I first heard Body Count when I was a senior in high school. It was a powerful and irresistible clash of Ice-T’s lyrical genius and that hard-core heavy metal sound which fueled the angst of my youthful years. It was also the first years of those (now ubiquitous) parental advisory stickers, warning our parents of the danger that lurked within. And to be sure, there was danger. It was violent and profane and hard core, and I secretly loved it all.
Shortly after my graduation from high school, as I surfed away my credits at our local community college with no idea what to do next with my life, another force of youthful power came on the scene. For that is when Stone Cold Steve Austin signed with the WWF. Stone Cold was a crass, beer-drinking antihero that regularly gave the bird to the establishment, and he was a force to be reckoned with, and we loved him for it. When he defeated the famous Jake “The Snake” Roberts he mocked Roberts born-again religion by holding up a sign that read “Austin 3:16”. A sign that would be carried by fans for years to come. He didn’t give a shit what you thought and backed up his trash talk with action.
Long before Grand Theft Auto and first-person shooter games I was being corrupted by Ice-T and Stone Cold, by Body Count and the World Wrestling Federation. Sure, it was all coated with sex and violence but at least these controversial figures made a stand. At least they were willing to shake things up and give a young impressionable man some dissention to aspire towards. Mom could make the bland old argument of peer pressure resistance by saying, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff would you do it too?” But Stone Cold would just give them the finger and stick to principles that were bigger and more sacred than what everyone else was doing.
These figures (along with a few others) were larger than life. I still remember them and can trace their influence on me well over 25 years later. In fact, when I first became a pastor that same spirit still coursed through my veins. I didn’t want to just play nice and get along with everyone else. I saw massive opportunities to push back against the established order, to resist the bureaucracy, to redefine alliances. And I saw such things not only as good, but in many ways necessary. The structures of the church had a way of stifling the Gospel, of elevating rules and procedures over the proclamation the Word.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one who saw such things. Many of my colleagues, especially those of the same generation as myself all seemed to have the spirit of nonconformity. And as I would speak with older, more seasoned colleagues they would often say things about my friends and I that I hated to hear. They would say, “Man, you guys remind me of how we were when we first became pastors.” Or, “I like hanging out with the younger guys. I miss that spit and vinegar.” What bothered me about that was the idea that time and age would slow me down, that I would no longer care about such things or fight for such things, or perhaps even see them as important anymore. Instead, I would just settle into the routine, accept my position and role in life, and see how the days unfold.
I hated that notion. I wanted to keep the fire, keep the edge, be a force to reckon with like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin or the unshakable Ice-T. Then, just the other day, as I was driving home, I heard a new ad on the radio. It was for a Tide commercial for their new #turntocold campaign, in which they are trying to get people to wash their clothes in cold water, thus saving energy and promoting Tide detergent. And who were their spokesmen? That’s right Ice-T and Steve Austin. Now I get the whole “cold” connection and why they would do this. I understand that it is a clever shift from the usual detergent ads. But it made me a little sad to realize that these influential, powerful, and divisive men were now hocking Tide detergent and encouraging everyone to conserve energy. What?
What happened to the swagger? What happened to the anti-establishment message? What happened to the hard-core image? Well, I suppose we would say that money happened to it. A life of leisure or expensive tastes overrides those base principles. But I fear the reality is that it was age that changed things. Like those senior pastors I met years ago, they just don’t have that same fight in their gut. So, they settle into a new norm.
I’ve noticed this creeping comfort in my own life. The pride and toughness that is found in the struggle and fight of ordinary life is beginning to ebb away. The fight quite often produces little to no observable change, so why expend the effort? It is getting easier and easier to just go with the flow. Allow the establishment to just do its thing and I’ll do mine, and we don’t need to worry too much about it. We’ve all done it, or we will one day. Age has a perfect body count.
Then again… Austin 3:16!!!!