Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Friday, July 30, 2010

Larry Norman & Keith Green: A Study in Contrasts

I just had a chance to watch the new documentary on the life of Larry Norman titled Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman. Its created and produced by David Di Sabatino, a man who has established himself as a historian and chronicler of the late 60's - 70's Jesus Movement.

As I've mentioned before, I became a Christian during the Jesus Movement and was greatly influenced by early Christian artists like Norman. Many of his tunes from iconic albums like In Another Land , Upon This Rock, and (my favorite) Only Visiting This Planet are embedded in my head. I had the opportunity to see Larry Norman perform a couple different times in my life and was greatly saddened when he succumbed to health related heart issues in Feb 2008 at the age of 60.

Over the years I've always known, and heard rumors about, character flaws which often served to dilute the incredible impact and anointing the man had on a generation of young Christians. However, even armed with this knowledge, I was a little unprepared for a 2 hour roast of a man many consider to be the Father of Christian Rock. One by one, former artists, wives, girlfriends, band mates etc. took turns analyzing his insecurities, ego, fabrications, arrogance, and spiritual inconsistencies. Always coupled with the occasional nod to his brilliance, music ability, and genuine desire to see Christ preached, one can't be blamed for leaving the film thinking this guy was more than just a flawed individual...he was a jerk.

One of the main guests being interviewed in the documentary is fellow "Founding Father" of Contemporary Christian Music, Randy Stonehill. Stonehill mixes the real pain he felt at times in his relationship with Norman, with the sincere grief of a friend who has died. He seemed genuinely saddened that because of the way Larry treated others, "he died a lonely man".

I couldn't help contrast Stonehill's commentary with commentary he gave on another DVD documentary chronicling the life of another famous musician / minister, Keith Green. Keith died tragically in July 1982 at the age of 28. However in the 7 brief years he was a Christian, he blazed a trail in his faith that many, including myself, have tried to follow.

In that documentary, Stonehill shares anecdotes of his early Christian years with Green, and although Keith had his flaws as well, there is a whole different spirit that seems to radiate from his life. Stonehill's comments are positive and even lighthearted when talking about their disagreements as opposed to the real grief he still seems to carry from his relationship with Norman. When I watch Keith's story, I am stirred to follow Christ no matter what the cost. Norman's documentary left me with an "ugh" feeling inside.

When I reflect on the two men's lives, I ask myself what is the difference between them. Both were anointed musicians whose impact on the Christian community continues well after their deaths. Both have gone on to an eternity with the Father and yet Larry's life still carries a tarnish that Keith's doesn't.

For what it's worth, I think it may come down to is the complete surrender Keith had in his life. A John the Baptist focus that radiated a "He must increase and I must decrease" approach to his relationship with God. Larry, at least according to the documentary, had a relationship that seemed to say, "He (Christ) must increase, and if I can increase while its happening, so much the better." One could hardly envision Larry singing the Keith Green classic, "Oh, Lord you're beautiful...Your face is ALL I seek." In the end, there can be only one seat on the throne, and if you are fighting for your place on get the picture.

Anyhow, I honor Larry. He had an incredible impact on my life, particularly as a young Christian. I know he loved the Lord and is enjoying his new life in the kingdom...and I look forward to meeting him one day.

As he would say, "this world is not my home...I'm just passing through"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"So which guy is Daniel Amos?"

A few years back I was at The Ark Bible bookstore in Denver Colorado. Being one of those really big Christian stores with a large music selection, I was hoping to get some classic Christian music I had on vinyl that I knew had been re-released on CD.

The young attendant came up as I perused the stacks of cellophane and plastic and asked, "Can I help you?"

"Yeah," I answered, "do you have any Daniel Amos ?"
The guy just looked at me confused so I elaborated, "You know, like do you have Alarma, Doppleganger, or even Horrendous Disc?

Again, the guy looked perplexed and asked, "What's the guy's name again? I can look him up on the computer," as he strolled back to the safety of the counter.

"Ugh", I thought, "This is like going into Tower Records and asking where the Pink Floyd CDs are and being told they had never heard of Mr. Floyd but would be happy to look him up in the database."

"Its not a guy, its the band's name", I remarked as the guy starting tapping keys in a way that suggested he was much more familiar with computers than with music.

"Ah" he said triumphantly and made a dash for a corner section of the store where he proceeded to flick threw a stack to produce the one CD they had which was the re-issue of their (thankfully) short foray into country music back in 1978, Shotgun Angel. "Thanks...but no" I said.

Its funny how little today's young(er) Christians don't know some of the classic artists that has shaped Christian music for the last 40 years. I mean not every teen likes Led Zeppelin (although they should) but most would at least know who you are talking about.

I remarked a couple weeks ago to a young Christian 20 something that I had just ordered a documentary on Larry Norman from Amazon.

He gave me that quizzical look.

"You know, Larry Norman, the Father of Christian Rock."

Nope...didn't know him.

