Part 12: It Soothes the Soul of the Savage Skeptic

Jesus Rocks

As the summer of 1971 was nearing it's still warm—and to me almost magical—glowing end, everything in my immediate world seemed to enter of period of transition. One change, the most significant to me, and the news of which I welcomed as if I'd won the lottery, was that Cher, the seventeen year old young woman I had fallen in love with that summer, broke up with her boyfriend. I had been hoping this would happen and felt our budding relationship could now deepen and grow. I had told her as much in poem form. We began to see each other more regularly now, spending time together horseback riding and often just talking for hours.

Our conversations were most often about Jesus, the Bible, and spirituality as well as current events such as civil rights and the war in Viet Nam. Earlier that summer, she had given me a copy of the album her sister had recorded with her church group, Koinonia. That was the first "new" Christian music I'd heard—except perhaps for a couple songs, spun off from the Jesus Movement, that made it to radio such as Put Your Hand In the Hand of the Man From Galilee and Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky. Attending church with her on Sunday evenings, I had begun to become familiar with contemporary Christian music—the Jesus-People music. I remember Debbie Kerner was the song leader and a soloist at All Saints Episcopal, leading the newly formed congregation of former hippies in choruses of, We Are One In The Spirit, which included the lines, "We will work with each other / We will work side by side / And we'll give up our dignity and crucify our pride / And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love / Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love." This revolution in Christian music seemed to burst upon the late-sixties/early-seventies scene in a rapid proliferation of Jesus People music, composed and performed by groups such as, The Way, Mustard Seed Faith, Love Song, Selah, Blessed Hope and Children of the Day.

This new musical expression of the gospel message, with styles from folk to hard rock, was very controversial and much debated within the "mainline" churches, but had a profound effect on me and many in my generation who had written Christianity off as irrelevant. When we heard our music, we were much more receptive to the message it brought. That message was the same orthodox come-to-Jesus message you'd find at any Billy Graham crusade, only to us much more palatable when filtered through Fender or Peavey amplifiers and accompanied by familiar, contemporary music played by very hip/hippy looking twenty-somethings with joyful abandon and enthusiasm. This music, with its gentle-as-a-dove gospel lyrics about the love of Jesus, cleverly snaked its way, serpent-like, into my soul. This served to contemporize the dusty two-thousand-year-old message of Jesus in a way my twentieth-century mind could grasp and identify with on some level.

Here I should make it clear that, although I had come under what seemed a veritable barrage of Christian influence from every angle, I was, in fact, not anywhere near being or becoming a follower of Jesus. I was very much a skeptical "outsider"; observing the Jesus People as they gathered, listening to their music, and continuing to read the modern English New Testament I'd been given and challenged to read. At this point, the "alter calls" I sat through at the conclusion of every Sunday evening service were as irrelevant to me as a Don Adams TV commercial for "twenty acres of beautiful pine-covered God's-country mountain property in Big Sky Oregon." Wait. On second thought, I'd have been a much more likely potential customer for that TV-commercial property than for the Jesus gospel acreage they seemed to be offering me on Sunday night.

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