Recently, I’ve been listening to an album by American metal outfit, Demon Hunter – Seattle natives who put even more of a melodic spin on heavy music that already has plenty of teeth. Okay, Bryce we get it you like this kind of music. What’s new? Ryan Clark. Lead singer, graphic designer, and professed Christian… and he rocks an impressive Norse looking beard. He’s fronted the band since its inception in 2002. With the voice of a baritone Russian orthodox chorale, he commands an audience with bellowed out lows and an impressive guttural scream, but the most notable feat about Ryan is his ability as a lyricist. Demon Hunter’s records are thematically thought provoking, exploring topics such as drug addiction, depression, narcissism, the frailties of the human condition, social corruption, and religious themes all written from a Christian perspective. Their new album entitled Extremist is a ponderous narrative about living life, viewing the world through a particular lens, and thinking about all the emotional baggage that comes with it. As someone who is now in a leadership position of a campus ministry with a new perspective on life through Jesus, this has really been on my mind. I guess you could call this food for thought laced with a quick music review. I’ve never seen the value in being open and expressive about my faith. I was always afraid to be so because I was embarrassed of Jesus. In retrospect, I had this vision that those who were vocal about their faith were only there to beat you over the head with theology, win you over to their side by attrition, and then make you into a drone. I had my faith, kept it to myself, and led by example. There was part of the problem. I didn’t really know what it really meant to lead. I couldn’t be transparent and open with my own leaders about all the skeletons in my closet at that point in my life. To compensate, I became judgmental, arrogant, self-righteous, and thought I was pretty cool. I had no concept of what it meant to have Christ transform me. I couldn’t really feel it at all. I’m not very emotionally charged when it comes to my faith (although I am an emotional being), but the wider I made the gap between my church life and personal life, the more numb I grew to it all. Looking back, I know it was because I lived a double life and thought I could somehow outrun God. I have accepted that in my new leadership position, doing campus outreach, I will have to be more confident in being outwardly expressive about my faith. It’s part of the job description. And in all honesty, it’s scary. For me, it’s scary, because I have never felt this vulnerable or allowed myself to be open to scrutiny, which brings me back to Ryan Clark’s lyrical perspective on Extremist… I think the title is very fitting for this album – for one, its sonic blueprint reaches polarizing ends of the rock/metal spectrum. Secondly, all the themes discussed in the lyrics have to do with being unwavering in a place that doesn’t agree with you. Ryan Clark has said that’s inspired by the viewpoint that the band holds (as aforementioned, they are all Christians), and how those are perceived from the outside world. Clark mentions how that viewpoint has become very unpopular in today’s society, which I think is the crux for this whole conversation. I think when you put the dialogue into this lens, the title of Extremist becomes more appropriate. Looking back on my high school years, I considered anyone and everyone who had a voice in their faith to be an extremist. Many of the ones I knew used it as some kind of a weapon and that everyone was a target for evangelism without any discretion to cultivation of relationships an understanding another’s perspective. There was a small minority who used their voice to set themselves apart and be transparent. It hinged on being honest about their identity and their source of motivation. They were the ones who I secretly wanted to emulate, but they were still in a denominational camp that I wanted nothing to do with at the time. I wanted what they had… and when I began to surround myself with those people, I understood this whole concept of transformation. It’s not a gimmick or trend hopping phenomena, it’s a lifestyle change that changes your attitude. I think that the audacity to be open about the essence of yourself, whether you’re a religious or not, is a remarkable thing. By doing so, we willingly put ourselves under the worlds microscope. At points, snap judgments will be made, things will be misunderstood, and our intentions may come across as disingenuous… And that is okay. I’m sure many feel like their viewpoints make them feel like an extremist in everyone else’s eyes, but sometimes we have to embrace the extremism in order to remain steadfast. I do not warrant being a radical at the expense of someone else’s suffering, but what I am saying is that on a personal level, I feel like in order to feel more confident in my faith, the label of extremist has to be somewhat embraced, rather than avoided. In fact, to be honest, it’s almost exhilarating. To me, extremist in this case is a pseudonym for resilient. I’m not saying that I am all of a sudden immune to feeling apprehension in broaching the topic of faith with people, but with this perspective, I have more comfort in understanding that the world will not always be welcome to it and it’s nothing to take personally. Jesus told his disciples in the book of John that if the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. I have always had a fear of somehow failing God, my ministry or myself, if someone is uninterested or hostile to the idea of Jesus, but with this kind of new found understanding, it’s taken the fear out of me and honestly has me psyched up to meet freshman, put together a men’s bible study, and be able to be honest in what we’re all about. Despite that I have less and less fear of failure, doesn’t mean it won’t happen… which is something to be discussed later. For now, my advice to any and all is go out into the world knowing that people will disagree with you, but it should never dictate your essence or form your identity. Be confident in who you are and don’t let the fear of persecution drive you. Live and be real with others.