Something in the Way: The First Car, Nirvana and Growing Up Christian


I had just turned 15 when my older brother Travis and I got our first car. Growing up in a homeschooling family of four boys, there were few things that you could truly call “mine.” Even all of the Lego sets, given individually at Christmas or birthdays, eventually were deconstructed into a communal tub for all to use. So it was fitting that “my” first car wasn’t really mine at all. Plus, at the time, I only had my learner’s permit. But, Mom and Dad paid half and Travis and I paid the other half.

It was a silver 1989 Dodge Raider, so boxy and top heavy that high school friends would later call it the “box on wheels.” The Raider faithfully served all four Sides boys in high school, and to this day still sits in my parents’ garage, albeit in need of a new radiator.

We bought the Raider from Dad’s youngest brother Steve. At the time, Steve, his wife Nikki and infant son Mitch were living in Missouri, and they joined us for Thanksgiving that year. It was 1999, and no one was really sure if there was going to be a Thanksgiving next year.

The plan was for Steve to drive the Raider while Nikki drove their primary car, a Toyota Land Cruiser. They’d leave the Raider with us and go back home together. En route, somewhere around Kansas City, the Raider broke down. The shop wouldn’t have it fixed until a day or two after Thanksgiving, so Steve and Nikki left it and spent what might have been their last Thanksgiving with us.

On the morning of the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Travis and I hopped in their Land Cruiser and rode down to Kansas City to pick up the Raider. I don’t remember seeing the Raider for the first time, but I do remember feeling stunned that our parents were letting a 15 year-old and not-quite-17-year-old make the nearly seven-hour drive home all by themselves.

We celebrated the occasion in the best possible fashion: by listening to Nirvana’s universe-altering album Nevermind. I manned the portable CD player (with marginal anti-skip protection) and the tape adapter, and as we drove north on I-29, I knew life would never be the same again.

A Tale of Two Albums

Nevermind wasn’t all we listened to, mind you. We were, after all, homeschooling evangelicals, and good, homeschooling evangelicals don’t (just) listen to Nirvana. For a good stretch of the journey, we rocked out in holy array to Sonicflood’s self-titled debut album. From my perspective, it’s hard to state how quintessential Sonicflood’s first album was. I would argue that it came to define all of Christian culture in the 1990s. It was at once urgent and innocuous: It produced soaring worship songs many churches still sing today; yet it also gave teenage Christendom everything it clamored for in those waning days of the millennium: Noise, self-righteous expression, and an incubator-like warmth that kept us safe from the real world that existed on the other side of the CD aisle in the mall music store. There, in those purple neon waters, floated every single American teenage Christian, grasping for we knew not what, looking towards a seemingly blank horizon.

If Sonicflood was the defining cultural artifact of Christianity in the 90s, then Nevermind was the crowning glory of culture – period – in the 90s. There’s nothing I can really add to the conversation about its place in pop culture and the effect it had on the American psyche, and Kurt Cobain’s suicide only added to the mythification of the album. But it is worth pointing out that its album artwork, like Sonicflood’s, featured someone grasping for something in a body of water. With Nevermind, at least the object was verifiable, tangible. No horizon, though, just the self-made waters of our own consciousness, the existential struggle for identity and purpose in this world.

On lonely stretches of I-29 as it traced the Missouri river in the space between Nebraska and Iowa, these two albums traded places in the portable CD player of two teenagers growing ever more into manhood with each mile that rolled across the odometer. Two albums: One composed at the dawn of the decade, and the other near its twilight. Nirvana and Sonicflood: so different, yet so similar.

I’ve always found it odd that my brother and I could listen to these albums interchangeably without any apparent sense of contradiction. I’ve had 13 years of reflection since that evening to try to sort out this paradox, and I think most of it revolves around the fact that I couldn’t fit all of life’s experiences and desires in a constant loop of CCM-sanctioned praise and worship music, no matter how “edgy” the style. I couldn’t justify a life lived totally inside that bubble, enveloped in those comfortable neon waters.

