To Be Alive

April Thompson is one of the most beautiful women I know. This conclusion is drawn not from her looks, although she is very attractive. Rather, it is from how she is deeply and passionately in love with God, her husband, and their kids. That is a beauty no Sports Illustrated model, save one who possesses the same qualities, can ever hope to approach.

In-between sessions of her very full-time gig known as raising the rugrats, April is wont to pen assorted thoughts in her blog. Her most recent post nicely expresses a frustration oft voiced by creative Christians, that being how a segment of American Christianity instantly recoils in horror the moment an artist, in any given medium, attempts crossing over from the Christian marketplace into the big bad satanic secular cesspool:

As Christians, we have to be careful not to be mindless consumers of whatever is served in the name of entertainment. But you know what’s not good? Hiding in our little Christian or conservative ghettos, yelling nasty things at the world from the walls, and throwing stones at anyone who tries to take the message outside the gates. Ya know, like Jesus said to.

Mrs. Thompson continues the point by bringing it into the political realm. She mentions how many conservatives (she is unapologetically one) are so conditioned to a knee-jerk response and blanket condemnation of most everything pop culture-wise, completely hung up on an artist’s political bent regardless of whether it carries over into their art, they disassociate themselves from everything under the mantle of avoiding anything “unclean.” This takes the form of not supporting via buying a CD or download or movie ticket or what have you any individual not on their side of the political aisle, along with, when discussing said artists among those of like mind, participating in a top-this game of who can trash-talk them the most. Because, you know, that will win the culture war every time.

She’s too young to remember, but Steve Taylor brilliantly skewered this mindset some time ago:

So you need a new car
Let your fingers take a walk
Through the business guide
For the born again flock

You’ll be keeping all your money
In the kingdom now
And you’ll only drink milk
From a Christian cow

Don’t you go casting your bread
To keep the heathen well-fed
Line Christian pockets instead
Avoid temptation

Guilty by association

Turn the radio on
To a down-home drawl
Hear a Brylcreem prophet
With a message for y’all

Well I have found a new utensil
In the devil’s toolbox
And the heads are gonna roll
If Jesus rocks

It’s all a worldly design
God’s music should be divine
Try buying records like mine
Avoid temptation

Guilty by association

So you say it’s of the devil
And we’ve got no choice
‘Cause you heard a revelation
From the still small voice

If the Bible doesn’t back it
Then it seems quite clear
Perhaps it was the devil
Who whispered in your ear

It’s a telethon Tuesday
For the gospel club
Send your money in now
Or they’re gonna pull the plug

Just remember this fact
When they plead and beg
When the chicken squawks loudest
Gonna lay a big egg

You could be smelling a crook
You should be checking The Book
But you, you’d rather listen than look
The implication

Guilty by association

Life for the believer is neither a scenario of doing whatever one wishes (sorry, libertarians) or hiding in a reverse leper colony. It is a call to the reality of Christ and life in Christ. It is personal holiness combined with mandatory outreach to others. Jesus was not a drunkard, yet He drank and His first recorded miracle was at a wedding reception when He changed water into wine so as to keep the party going. He associated, without compromise, with society’s outcasts. He didn’t tow the religious progressive’s continually shifting line of relative morality, telling them everything was cool and they could continue on their merry way without repercussion. He loved them where they were at while calling on them to change first their heart, and from that change their life. He didn’t commend the adulteress whose life He saved from the crowd seeking to entrap Him by what He said should be done with her, knowing full well the penalty for her actions under Mosaic law was that she was to be executed by stoning. He didn’t condemn her either. He offered her life with the admonition to leave her life of sin.

There is a powerful witness in the polite destruction of clichés. Systematically execute them by living life among other people in a Godly manner. Contrary to some opinions, living a Godly life does not mean acting like you are God, nor does it mean shoving your faith down the throat of another, nor does it mean never speaking up for fear of “offending” someone. It means tearing down the false image of what constitutes a believer by being both the human being you were created as and the child of God you were created to be.

There are no magic formulas for this; no superdeeduper secret initiation rites, magic words or self-induced guilt trips about what you should or shouldn’t do to say the magic words in response to which God will give you a hundred blessings. There is honesty, with yourself, others and especially God.

There are stones in the road. You will trip and fall. You will fail. You will know hurt, frustration, despair, rejection, grief, and anger. But you will also know what it means to truly be alive.

To be alive is to live, with all of life’s joys and sorrows.

You cannot hide from life. You can live life.

If others think you are crazy for doing so, so be it.

Elegy for a pastor

Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California and one of the leading figures in the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, passed away today after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 86.

