Tag Archive: Jesus People

Telephone Spindle

a telephone spindle

The dining room table I grew up with was unlike any I’ve seen. It was made using old pieces of telephone wire spindles; one of the circular pieces was cut in half and formed the ends of the table, with other end of the spool being cut to form the middle of the table. In the very center of the table, where the hole of the spool was, a ceramic disk was added. Legs were also added, carved roughly to look slightly arty, and the whole thing was stained for protection and smoothness. It looked very rustic and DIY.

The chairs were part of the set, made from a similar kind of wood. They were also incredibly uncomfortable; they didn’t have any padding on them, so the only thing separating hard wood from your butt was the clothes you had on. The chairs and table stained and sealed, so there was never any splintering, but doesn’t make for an overly pleasant sitting experience. I had grown up with these chairs, though, so I didn’t even notice how uncomfortable they were until one of my college friends sat in them.

My parents bought it when they first got married from a hippie furniture co-op in San Diego called Many Hands. It was a popular thing in the early 70s to make stuff out of other stuff, to reclaim man-made objects and give them new life. It seems like something Jesus People would be into, to make functional things out of refuse and seemingly wasted material; out of death comes life.

I loved this table. When we were little, my sister and I would build forts using this table, plus blankets and couch cushions. It was the perfect height for sitting under, and it was the customary spot for sitting and counting to one hundred for hide-and-seek games. It had a giant, two-fist-sized divot in the underside, probably where there was a knot in the wood. I often wondered what had happened to it, if some great dog had taken a bite out of it. And I can remember just walking around it in circles when I was 4 years old, counting aloud by ones to see how high I could count. I think I got to over 600 before my mother made me stop and have lunch.

When I moved into my first apartment post-college, I inherited the table from my parents. When you looked at this table, you got the idea that it was from a past age, even if you couldn’t say what age. My roommate thought it was something medieval, and could picture huge bearded warriors sitting around it with mugs of ale and double-headed axes laid against the wall behind them. My sister’s husband Chris was helping me move in, among others, and he and a friend of mine carried the table up two flights of stairs. I never tried to lift it, but it apparently weighs a ton. Chris swore that if he helped me move the table out again, he was bringing his chainsaw.

Oh, the tales this table could tell. I’ve told some of them, but the table itself could tell many more if it had a mouth and a voice. Tables, I’m pretty sure, have perfect memories. Its stories would be not just of my own family, but of all its owners before us. Tables see the best and worst of human beings, serving as silent observers to the passing of years.

NOT our family’s table… just a table

When I moved out of that apartment, I didn’t have a place to put it where I was moving into, nor did I have storage space for it. My parents didn’t want it back, so I had no choice but to leave it with my roommate and his brother, who was moving in with him. They called me about a month or two later asking permission to get rid of it. It was very nice of them to make that call; they understood that the table held a lot of sentimental value to me, and they didn’t want to treat it unfairly. I shed a little bittersweet tear, but I consented for them to put it out by the dumpster. They told me later that when they walked by the dumpster the very next day, it was gone. Someone else had recognized the greatness of that table, and had decided to make it their own.

It makes me smile and sigh. That telephone spindle table had served my family well all through my formative years, and even before then. Now, it would serve another family. And it would have even more stories to tell.

All this is actually leading somewhere; trust me.

Jesus People

According to my dad, my parents were NOT hippies – they were Jesus People. Hippies and Jesus People have a lot in common, like a mellow and positive attitude, a fashion sense that included bright colors, long tassels and hemp, and a liking for patchouli, most likely to cover up the odor of an unwashed body. But while hippies were very loose and open about spirituality, they were generally opposed to organized religion; they saw it as a way to keep people down.

Jesus People, on the other hand, found true freedom and liberation in Jesus Christ, something they didn’t find in the hippie culture, despite the advertisement of it. Hippies were wary of Jesus because of his association with Christianity, a thing of oppression (as they saw it). But Jesus People were much more interested in Christ as a person than they were in Christianity as a religion. They loved him. It is possible to be in love with someone who’s been dead for 2000 years, because to Jesus People (and to Christians in general) he’s not dead. He lives within each one of us, growing and improving us from the inside out. It’s like The Matrix – the concept can’t be fully explained; you have to see it for yourself.

Jesus People used to wear these buttons that said “One Way.” It refers to following Jesus as being the only way to heaven. When a member of the Jesus Movement saw a stranger that they thought might be a fellow Jesus Person, they would hold up their index finger (“one”). If the stranger did the same, they both knew that they had something in common, and that they would see each other again in heaven. It was like they shared a little secret, something the rest of the world wasn’t in on. It’s like when I was living in New York, regularly wearing my Red Sox cap on the streets of Manhattan. Most people didn’t care, but one time I saw another guy wearing the same cap and caught his eye. We exchanged no words, but gave each other a little nod and smile as I passed by.

