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Christianity, heavy metal and the culture of body piercing

They just don't make Christians like they used to. The latest "spiritual journey festival" features Internet cafes, gay-oriented churches participating and a body-piercing tent.

"We are, I guess you'd say, Christians," said Jason Burden, the 30-year-old pastor of the Pierced Chapel, "but we're not part of the Republican right."

The Pierced Chapel is a church aimed at an 18 to 30-year-old congregation. "We approach worship and spirituality in a different kind of way," said Burden. "We're not trying to turn people off; we're not trying to threaten people. We're not trying to change the mindset of Christians. We're not right-wing Republicans necessarily; we're not homophobes, I don't think. We're trying to point out that Jesus is not necessarily who some people think he is."

The chapel offers a breath of fresh air for young Christians in Colorado Springs, appealing to members through the culture of body piercing. "They do the snowboarding thing," said Burden. "They smoke weed on the weekend. But they don't have anything to ground them or give them hope. That's one of our messages, that there was one who died for all the pain and junk."

Much of the significance of piercing comes from Isaiah in The Old Testament, according to Burden, but there is obvious New Testament relevance also. "Jesus Christ was pierced on the crucifix. He was pierced for all the junk and crud in our life. He understands that pain because he was pierced in it."

"We're going to stir the pot," Burden said of the event that is certain to rub some established local churches and religious advocacy groups the wrong way. "This event is going to come crashing down on some of them," Burden admitted. "But some of them are more open-minded. You'd be surprised. A lot of them come across as pretty harsh, but when I get to them behind the scenes, they're really great people doing neat stuff in our community."

In addition to the festive activities, The Event Pierced will feature a concert headlined by the San Diego Christian band p.o.d., one of the fastest rising bands on the heavy rock scene. Their current CD, The Fundamental Elements of Southtown, is the culmination of an eight-year climb that has included three self-released CDs and several coast-to-coast tours.

For the four band members, p.o.d. was more than just a way to explore their love of heavy metal, hip hop and reggae. It was a way to stay out of trouble. Growing up in Southtown, a tough, largely Mexican-American section of San Diego just across the Mexican border from Tijuana, the band members had plenty of opportunities to get involved in crime and do drugs.

"It gave us something to be focused on," said p.o.d. drummer Wuv. "I mean, even just going down to the T-shirt place and making a T-shirt for our band was something that was like a project. It's been something that kept our hearts right, that's given us drive and focus."

That focus also helped the band take their long road to success in stride. "We look at it like, man, this is the time God wants us to be popular," Wuv continued. "There are a lot of bands that started after us and they took the elevator to the top. I look at p.o.d., and for some reason God has always wanted us to take the staircase to every level. I think He's wanted us to learn about integrity and learn about patience and about a whole bunch of things."

As Wuv's comments suggest, spirituality is a major element in the music of p.o.d. Though the band's lyrics generally aren't preachy, the spiritual content scared off several major labels that considered signing the band before Atlantic signed p.o.d. last year.

"That's why we went without a record deal for so long, because we didn't want to tone down what we were about," Wuv said. "Just like Marilyn Manson talks about the devil or something and sells out, we have the right to talk about what has given us life and [made us] better human beings."

-- Alan Sculley and Owen Perkins

Alan Sculley is a freelance writer based out of St. Louis. He caught up with p.o.d. while they were touring with Ozfest this summer.

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