Circling the Wagons on Our Own Subculture

It should be noted that these are fairly personal takes on Sonicflood and the CCM industrial complex circa 1999. If you follow this blog regularly enough, you’ll know that I have a certain affinity and appreciation for Christian bands that boomed in the mid 90s. There may be some of you reading this that still follow Sonicflood, and your time listening to them may be a source of encouragement in your relationship with Christ. I don’t want to paint with an absolute brush on the value of late-90s Christian anthem/praise rock. But the bubble I began running into at this point in my life was that of a sentimental expression of faith that had very little grounding in what was going on in my life, and even life in general. The social expectation to stay within the confines of “Christian” culture seemed troubling to me. American Christianity kept burying its head deeper into its own patch of sand, kept circling the wagons closer and closer together. I didn’t get it. Why the fear of the “other” culture? We were quarantining our faith to the point where we had no thought to even look for the similarities/differences in Nirvana and Sonicflood cover art. It’s no wonder, then, that we awoke on the morning of November 7, 2012, asking, “What happened?” We got stuck in our own cultural idol factory, that’s what happened, and we had very little idea where the country as a whole was heading. We separated Christian life from life itself, and the world noticed.

Therefore, for this teenager at least, Nevermind was not just about music appreciation, though that was certainly part of it. No, it was more about discovering those parts of my heart, soul and mind that were Davidic in their angst, frustration and authenticity. I was seeing the other side of reality for what it was, and not for what I thought it should be. I was learning about the way the world worked, about things in my own life that I had never fully placed into grunge’s sallow light. Not that such an education was always “positive,” and not that I should deem “good” those things I learned about myself/the world from Nirvana, but there’s something deep and real going on when an entire generation can identify so fully with the likes of Cobain. I think I was able to put name and form to things I had been told shouldn’t even be in my own life. And yet there they were. How was I to handle them? There was no way – for me, at least – Sonicflood could offer any tangible relief to this tension. They offered an adoration and an attitude that I oftentimes felt got in the way of what I was trying to process. There was very little room for “struggle” in late-90s Christianity. Whether the struggle was against dating rules or specific beliefs that didn’t quite make sense to young minds, we were constantly told that if I didn’t want to “know You more,” then something was horribly wrong.

Which is true in the deep sense of it, but I don’t get more of a desire to “know You more” from listening to that song one more time. If Sonicflood – and, by extension, all other late-90s CCM rock – was a Psalmist, they’d skip the top half of the psalm – all the grungy inconsistencies of life – and skip straight to the praise chorus at the bottom.

So, as I rode shotgun in a 1989 Dodge Raider, as the late November sun put Iowa to sleep, I played Nevermind. “Something in the Way” became the most repeated track of the drive, and it will always be the lasting audible memory of that journey.

Then again, it could all just be teenage angst that had no purpose to it except to be angsty. Which is entirely possible. But every year around Thanksgiving, I drift back to that road trip – that first true road trip. To call it “formative” is an understatement. You can’t get much more Americana than teenagers in a new (to them) car, on their own, listening to Nirvana … and yet still feeling a connection with their Father God, Who they knew to be good and real and true.

I remember the details in snippets or flashes, really. Flashes of sun on razed cornfields and barren trees; the way the Raider smelled, the lights on the dash; the pride we felt when we showed it off to friends before we got home. And beneath it all, without fail, the lone guitar and desperate cello of “Something in the Way,” playing over and over again as we drove into the night.


Beyond the Blog

Looking for more resources on Christianity's role in cultural engagement? The Mockingbird blog "seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life." They do fabulous work in what I call "gospel criticism." Also, Nancy Pearcey's book Saving Leonardo should be recommended reading for every believer in this day and age. It's a mind-blowing analysis of worldview, art and science.

Second Helping: Some More Thoughts on Thankfulness


I was wrestling with some things this morning and searching Scripture for comfort from God. He led me to Psalm 113:3b: “The name of the LORD is to be praised!”

