Thinking Out Loud

June 20, 2011

The Jesus Movement Turns 40

I am a direct product of the Jesus Movement.

That is not an admission of age, for if you are a member of the contemporary Church — that is to say, any church that is not locked into a business-as-usual, same order-of-service way of doing things as church circa 1940 — then you are also a direct product of the Jesus Movement, even if, unlike Buck Herring, you never had a pair of blue suede sandals.*  This period of time, rewrote the playbook for Christianity, and the June 21, 1971 cover of Time Magazine was really prophetic, since the movement wouldn’t truly hit its stride until the mid to late part of that decade.

The Jesus Movement was the catalyst that propelled the church into the 20th century, albeit nearly 75 years too late.  Music changed.  Dress change.  The stage was set for the emergence of social justice and compassion ministries that wouldn’t come to fruition until the late 1990s.  The evangelical church got away from country club religion — with its ‘for members only’ attitude — and became more about reaching out.   Years before the term ‘next generation ministry’ would be coined; the Jesus Movement paved the way for a new generation of leaders; with some of the changes being perhaps superficial, but others birthing entire new denominations.

Chuck Smith invited the kids to come to church and when his parishioners charged that their studded jeans were scratching the pews, Smith removed the pews and while he was at it, moved the baptism services to Pirates Cove on the Pacific ocean.  Larry Norman caught much criticism for his long hair, but was actually a rather gifted Bible teacher if only the older generation would have taken time to listen, and around him gathered a generation of teens and twenty-somethings who the church might have otherwise drifted away.  Barry McGuire went from protest singer to the man who would write “Communion Song” one of the best ‘lost’ worship songs, while Campus Crusade’s Michael Omartian brought the sound of keyboard synthesizers into the music mix while singing about Old Testament prophets. 

Kids traveled to Pennsylvania dairy farms for outdoor festivals where the speaker list was held as equal to the musician list, with two favorite teachers being the team of Larry Tomczak and C. J. Mahaney.  Paul Baker and Scott Ross put Christian music on radio stations both sacred and secular, and in the process put Christian music on the map.  A man named Arthur Blessitt carried a cross (yes, literally) across many continents and challenged a generation to find their own expression of bold witness. The Highway Missionary Society took to the road while Jesus People USA took to the Cabrini Green projects of inner city Chicago at the same time Nicky Cruz went from New York City gang leader to evangelist.

It was the best of times.  Period.   It was possibly the most significant spiritual movement to take place in North America in the 1900s.  Really.  I mean that. And I’m not the first to suggest it.

So happy birthday to all the aging Jesus People, and to those who wish you were there.   This week Andrew Jones shares some memories, but it also might be the right time to read Ed Underwood’s challenge to recapture the spirit and energy (and innocence) of those days as he writes in Reborn To Be Wild.   Because the Evangelical church today is a product of those times, you might actually want to read all you can about what happened and why.  You might even want to start your own revolution.

*I have no proof that Second Chapter of Acts’ Buck Herring actually owned blue suede sandals, but that was the rumor back in the day.  And yes, for several hours a couple of us did share the back of Daniel Amos’ Alex MacDougall’s house with Larry Norman, but Larry mostly slept and did laundry. 

Pictured: Time Magazine cover, June 21, 1971

August 7, 2010

Televangelists are the New Rock Stars

Taken from above the stage area around 6:30. By the 7:00 PM start time, most of the empty seats you see were filled.

The Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs may not score high in the statistical records of basketball and hockey respectively, but the teams make money and the ticket prices are astronomical, if you can find a ticket at all.    So having never seen the inside of the just-under 20,000-seat Air Canada Centre, we decided our only chance to see the facility was to crash the Joyce Meyer crusade that has taken place there over the past three days.

Actually, our other goal was to see Darlene Zschech lead worship, since the chances of our ever seeing Hillsong are about as remote as getting tickets to a Leafs or Raptors game.   (Which, as a guy who helped launch “Jesus Music” in Canada in the ’70s and ’80s, and who could once walk into any Christian concert anywhere without a ticket, shows how far my one-time status has fallen.)

A “pre show” video introduced us to an upcoming women’s conference in St. Louis, a promo for a youth curriculum Joyce has developed based on her Love Revolution book that must have had the budget for a Disney music video, and a video biography of Joyce and husband David.   Instructions for audience decorum were then delivered by two mock airline stewards.   Cute.  Then came the t-shirt giveaway with shirts fired from the stage.  It would be interesting to know how many of those shirts will be on the backs of the recipients a few weeks from now.    Maybe.   Especially given that 70-75% of the audience was female.

The auditorium continued to fill.   The number of arena staff on duty (probably at least 400) gave a clue as to the incredible cost of staging a crusade like this.   Several times my wife mentioned her amazement that this was a free admission evening.  Of course, lineups for teaching tapes, books, Bibles and videos (and mugs) in the lobby were long, and sales were brisk.   And at each entry point into the seating area there were the ubiquitous white buckets and stacks of offering envelopes.

Then the worship began.

Darlene Z. was joined by a 10-piece band.   It was loud.   Very loud.   Not too loud for me, but loud for the demographic we perceived to be in attendance.   Especially in a country that is much more conservative in worship.   The sound — such as we’ve seen take place on the recent Hillsong album, A Beautiful Exchange — more resembled the youth band Hillsong United than anything the regular Hillsong albums have taught us to expect.

There was a rush en masse of younger people into what my wife terms “the mosh pit,” and the resultant video mix of band and audience shots on the giant screen certainly resembled a United concert. I’ll bet a few seniors in the audience will never again complain about the worship band in their local church.

Four songs in and then, as the band continued playing, Joyce Meyer walked out on the stage.   A reverential hush came over the audience.   The reverence one has for a rock star.   The quiet that comes when someone is about to make a significant pronouncement.  Joyce prayed for the audience and then the band finished the fourth song.

Mission accomplished, we sprinted for the exit.   I told the volunteer usher he could give our seats to those still arriving.   “You’re not coming back?”  He seemed shocked.   “No we’re not;” I replied.  I’m not sure why anybody would want those seats however.   My neck was already sore from turning sideways to see the stage, and our view of either Jumbotron was complete obstructed.   This section of arena seating seemed to lend itself to a kind of detachment from what was taking place below.

If there were about 17,000 people there — I think my guess is accurate — I hope the other 16,998 enjoyed the rest of the night.

It’s just not our scene.

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