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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Christianity Revisited

If you've read my antics for any length of time, it probably will come as no surprise that I spent a giant chunk of my life on the church pew. Born and raised and drenched in the spirit. Brought people to Jesus. Youth group leader. Chaperon to more than one church camp, road trip, and outing. Gave sermons, sang solos, directed musical groups complete with those little official looking batons, taught music parts, programs and choreography. Lead Bible studies. Talked my way in and out of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Block countries with my Bible-toting kids. And concert coordinator for many Christian music groups. I loved that. Contacting booking agencies and artists about concerts, dates, time and places. I grew up in the First Presbyterian Church in Boise. From there, we migrated to the Boise Valley Christian Communion -- a giant nondenominational free-form congregation made up of all sorts of people. And it was at BVCC in the late 1970s-1980s that I found myself booking these Christian musical artists. During this time in history, Christian music was finding its name and place. New artists all over the place. The church was discovering that it, too, could have peppy music -- with the words changed to reflect the Bible and church values -- god help us if we actually allowed songs inside the church as written. The words simply had to be changed. And it most definitely had to be "Lips not hips"...dancing was not allowed in my church. Early Christian music began in the 1960s with the likes of Andre Crouch and the Disciples and Randy Stonehill . I remember seeing both of these guys at such events as Jesus Northwest -- giant Christian festivals in the summertime jammed with upwards of 50,000 people in some field somewhere all with their hands up in the air and swaying back and forth. Such songs as It Won't Be Long, My Tribute, and The Blood Will Never Lose It's Power rocked the Christian charts. No, seriously!, they did. It was a new, fresh time for a whole new genre of music on the heels of the Summer of Love, hippie love, long hair and the like. It seems funny today.

I had personal one-on-one communication with most of these artists that I've listed here. Some I actually hauled around in my parents car (this was even before I had my own car). I picked them up at the Boise Airport and toted them to their hotels and to the concert sites and to dinner. I loved it. And now, looking back, it was quite an accomplishment. A really cool thing. In spite of the fact that my faith is completely different now than it was then, I am thankful that I had this piece of history to add to my life's journey.

Sandi Patty -- I remember seeing her for the very first time at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Oregon when she was just getting started in her career....I loved her so much that I followed her the next night to Twin Falls, Idaho for another concert. She was probably one of Christian music's top three artists of all time, in my opinion. I had the chance to sing at her own home church in Anderson, Indiana, later in life on my own tour of the world. (You did know that I traveled the world for many years didn't you? Yep, bringing people to Jesus.....oh boy.....). I also remember her singing the National Anthem on television during the reopening of the Statue of Liberty in 1986.

The Imperials -- Wow. This group went on and on for many years with a variety of artists joining and leaving over time. It was four guys with an amazing talent for music.

Ann Kiemel -- Not a musician, a speaker. She had quite the knack for sharing the simplicity of her life and stories about her neighborhood and the children in it. She inspired audiences via her personal appearances and books for many years. I still have multiple letters handwritten by her that we shared together.

Ernie and Debby Rettino
-- I remember specifically having them in the back seat of my car on the way to the concert and them both vocalizing and warming up quite loudly while I drove down the road.

Amy Grant -- I saw Amy in about 1977 when she had just released her very first cassette tape. She was in a long white conservative dress. Crazy how far she went. She was always one of my favorites.

The 2nd Chapter of Acts -- Totally hot group. Brother and two sisters who rocked the church with their new version of upbeat contemporary Christian music. Matthew, the brother, had an amazing voice. Tons of #1 hits including Mansion Builder and Which Way the Wind Blows.

Babbie Mason
Steve Greene
Larnelle Harris
The Archers
Michael W. Smith
Steven Curtis Chapman

Keith Green -- Keith was widely known for his controversial lyrics and accusations of others in the Christian community. He wouldn't put up with anybody saying one thing and doing another and would make it well known. He always felt like Christians were often hypocrites (duh!) and angered some in his life. He was killed in a small plane crash in 1982.

And one more whose name will remain unspoken in this writing....Randy Ma*******. Randy did a concert at my church in Boise one night and I was going to drive him from Boise to McCall for his gig the next night. While I was taking his bag out to my car, I noticed that his bag was unzipped and that a fifth of Jack Daniels was in his bag. Horrors! This was the day and age when Christians did not smoke or drink. At least in public, anyway. There would have been serious reprocusions if I'd mentioned it then. I remember the first time that I discovered that someone in the church actually smoked. And nowadays, it's quite commonplace for wine or beer to be served at gatherings. But not then. This would have been a serious problem for Randy and his mission had I said anything.

I know that many of you have had similar experiences as I have -- growing up in church and probably know some of these same musicians. It seems like a lifetime ago. I have had many, many opportunities in my life that I am thankful for....in spite of the fact that I would have been disowned by all or most of them for being gay.


Ur-spo said...

Wow -
I haven't run into anyone who knew Keith Green! And 2nd Chapter I recall seeing in concert. I still have their 'Hymns" CDs, which are awesome. Are the 2nd chapters still around? They must be grandparents by now!

A Lewis said...

Ur-Spo: See! I told you that some of "we oldies" would know all about those big old names from the past.

turnipHed said...

Good riddance!!!

Them --- NOT YOU!

Lemuel said...

Yes, I remember those days - although I was never nearly so closely involved with the actual artists as you. I never took to "contemporary Christian music", at least of the type of which you write, but the people I was around did. I always found it (and still find it) to be more than a bit "fake".

Perhaps my reaction is based in my early experience with the religious ones organizing "parties" to gather up "heathen rock and roll" records and smashing them. Pop music was evil and corrupting - until they discovered that they (both churches and artists) could make a pile of cash from it.

There is a comedian (Mike Birbiglia) who has a segment of his act in which he satirizes this music fairly well.

Rick said...

Wow, interesting glimpse into your former life. Thanks for sharing.

Calvin said...

There was a group called Silverwind back in the early 80's that I liked. The men in the group were very handsome; especially the lead male singer. I think his name was/is Georgian Banov(sp). He's Bulgarian, I think. What hypocrites a lot of people became when Sandy Patty divorced, as did Amy Grant. A lot of "Christians" showed their true colors when they kicked them to the curb. Amy kind of had the last laugh though. I remember Sandy's recording of "We Shall Behold Him" always giving me goose bumps.

Stephen said...

Yesterday I listened to a double album of Aretha Franklin recorded live at her father's church. I had the spirit!

Birdie said...

I'm not one to join large crowds doing anything, so I've never been to a Christian concert. I did enjoy the early music of Amy Grant, but honestly I prefer rock and roll. I feel like an outsider when it comes to CCM. My faith guides my life, but I just don't connect to the music. More power to those who do, if it guides them to behavior that shows the grace and love of God.

CJ/Rick said...

I love me some Larnelle and Steve Green. I never much cared for Sandi or Amy. I appreciate a great voice but just like in country music I loathe some of those sappy lyrics.