My first thought was that sounds like a command, and I should be thankful. God has richly blessed me in so many ways, and being intentional with our thanks is a great way to ground ourselves when we are prone to throwing pity parties. But as I started to make my list of things to be thankful for, I was struck by a different thought. The verse says that the name of the LORD is to be praised: Him, not what He does for me. I think in this season of thankfulness most of us have taken time to reflect on what we are thankful for. But when was the last time I thanked God for Himself? What follows is a short list of what I'm thankful for in Him.

He is merciful. He rescued me from the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13) when I was in high treason against Him. And He didn’t just rescue me and leave me alone. He then brought me into the Kingdom of the Son He loves. I get to be a child of God, a princess in the most glorious Kingdom ever imagined, an heir not a slave. Not because of any worthiness on my part, but simply because of the mercy of God.

And I think all of that speaks profoundly of His love. He has a love for me that is over the top of anything I could comprehend, that is more persistent and pursuing than even the deepest love I could possibly imagine or experience from another human. His love for me is so profound that He is called a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). This is a term that has marital connotations; like a spouse, He does not want to share my affections with anyone or anything else.

He is also kind. He just gave me another breath, even though I have already sinned against Him this morning and I’ve only been out of bed for an hour. He chooses to give me all those things and people on my thankfulness list because it brings Him delight to do good to me, even though those are the very things that tempt my affections away from Him.

He is a God who sees and hears. We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses  (Hebrews 4:15). He is the best empathizer. He is a God who “gets” me in a way no one else could ever possibly “get” me – because He created me from scratch.

He is also the God who comforts us (2 Corinthians 1:3). The God who comforts me, personally and individually. He is also the God who heals (Exodus 15:26). He is a tender Father who weeps over our hurts and graciously extends compassion and life.

He is returning. He has not left me alone as an orphan (John 14:18), but He has gone to prepare a place for me and promises to come back for me (John 14:2-3). I have a delightful inheritance in Him; the mansion and streets of gold are just icing. I get to spend forever with the One who is all of this and so much more.

In this season of thankfulness, may we be more thankful for the Giver than we are for His gifts.

Throwback Thursdays: Giving Thanks for Saturn's Rings and a "Big House"


I am very thankful for “Throwback Thursdays.” It gives us a chance to hear an amazing teaching by John Meyer about God’s creation, and how our response to that creation should be filled with awe and gratitude. A teaching that covers both evidences for creation and having a heart of thankfulness? I know I’ll be going back for seconds! Here’s the audio.

Also, I’m thankful that “Throwback Thursdays” allows us an opportunity to listen to “Big House” by Audio Adrenaline, which, if you really think about it, is the best Thanksgiving song imaginable. I mean, the whole song is about glorying in the goodness and generosity of our God.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


To Greeley and Back Again: A Rocker's Tale


I was blessed to spend the start of Thanksgiving break with some awesome brothers and sisters in a mission trip to Greeley, Colorado.

Saints from the Rock in Fort Collins left early Monday morning and met up with some saints from the Rock in Greeley at the student center of the University of Northern Colorado. We had some things we were trusting God for going into the two day trip:


  • To know God deeper as we involved ourselves in His work
  • To make Christ known at the University of Northern Colorado
  • To unite as saints in love for God and love for each other
  • To help support our brothers and sisters in Greeley and to trust God to use us to build into their student ministry group


It’s neat seeing how faithfully God answered. There were a lot of gospel seeds that went out and we would appreciate prayers for God to continue growing those. Everyone who went was able to step out in faith and boldly stand up for their Savior. This was was really encouraging to see, as some had never shared the story of how God had changed their lives in that context before. There were multiple conversations with students who seemed so close to giving their lives to Christ right there and we trust as God continues to work on hearts, there will be more and more lives bowed down to the One true King. People were challenged to consider the claims of a resurrected Savior and it’s really cool to think how even people who rejected us still walked away thinking more about God than they had before we approached. 

