelty and heartlessness? In the last verse Weller hold up a mirror to his listeners,

And if you're wondering by now who I am
Look no further than the mirror -
Because I am the Greed and Fear
And every ounce of Hate in you.

Like Nathan the prophet to king David, Weller is saying, "You are the man" (2 Samuel 12:7). You are the problem. You are the sinner. He offers no way of salvation, but Carnation confronts us with the reality of own own personal sinfulness. The song haunted my imagination and wouldn't go away. It was one of the means by which the Lord pursued me.

The enemy

In mod mythology the greatest battle of world history was not Thermopylae, where the three hundred Spartan 'Immortals' held a million Persian invaders at bay. Neither was it Trafalgar, Waterloo, World War I, or World War II. Rather it was the clash of parka wearing mods and leather clad rockers on Brighton beach in 1964. Churchill's words at the height of the Second Word War were appropriated in commemoration of the affray, "We'll fight them on the beaches". This exposes something of the ugly heart of the mod movement and its association with mindless violence and tribalism. In the 1980's the enemy was not rockers, but punks and skinheads. But the old hatred of other tribes that sometimes erupted into violence was just the same.

However, I came to realise that my biggest enemy was not a punk with spiked-up hair or a skinhead with Doctor Martin boots, but the enemy within. How was I going to win the battle against myself, against the 'greed and fear and every ounce of hate in me'? The mod movement provided no answers to that question. That is why I needed Christ.

The Son of God became man in order to destroy the works of the evil one. By his perfect life, atoning death and mighty resurrection Jesus has defeated our true enemy; the dark alliance of Satan, sin and death. Jesus offers all who believe in him forgiveness of sin, the power of his Spirit within and the hope of everlasting life. This now is my song, 

In Eden - sad indeed that day -
My countless blessings fled away,
  My crown fell in disgrace.
But on victorious Calvary
That crown was won again for me -
  My life shall all be praise

Faith! See the place, and see the tree
Where heaven's Prince, instead of me,
  Was nailed to bear my shame.
Bruised was the serpent by the Son,
Though two had wounds, there conquered One -
  And Jesus was His Name.
(William Williams, 1717-91) 

Porcelain gods

My mod hero was The Jam's frontman, Paul Weller. I doggedly collected all The Jam's singles on vinyl and tried to copy Weller's style. The standard rig-out was Sta-Prest trousers, bowling shoes, worn with white socks and a Fred Perry polo shirt. My outlook on life was deeply influenced by the message of Weller's songs. For me he was a real pop idol. But that idol had to be broken. Weller couldn't save me from sin, or give my life meaning and purpose. The sorry trail of broken relationships that has marked his life, together with the musician's well-documented problems with drink and drugs testify to his own need of God’s life-transforming power.  As Weller said himself on his solo album, Stanley Road, he was 'just a porcelain god that shatters when it falls'.

On his return to form album, 22 Dreams, Weller has a track entitled, God. The song makes some good points about people only calling on the Almighty when they need him. But Weller's attempt to bargain with God (“save the lives of those I love/And take me instead”) belies the fact that his "God" is not the gracious and loving God of the Gospel who freely offers us grace and mercy in Christ. 

I still like Paul Weller's his music, at least some of it. I was glad to see his new album, Sonik Kicks reach number one. But he is no longer my idol. Now I worship another, the one true and living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is my Creator, my Redeemer, my Lord, my hope, my life. “The gods of the nations are idols, but our God made the heavens.” (Psalm 96:5).

Looking Good isn't important, it's everything

Being a mod meant looking the part. The mod's favourite fashion label is Ben Sherman, whose motto is,

"Looking Good isn't important, it's everything."

While I still may be partial to a nice Ben Sherman shirt or pair of jeans, I don't agree that looking good is everything. After all, being overly concerned with looks and style is vain and superficial. That said, as befits an ageing mod, all my suits have three button jackets, and my ties tend to be on the skinny side. Once a mod always a mod.

The Christian vision of looking good involves more than clothing. Living the Christian life involves putting off the old life of sin and putting on a new life of holiness and love, Ephesians 4:22-24. That's looking good by being good, Matthew 5:16. 

Mods aspired to be 'The Face', the trendsetting cool dude with all the right threads. But for the believer nothing matters more than seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and being made like him, 2  Corinthians 4:18.*


Bryan Hardman said...

Thanks Guy. Much appreciated your
testimony, though much of it was foreign to me. You are a generation before me! God is great and ever gracious. Bryan

Leslie Wolf said...

It is interesting to me that many people who come to faith speak of Jesus answering a question or filling a need that they had. What is interesting to me about this is the variety of the questions that Jesus answers and the variety of needs that He fills. At the same time, I imagine that there is a great deal of commonality underlying these questions and needs. In fact, I imagine that people who come to faith in Christ today often have much in common with first-century Palestinian Jews who accepted Him. Anyway, your post was interesting. And, I don't know what bacon butties are, but I'm sure they're delicious.

Iqbal Ismail Calcuttawala's Blog. said...

The Sermon the mount. The tables of Moses and the Quran all say the same things. Greed is the cause of all human misery. feed the poor, look after the disadvantaged, avoid the seven deadly sins and you prosper.

Guy Davies said...

The trouble is that we are all sinners who have broken God's law and therefore incur his judgement. That is why Jesus came to die on the cross for our sins. He alone can put us right with God.

Bernard Martin said...

Hi Guy,

Thanks for that. I'm a regular reader of your blog and appreciate much of what you post. It's interesting to hear more of your background and how the Lord sought you out.

Many thanks - and keep posting.