Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
Maybe I’ve found a good reason to justify my pack rat inclination. For years I have maintained three dresser drawers, a suit case, and an old trunk–full of so-called memorabilia–spanning over thirty years now. I rarely venture in there. These archives contain an old autograph book, boxes of letters from old camp friends, many of which have antiquated eight cent stamps on the envelope, pictures of people I haven’t seen in years, essays from college, journals, greeting cards, Bible study notes, awards, some dirt in a jar from Camp Merrill, home-spun novels, and a partridge in a pear tree.
I’ve always held these items back, avoiding the intermittent temptation to dredge up the past. Collecting life’s “treasures” has usually seemed more relevant than reviewing them. Still, deep in the recesses of my cranium, I’ve always known that someday I would dive into the pool of my past. So I’ve held this stuff back, like a miser might hoard Benjamins for a rainy day. But now, as the years zip by, like a dark tunnel around a fast moving train—and I find myself closing in on the big 5-0 milestone—increasingly, this thought flashes before my eyes: “If not now, when?”
So one recent late night, I decided to take the plunge. With a sense of adventure, I opened one of the drawers, reached deep into the middle of a pile of papers, and pulled the first item my fingers locked on to. Supressing a sneeze, I blew the dust away from the April, 1974 version of a publication called Truth Magazine. Truth was published out of Spokane, WA by The Voice of Elijah, Inc., a non-profit corporation. Carl A. Parks was the Editor and Publisher. It was published bi-monthly and a subscription cost $2.00 for 12 issues. Seriously.
This is the epitome of a Jesus Movement publication from that era. There were many of these publications, often handed out on street corners of downtown metro areas. The articles in this particular issue include the conversion story of Charles Colson, a man who was part of the Richard Nixon administration, who found Jesus after the Watergate debacle. Another feature is about The Ferris High School “Revival.” There’s a story about UFO’s and an article pondering whether we are really living in the last days (apparently not, since all living Christians are still attached to the earth some thirty years later). The regular features include a page for pen pals, letters to the editor, a women’s page and several others. I had a pen pal, a girl who’s name I’ve long forgotten, which I may have found in the pen pal section.
The print ads feature bumper stickers and buttons that say things like, “One Way, Jesus,” “Not Religion … a Relationship with Jesus,” “Read Your Bible, It’ll Scare the Hell Out of You,” “God Loves You,” “Truckin’ With Jesus,” and “One Way.”
The entire back page is an ad for The Wilson McKinley Record Albums, a Jesus Music band that was part of early Jesus Music movement. Jesus Music was the precurser to CCM and all of the tree limb off-shoots of contemporary music written and produced by Christians today. For a tax deductable donation of $4.95, you get The Wilson McKinley album of your choice, “On Stage,” “Spirit of Elijah,” or “Heaven’s Gonna be a Blast.” For a tax deductable donation of $10.00, you get all three!
As I turned the pages, the memories came flooding back. As captured by Time Magazine and other national publications, in 1974, The Jesus Movement was in full swing. It was fueled by Jesus Music and the deep passion of young people that caught the wave. Emanating from within the hippie counterculture, the Jesus Movement began on the West Coast, and found it’s way into the nooks and crannies of mainstream youth groups, one of which was the Baptist-Presbyterian Church in Valley, Nebraska, my home church.
I was an unhip small town Nebraska boy, but the emerging cultural revolution insidiously wrapped its tenticles around me. I ordered me some of those neat stickers. I didn’t grow long hair, but I hung out with many that did. I frequented the outdoor Jesus Music festivals. I learned to play guitar and wrote some bad songs. I carried a living Bible, called “The Way,” with notes written in the margins, and a rainbow of color-coded colors to highlight passages that were “far out.” I felt rebelliously cool when I pasted a bunch of those cool stickers all over my Bible. Relationships were filled with passion and joy. A giddy, unrestrained joy permeated the stream of consiousness conversations that free-flowed among my friends. Inhibitions were few. Peace that passes human understanding softened and strengthened every new day. Warm hugs and honest, sincere smiles were shared indiscriminately.
The music we sang and heard then is an anchor which tethers memories of those days to the emotion that was generated. I still remember discovering the band Love Song, one of my first musical discoveries of the the era. As I looked at the rustic artistic album cover at Zondervan Bookstore in the Westroads, I intuitively knew that I would love the music contained inside. Love Song was the right band at the right time. New believers themselves, they wrote simply, sincerely, and convincingly of their love for Jesus. It’s hard to overstate how intensely Love Song’s music resonated with those of us that experienced it at that time and place. To those that were there, it still resonates today, like an old star fueled by the combustion of time and the collective memories of those of us that were there. The debut, Love Song, and to a lesser extent, the follow up Final Touch, are as close to perfect records as I’ve ever heard. The music was part of the soundtrack of my young life.
Lush, intricate harmonies, home-spun lyrics, and acoustic guitars fill the grooves of the vinyl. The debut Love Song is innovative, enchanting, and in its own way, profound. It’s not unusual to hear former Jesus People describe he album as “pure” and “inspired.” According to the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, written by Mark Allan Powell, Love Song is considered the most important Christian rock band of all time. Some refer to this album as “anointed.” The band connected with its audience in a way which is rarely seen. The mainstream equivalent may be The Grateful Dead and its Deadheads in terms of the loyal connection it found with its fans in a concert setting.
I think the word is “passion.” We were inspired by a convergence of life, love, music, and revival, a truly unique period in recent history. It was a curious time in which God orchestrated surprise after surprise, using–as He always has–unlikely earthen vessels: Lonnie Frisbee, Chuck Smith, Chuck Girard, Larry Norman, Duane Pederson, Barry McGuire, Second Chapter of Acts, Petra, Scott Ross, Larry Black, Resurrection Band, Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, Randy Matthews, Mark Heard, Andraé Crouch and the Disciples, and the late Keith Green and Larry Norman. To those that were there, these names evoke vivid memories and deep emotion.
It’s odd that one such memento from my past would inspire such a vast flood of thoughts and emotion. I wonder what other jewels await me in the hinterland of my past, covered with dust, waiting to be stirred. Like carefully constructed words inside an old book sitting on the shelf waiting to be read, will all the relics of my life come rushing forth with such vim and vigor when I mine the depths of my drawers again? And why do I care?
A good friend once ask me, “Why do you hang on to all this stuff?” He meant no harm, asking the question quite dispassionately, but I somehow felt a little naked, like he suspected something about me that wasn’t especially flattering. Why indeed do I hold such inanimate objects in such high esteem? Why do I discuss the past with such a sense of romance? Why can’t I bring myself to cast these items off, like an empty milk jug on trash day?
As I cling to my past, like a bus driver’s hands cling to the steering wheel as he navigates an icy winter road, I want my life to matter. I want your life to matter. My earnest hope, indeed my wavering, yet firm belief, is that our lives matter more than we can imagine. It’s what I believe. It’s the way I want to live. But if my wife ever throws that stuff away, I’ll kill her.
“Everything matters if anything matters at all,
Everything matters, no matter how big, no matter how small.”
–Pierce Pettis from “God Believes in You”