It really seemed Christ was made known at UNC and I love how that goes hand in hand with us as individuals getting to know Him deeper. Nothing encourages your own heart in the good news of what God did for us more than actually sharing that good news with others. I was refreshed even walking away from difficult conversations how I should be as lost and dead and blind and confused as any one of these students and instead God has shown me mercy, given me completely what I didn’t deserve. To those students who were willing to listen, our own hearts were refreshed getting to share analogies and verses with them. 

As far as uniting and supporting each other, God really seemed to bless that as well. It was so uniting praying together before going out into battle. There was such a joy as we walked around campus seeing others from our group engaging students, knowing that Christ was being exalted. Twice that day – during lunch and before we left campus – we shared stories of what God had done and told of specific conversations He had led each of us into. Even after two long days of walking around, being physically, spiritually, and emotionally drained, it was such a blessing to still see people in faith rallying to trust God for His leading.

And what a blessing it was to be welcomed so warmly by the Greeley saints. Whether it was people from the church dropping in to join us in prayer in the mornings before heading to campus, or those from the Rock there joining us in sharing, or people opening up homes, donating amazing food, preparing meals, offering air mattresses and whatever else we could possibly need, we definitely got our share of the mutual encouragement. They didn’t stop thanking us for giving up two days in trusting God to do big things on their university. By God’s grace there is a lot of follow up conversations to be had with people looking to plug in with a campus group and wanting to know more about Jesus.

Eternity is different. People who had never heard the complete gospel message heard for the first time how they could know God. Deceived people who thought they had to earn God’s favor were humbled with the reality that there is nothing we could ever do to obligate God to love us, and they heard of the free gift of God’s grace. Saints stepped out in faith, trusting God for boldness and His words, and I believe God was so pleased with that faith. Even amidst rejection, I was so encouraged seeing people clinging to Jesus’ promise that our reward is great in heaven, especially when men insult us and reject our name as evil because of the Son of Man. I am way excited to see another promise come true when Jesus acknowledges before the Father and the angels each one of my brothers and sisters who went to Greeley, because each of them acknowledged Him before people at UNC.

I'm Busy: Examining the Worldview of a Packed Day Planner


Recently, my wife and I unsuccessfully tried connecting with a few people whom we haven't seen in awhile. After pulling out day planners and smart phones, the only possible get-together dates were more than a month out. Eventually we gave up.  

In light of this, I did a research project in my own, haphazard/abstract way this past week. I made a point to remember the responses to my typical "How's it going?" conversation starter with people. After attempting to push past the typical "I'm good" response that really means, "I don't really have time to go into it with you right now, but I'll do you the dignity of acknowledging your question," I got this response nine times out of 10: "Oh, you know, busy." The tenth one was "I'm sleepy."  

Between jobs and families in today's world, it seems as if most of us have barely any free time left. Add in a few church activities or recreational hobbies, and something simple like an impromptu dinner with friends becomes impossible. I'm feeling burdened by our culture of rushing around because I think we may be becoming too busy for God. Not just for activities that revolve around God, but time for a relationship with God. I wonder if this deteriorating time with God is leaving us exposed to a worldview that assumes a “me first” approach to living – a mindset that ultimately robs us of the abundant life that God came to give us (John 10).  

Lets be honest with each other for a moment. Do you feel a constant distress? Does life currently not quite look like what you imagined it to be? Are you tired and frazzled? Anxious?  

Would you describe yourself as a hard worker? How many hours do you spend at your job each week? Is your current pace sustainable, or are you waiting for "things to get better"?

If you run into a line at the bank that takes an extra 20 minutes, are you then 30 minutes late for everything else in your day? Do you feel irritated when a train traps you on Drake Road in the middle of town?  

How many hours of sleep do you get per night? Do you feel rested, or are you always tired? 

How many movies do you watch per week? TV Shows? How much time do you spend on Facebook and other websites? How about video games?  

When was your last quiet time? How long was it?

Do you know the names of your next-door neighbors? How about those that live three or four houses down?

Are you happy? Are you enjoying life, or are you merely enduring it?

We have a comment section here on the Summitview blog. If you're comfortable with the somewhat public nature of this forum, I'd like you to honestly weigh in on these questions.


(Photo credit: Travis Swan.)

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