It may seem like Jesus People were some exclusive organization with a rigorous membership process to weed out the fakers, but that’s not how it was. It’s important for us of this pluralistic generation to understand that Jesus People weren’t enforcing their individuality, or proclaiming their distinction from everybody else. They weren’t saying, “I’m different and I like that.” They were saying, “I’m saved, and you can be too!!!” The message of Jesus People was what the message of modern Christian evangelicalism should be: the more the merrier. And that should come without exceptions, addendums or provisos. This is an invitation regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation; if you have lungs and a beating heart, you can join this club.

As for Jesus People themselves, most of them grew up, got married and had kids, and generally settled down into a typical American existence. However, most of them (including both of my parents) never lost that zeal and passion for the word of God, or that all-or-nothing mentality that’s an essential part of their Christianity. And since both of my parents are such freakishly awesome people, it must not be a bad thing.

Even so, Jesus People are part of a bygone age, and their way of thinking about things is just different that ours today. They touted the “one way” philosophy, a thing that’s not only stuck around in Christianity but gotten more intense. While I’m certain that there’s only one road, Jesus’ road, I think that road might be a lot wider than a lot of Christians believe it is, or maybe than they want it to be.

I’m completely aware that people are gonna quote the “way is straight and narrow” verse from the Bible to me. Here’s my response. Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel, “…narrow [is] the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” I posit that certain Christians would prefer it to be “only YOU guys find it, and screw everyone else.” It’s narrow, yes, but only in comparison to the other road, the one that leads to destruction, and the number of people who choose it. Perhaps another way of putting it is that those people aren’t even on a road; they’re lost in the forest being eaten by the bears. The only way for us to find them is to go into the forest and risk getting eaten by the bears ourselves.

Oh jeez. I try to write about Led Zeppelin and I end up preaching about evangelism. Sigh… more about IV next time.

Being born in 1981, my experience with anything that happened before then can only be theoretical and historical. This includes the Vietnam War, and my only experiences with it were reading The Things They Carried in college and watching the movies Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. Add to that the numerous protest songs written during the 60s, like “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Fortunate Son” and “Revolution.” But perhaps the strangest song about Vietnam I’ve ever heard is David Bowie’s “Running Gun Blues.”

Distinct from the more obvious tunes in this genre, “Running Gun Blues” takes a more cynical and disturbing tack. The narrator is a deranged Vietnam soldier who’s not in it for God or country or glory, but for killing. His childlike mirth at murder that you get paid to do and his utter disrespect for life may not do as good a job at generating action as the “stop the war!” anthems, but it definitely makes you squirm in your seat. Bowie’s voice lends happy madness to what is somewhat victorious music, not dark or foreboding like its predecessor “After All.” The song fits right in with Bowie’s motif of deconstructing our society till we see the simple, the ugly, what needs to change.

In “Saviour Machine,” things take a turn for the epic. There is a quick and nervous rhythm perforated by horns, and Bowie takes on a slightly more operatic quality to his voice. The lyrics tell of a dystopian future – there’s that phrase again; Bowie’s all about the dystopia – in which citizens are completely reliant on an intelligent, self-aware supercomputer. I’m picturing thousands of people in orderly rows and dressed in the same white smock, bowing down prostrate to a monolithic metal structure 80 stories high, with blinking lights and 50s bleeps and bloops, perhaps with a mondo antennae on top in the center sending out buzzing magnetic waves that look like Zs or lightning bolts.

In the song, the “savior machine” is programmed to do whatever it takes to serve the continuation of the human race, but people have become so dependent on the machine that it starts killing people to get them to start living again; essentially, it’s creating a common enemy by becoming it.

For some reason, “Saviour Machine” calls to my mind Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A supercomputer was constructed to calculate the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything; it came up with 42. Another supercomputer had to be constructed to figure out what the question was, and that was the planet Earth. Just before it was supposed to spit out its findings, the Vogons blew it up to make room for a hyperspatial express route and… You get the idea. Don’t panic.

Then comes “She Shook Me Cold,” a very metal and bombastic song. It goes for the extremely heavy and turns out too sludgy for its own good. It’s little more than an opportunity for Bowie’s guitarist of choice, Mick Ronson, to show off his shredding skills. The Bowie/Ronson combination was right up there with the pairing of chocolate and peanut butter, Oreos and milk, hydrogen and oxygen. Ronson was Bowie’s secret weapon, a juggernaut backing up a brilliant star. He’s one of the most underrated guitarists of the 70s, as well as one of the best. Ronson stayed by Bowie’s side for 5 albums, making his exit after Pin Ups and transitioning into a brief solo career.

