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"


Bob said...

Good entry here, Steve. Over the years we have seen a lot of Christian artists make it big, so to speak, and it's been interesting to see how they have handled that. We get a first-hand view here in Nashville.

Amy Grant's a good example. Though not a father (or mother -- :-) ) of Christian rock as the ones of whom you write, she certainly blazed a trail for Christian singers and the genre in general. She crossed over into pop music and made it much bigger. Her marriage fell apart. I was very critical of her at one time but, in the process of mellowing about a number of things over the years, came to realize I have not walked in those shoes and don't know what went on in her life. She's a gifted, humble lady and she's blessed many.

You might remember BJ Thomas's conversion to Christianity. I wore out one of his albums in college. Don't know what's going on with him today but word is he returned to the drug culture. Sad.

I bet it's hard to suddenly become a star/big name -- Christian or otherwise.

It is sobering to think we ALL leave a legacy. Our chances of leaving a strong one depend on how closely we follow Christ.

Steve H. said...

Thanks Bob...I saw BJ Thomas back in the early 80's in concert. The poor guy sang "Rain Drops Keep Falling on your Head" and a bunch of people started yelling, "Sing Christian songs" The next day the local Christian radio station in Detroit apologized for promoting it and said they did,'t know he was going to sing non-Christian songs...shameful!

Yeah, I agree, I have more grace on people these days. I've never had the life Amy Grant lived so .., I just give grace.

Anonymous said...

Please, let's be thankful to our Heavenly Father in Jesus Christ name that the were here. Stop the need to explain what our Heavenly knows and let us rejoice in His present on what He has given us.

seipp1 said...

I frist came to Jesus in the mid 80's as a teen, and thank goodness for Larry's music! I listened to Keith Green a lot more. Their was an infectious drawing to what he, and Melody was doing! I walked away from the church for 20 years, and whoose music did I run back to? Keith's and Mel's as well as Petra.