Still another time I was watching a DVD on the life of Keith Green with a church home group and they quickly panned to Randy Stonehill reminiscing on Keith's life. I think I commented something like "Randy is ageing well" and a young guy in the room asked, "Who is Randy Stonehill."

The young man asking was a pastor.

OK, I know I'm just showing my age but the music these guys created shaped a generation of Christian believers. Together with some great ministers of the day they helped usher in a movement of God we now look back fondly at as the "Jesus Movement"

Anyhow, maybe its worth it to take a look back occasionally because sometimes to know where you are going, it helps to know where you have been!

(P.S. This post was inspired by Brooke's post on the 200 greatest Christian Rock albums of all time which you can find here)

Friday, July 16, 2010

American History X-plained

I realize this is a little late for an American 4th of July laugh. I am always wondering when I watch clips like this, "Is this a set up or are people really this stupid? Anyhow, while we're trying to formulate a new immigration policy in the country perhaps we should consider deporting some of these Einsteins in favor of more deserving immigrants waiting to get in. Just a thought! Enjoy...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mel Gibson's Fall from Grace

2004 was a banner year for Mel Gibson. His Passion of the Christ defied critics to be one of the most acclaimed (and profitable) movies of all time. He was the darling of both Hollywood and the Christian community (no easy feat) and was happily married to the wife of his youth, Robin, whom with he had seven children.

I remember the first Mel Gibson movie I ever saw. It was about 1982 and my dad and brothers were carpet cleaning a movie theater. We always enjoyed the free movies that came with the job. Anyhow, that evening we watched Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. It was the first movie of a theme that Gibson did so well. Happily married husband and father loses both to "bad guys". A tortured Mel then rains holy vengeance down on the perpetrators. No one in movies does justifiable revenge better than Mel Gibson

After that movie, I was a fan. Through the years whether it was Braveheart, Lethal Weapon, or The Patriot, Mel Gibson often personified on film what a man and a husband was meant to be. This was solidified with an article I read years ago by a female reporter that made special note of a particular moment. Gibson had just emerged from a film set where a legion of beautiful women were dying to get close to him. He was cordial and polite but when he saw his wife, his eyes lit up. I was so impressed by the actions of a guy who could literally have any woman he wanted, and yet was a faithful husband.

Oh, how they mighty have fallen!

Since the release of The Passion, Gibson has had multiple run ins with the law often including alcohol fueled racist diatribes. Many of his fans and supporters (and if I'm honest, myself)tended to try to write these off as unguarded talk of a passionate man who had too much to drink.

It seems though that in 2009, Gibson's long suffering wife had enough and filed for divorce. Gibson, instead of realizing he was losing the wife of his youth and the mother of his children, used the opportunity to hook up with a silicon enhanced Russian model who he preceded to have a child with. He then threatens her and, in a recorded phone message, delivers a rant of some of the most vulgar and indefensible racism imaginable.

The result? Even an A-lister like Gibson found himself dropped from his agency, William Morris and a famous unnamed producer was quoted as saying, "I wouldn't work with Gibson again if he were the last actor on earth".

To go from "golden boy of Hollywood" to persona non grata is quite a fall from grace.

Anyhow, as an early Gibson fan and a big believer in redemption, here's hoping Mr. Mel can begin looking some more at that Jesus fellow he was talking about so much a few years ago, get his wife back, stop embarrassing his children...and you know... a man again!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4th Cold War Comfort Food

Maybe its just me, but doesn't it feel good to be fighting the Russians again!

Last week's breakup of a major Soviet (sorry, I mean Russian) spy ring of deep undercover agents infiltrating American suburbia made me feel all giddy inside. What better gift to America this Fourth of July season then a little Cold War rewind.

Lets face it! We miss it don't we? The James Bond, cloak and dagger, balance of power games played out between the U.S. and the Soviets. As Jon Stewart's Daily Show commented, "its comfort food" for us like "curling up on the couch with a bowl of mac and cheese and an episode of Full House."

It was a nostalgic moment when we got to relive the glory days. Like the high school quarterback, who now finds himself at a boring 9-5 job, America, who is currently bogged down fighting enemies we can't begin to understand in Afghanistan and Iraq, got to pause for a moment and reflect on the good old days of worthy adversaries we could at least respect.

Come on, the Space Race? Reagan & Gorbachev? the Berlin Wall?...they were Godless Communists we could love and appreciate. Even the Chinese, who aspire to take the Soviet Union's spot on the Superpower stage, are all becoming Christian Capitalists. What fun is that?

Instead we are stuck fighting ugly hairy guys with names like Omar Sheik something something who run around blowing up innocent women and children instead of a beautiful Russian temptress named Natasha who is simply trying to steal the plans to America's new thing-a-ma-jig! Good times...Good times!

Ok, so the the Russian undercover ring was stealing information that could be found in any New York Times. That's not the point. These wonderful Russian spies gave the American people a gift on our 234th birthday that money can't buy.

They gave us the gift of love!