David Bowie was the leader of a revolution, one complete with adherents like T. Rex, Roxy Music and Lou Reed. It’s called glam rock, a reaction to the hippie free love and social activism. It used the trappings of 1930s Hollywood glamour and spacey science fiction stuff and combined them with the sexual liberation of the hippie movement. But in 1970, it was still a little ways from happening. 1970 was a very interesting year, one between settings, a pause in the cycle of rock and roll. The hippies were either becoming businessmen or Jesus People, being disillusioned by Altamont. The guard was in the process of changing. David Bowie and his ilk were right there waiting when it did. And the whole stinking world would be theirs.

Unified Whole

The first album of music to enter my life was Beat the System by Petra. Not the most dignified or noteworthy, I know. I only remember flashes of my first experiences with that album, since I was so young. I was 5. But even at that young age I had a strong sense of there being a unifying, binding force that held a thing together, and that was what drew me to the album. That’s something that’s stuck with me to this day; the idea of disparate parts and individual units coming together to form a structured whole.

It was that sense that aided me when I learned in my 4th grade science class about the human organism. Cells, tissues, organs, systems, and so forth; all different levels of things becoming more and more complicated until they finally form a complete, beautiful edifice called the human being. I understood that concept through the lens of popular music, through the album. Because it’s the same concept: notes, measures, verses, songs, and so forth. They represent different levels, get gradually more complicated, and eventually form the beautiful thing called an album. The mastery and grace of it all took my breath away.

I first discovered Beat the System as a cassette in my parents’ collection. My parents are recovering Jesus People. I remember seeing pictures from their wedding; my dad had long brown locks and a full, wild beard. My mother had flowers in her hair, and they were both wearing what looked like ancient white tablecloths. My dad (and he admits this) was dressed in glorified pajamas, and my mom’s wedding gown had a simple, almost earthy characteristic to it. They were both so far gone into the hippie thing that it makes me sigh and smile. Of course, when I say something like that, my dad takes umbrage. “We weren’t hippies; we were Jesus People.”

Jesus People were the Christian equivalent of hippies; for all intents and purposes, they were just hippies plus Christianity. A lot of people in the late 60’s became fed up with the status quo modernist lifestyle and constantly serving “the man;” they became hippies. Soon after, some of them found that the hippie lifestyle was just another form of bowing to “the man.” Their quests of getting out from under his thumb eventually lead them to Christ and into freedom. Enough of them got together that a movement was born.

Arguably the biggest part of the Jesus Movement was Jesus music, and the effect the movement had on Christian music even to this day. The movement gave birth to numerous artists, all of which were in my parents’ music collection. Phil Keaggy, Keith Green, Larry Norman, Barry McGuire, Second Chapter of Acts, Andre Crouch, Paul Stookey, etc. Petra was part of that ilk, though Beat the System came out long after they had left their Jesus People roots behind them.

Petra – Beat the System

Petra had always been rock and roll (petra is even Greek for “rock”), but they added a decidedly 80’s element around their fourth album. By the time Beat the System was released in 1984, they hardly resembled their long-haired origins. The dawn of the personal computer loomed large in the minds of the American public, and it came out in the lyrics of Beat the System. Shortly after it was released, Greg X. Volz abandoned his post as lead singer and bid Petra farewell. It was 1987 by the time I discovered it. I remember after I became obsessed with it, my mom brought me home a magazine with Petra on the cover. The photo was of the new configuration of the band, with John Schlitt as the lead singer. But I couldn’t really read yet, so I thought the title of the magazine was “Petra,” when it was in fact “Premiere.” I vividly remember one incident where I notified my mom that I wanted to listen to Petra – since they had control over the stereo – and, because I was just learning to read, spelled the band’s name out for her. I had the magazine in front of me at the time, and referred to it when identifying the letters to read to her. I said I wanted to listen to P-R-E-M-I-E-R-E, thinking my intentions could not have been clearer. I was quite proud of myself.

Long and short of it, albums are in my blood. They were a touchstone from a very early age, and the concept of albums is one of those cosmic ideas that the universe is founded on. It can be seen in our very bodies, in chemistry, business and education; in cars, buildings, the trees of the field, and the organization of the planets. Ever since people started breaking things into pieces, they were putting them back together in fascinating and innovative ways. That building tendency within all of us is more than just a trait that we’ve developed over our evolutionary history. I think it’s a reflection of our Creator and ultimate divine origins. Taking parts and making a sum is a holy act.

For my part, I don’t see this any stronger than in an album of music.