To try and explain the impact Chuck Smith had on contemporary American evangelical Christianity, a brief personal illustration. Back in the mid-1970s, in my neck of the woods (San Francisco Bay Area) the reverberations of the Jesus Movement were still being felt in youth culture. It was a heady time, teens and twentysomethings filled with intense love for Jesus and equally intense belief that His return to the earth would be soon and very soon. Wed sit on our bench, located perilously close to the jock bench, in our high school quadrangle with our guitars as we sang and strummed away on our little songs about a great big God. There were all the obligatory teenage angst moments, falling in and out of love at breakneck speed while occasionally musing about what we would do once we were set free from our high school protective cocoon. But we trusted Jesus would take care of that, and besides He would be coming back shortly so why get worked up over a future that would never come to pass?

Being San Francisco Bay Area people, naturally we loathed and looked down on all things Southern California in general and Los Angeles in particular. However, we cut Orange County, south of L.A., a lot of slack. No, not because of Disneyland. It was the home of something we greatly envied, although we were careful to label it anything but envy as of course envy was a sin. This was semantics, though. It was envy.

We envied Orange County for being the home of Chuck Smith.

Where we were, Christian concerts were far and few between. There would be the occasional appearance by Barry McGuire at Mario Murillos monthly Night of Miracles rally in Oakland, but other than that there was precious little. There was no radio to which we could listen; the local stations were all AM dollar a holler junk. But where Chuck Smith was, there were concerts every Saturday night playing our music. There was a radio station, an FM radio station, playing our music. There was a church where we knew wed all be welcome no matter our hair length or dress code. There was a place we knew that if we could only get there we would be blessed beyond words by being at the home base of everything we held dear in our unstoppable zeal. But, we couldnt get there despite whispered conversations about how if we split the gas and had all the boys stay in one hotel room and all the girls in another with no visitations save with the door wide open, maybe we could borrow someones parents van and one day make a pilgrimage to Santa Ana so we could experience in person this magical place from whence came the records on the Maranatha! Music label we eagerly devoured.

Time passed, as it does. Jesus had other plans and didnt come back before the 1980s set in, or any subsequent decade for that matter. Some of us walked away from the faith, disillusioned at the prospect of having to actually live out a normal life with a job and family and everything else that comes with these things. Some of us passed away. But some of us remained, our faith ofttimes battered, bruised and beaten down to the point of near abandonment. Yet we still believed, chuckling over our previous eschatological fixation and learning, as best we could, to be happy with what we had and learning to have faith in Christ alone, not in an image of Him being the ultimate get out of jail card.

This all said, the news of Chuck Smiths passing is not an occasion for nostalgic musing about when we were young, alive, on fire and had all the answers. It is a moment to note all that he accomplished: the artists for whom he provided a platform; the multitude of Calvary Chapels now dotting the globe. His name does not have the recognition factor of other post-WWII American Christianity leaders such as Billy Graham or any given TV evangelist. But today, wherever there is a folk/rock guitar being played and song being sung, and wherever there is a ministry saying come as you are because Jesus loves you and so do we, Chuck Smith is there. And we are all the better for it.

God bless you, Pastor Chuck, now at home in your Fathers arms.

Losing Sleep (But It’s Okay)

I’ve been spending more than a few nights lately in seemingly endless sleeplessness, trying to sort out different events and thoughts. I imagine most everyone has such nights, when the brain kicks into overdrive while the body is failing to convince it that taking five and catching some Z’s would be the best course of action. When you start making a habit of it, though, it can be a cause of concern … not to mention functionality loss the next morning.

Two thoughts are occupying the majority of my staring behind closed eyelids. One is trying to work out how to deal with the hurt directly caused by those who once said they were the closest of friends, but whose recent actions have shown them to be anything but. I’d like to forgive and forget and move on, but as I’ve mentioned before forgiveness is always a struggle with me, be it of others or myself. Definitely a weakness; something to attack full force.

The other thought is on a more positive note. Next week, I’ll be meeting with a couple of people who I’ve never met in person, yet with whom I have exchanged e-mails. There is a common bond between us, one of faith, and from that another common bond: a desire to call home those who once embraced the faith, but now although not having abandoned it have grown indifferent. There is also a desire to bring forth evidence of how work done in days gone by, back during heady days of youthful exuberance, bore fruit then and bears fruit now even if those who did the work aren’t always, or often if ever, aware of how their efforts touched the lives of others.

I’m not into melodramatic statements, but it is no exaggeration to say if what I’m envisioning — a book detailing the lives and faith of these workers, the Christian pop and rock musicians of the ‘80s — comes into being, it will be the most important writing I’ve ever done. The potential to help them tell their stories and sound their call of how despite the personal and professional, and even spiritual, garbage hurled at them during their time in the spotlight they kept or at least returned to the faith is a humbling honor. These people were my heroes then; even more so now. Their story deserves to be told … no, that’s not strong enough. It demands to be told.

I’ll be using this space to keep everyone posted as to the project’s progress, fill in the details, and such. Any and all prayers will be more than appreciated. This is an opportunity to do something that truly matters, and it is only through our Lord’s grace that I will be able to do my part in this.

For this, I don’t mind losing sleep.