Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hard Core Review of Blessed Is He & I Am Alpha & Omega

I’ll admit, I have always lived a more complex life, trying new things, from food to music I have seemed to like it all. Unlike my former father in law, he was a meat and potatoes man. Nothing complicated for him I can recall him saying, “I wouldn’t eat pizza for anything, looks like it’s already been eaten once.” There were few things in life I could relate to Ed on, other than his love for baseball we were almost polar opposites.

With Ed I learned that if I wanted to win him over I would have to focus on the one thing we both loved outside of his daughter, I would have to focus on baseball. In other words I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with his daughter, and I had better find something we could relate to. Thankfully the concept worked as we ended up spending some years together prior to his death. That lesson was one of the moments in life that I learned.

I am a kind of eclectic guy, I have to admit, I have on a few occasions listened to music that I really didn’t care much for. One of those, commonly known as Hard Core, involves some of the new heavier rock styles that has a lot of screaming. It is music I just didn’t care much for. I’ll listen to everything from Josh Groban to Ozzy Osbourne, and from Garth Brookes to Aretha Franklin, but I just couldn’t get into the screaming. While that is the case, I also realize the need for being able to reach various cultures, I realized my responsibility as a pastor of a church to teach the importance of finding ways to get them to understand, relate to, and reach the culture.

I have been doing a series at the church I pastor called Back to the Basics and as a part of that series I was doing a sub series titled Prayer as a Prelude to Revival. I was on the last of that series when I was going over the message titled The 10 Common Characteristics of Revival. One of the important characteristics in the history of revival is the ability to use the music of the culture to reach the culture, in other words, taking contemporary forms, relating them to the message of Jesus while keeping the style. We have all seen this, including the hymns despite the arguments of extremely conservative groups. The wonderful video from Amazing Grace featuring the music and commentary of Rick Wakeman, former keyboardist from Yes, goes into the history of the hymns. We are reminded over and over again, that often times, the writer of the hymns and the author of the music of the hymns come from two different periods, the reasoning is because of the adoption of the music into the culture of the day. The greatest example of this is Amazing Grace by Newton and A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Luther. It is likely that in the case of John Newton that he never heard Amazing Grace in the way it has commonly become known.

I have realized the importance of reaching the culture for some time with music, it is one of the things that was critical in my own life, and one of those things I was aware as being important in the life of others in society. I have been saddened over the years that one of my spiritual fathers, David Wilkerson has taken a hard stand on this. I will never forget, and have shared hundreds if not thousands of times my story of marching forward to receive Jesus into my life while Dallas Holmes was playing the song Halleluiah. Holmes had come out of the Rock ‘N’ Roll scene and while mellow would still be considered as having a ‘Rock’ influence in his style. Over the years Wilkerson has I believe wrongly begin an attack on the style of music. While it may be appropriate to offer negative comment on some of the lyrical styles, or even the life styles of some involved in ‘Rock,’ it is wrong to categorically become critical of the style. I have seen thousands of people come to know Christ through music, I know that the styles if given the message of the cross could, and in fact, has reached people.

Now let’s get back to my initial distaste of Hard Core. Sometimes being a Christian means we go out of our comfort zone, we go out of our comfort zone because the salvation, and building up of Christians who are different are more important than personal taste. I know for example at Mosaic Church here in Wichita, as well as with The Virtual Pew, there is a need and a desire to find a way to reach people where they are at. Taste is not nearly as important as effectiveness, especially when that effectiveness has to do with the message of Jesus, seeing people become followers of Jesus and then seeing those followers become dedicated to the teachings of Jesus in their lives. If in fact, I wanted to see the church continue to reach the Goth Community, to reach the Hard Core, or Skater communities, I would have to be open to seeing the church use styles that would be effective. Now it isn’t that the church has the desire to reach only this community, we and I have the desire to reach any community that seems to have given up on church or maybe has been neglected by other churches because of their background or lifestyle. The message of Jesus is for all people, but not all churches do a good job of reaching out to all people.

In the Bible there is the story of this dude named Saul. Saul was this educated well rounded guy who hated Christians. In fact while working for the Roman government, part of his responsibility was to persecute and get on to Christians, even in some situations overseeing their deaths and murder. Then on the way to another city, he meets Jesus. Jesus literally knocks him off his horse, blinds him, and starts a journey that will enable him to become one of the great Christian leaders of all time. Now I am not claiming all of the Paul experience, just the being knocked off the horse part, but the bottom line, I recently went through an experience that was like being knocked off my horse by God to show me a new direction, well not necessarily so much a new direction, but a direction that would cause me to change my perspective.

In my early faith walk I realized the importance of music in my life. One of the things I was convinced of, one of the things I heard was that the music that was important to me prior to me having a relationship with Jesus would have to no longer be a part of my life. I had a future that had the hymns or a style that seemed awfully similar to Country music to me being the only music I thought I could listen to. It was after several suicide attempts that I had a youth pastor introduce me to the music of Larry Norman. It was like a bright and blinding eye that gave me hope that my faith wouldn’t have to be boring, wouldn’t have to be void of one of the things I loved. I was so impressed with this potential that I would become involved in the later stages of the initial “Jesus Movement” which involved a number of Christians like Love Song, Larry Norman, The Second Chapter of Acts, Tom Howard, Pat Terry and the list goes on and on. I actually would eventually start to work with some of those bands including the band The Rob Cassels Band.

In the early days of the ‘Jesus Movement’ I begin to see many of the old hippies love for Jesus. I loved the early days because of their compassion to reach their generation with the message and life changing hope the message brought to their generation. In the early days, groups like Resurrection Band, Love Song, The Rob Cassels Band and others would go places to play their music, not worried about getting paid, not worrying so much about anything because they knew the blessing of sharing their message was more important than anything. There was if you will an innocence that enabled these bands to be extremely effective at reaching their culture. You would see the bands staying around for hours after the concerts sharing and talking with people, one on one. You would see them praying with people, sharing in lives, you would see a genuine concern. To quote Billy Crystal, to see these bands involvement and love for what they were doing was, ‘Maaaaavvelllouuuuuussssss.”

This last week at Mosaic we hosted two national touring bands, I Am Alpha and Omega and Blessed is He. I had discovered these bands through MySpace after a common friend had contacted them about me and the church. It wasn't long before Peach of I Am Alpha and Omega contacted me, I did some research, and trying to be true to my view of reaching the community decided to bring them to town.

There were a number of things about these two bands that impressed me, first was their desire to just have a place to play on an off night on their way to Missouri. It was obvious right away because their honorarium was minimal compared to what their costs were. While they may have been traveling in an old bus that runs off of used cooking oil gathered by asking restaurants, there was still costs involved. Then while having them here, hearing their per diem per day was only $5 per person, they often don’t get to eat, and they are totally dependent upon the blessings God throws their way. I was impressed, in fact, I was reminded of the old early days of the Christian music scene when people were being reached.

Then I realized after the band arrived that they didn’t care so much for large numbers, not that they would mind, but these bands saw it a honor to share their music and their lives with people, no matter how many people were there. Again, this was something that reminded me of the early days of the ‘Jesus Movement’ music. Not only would these guys give a great performance, with every single band member dropping and throwing sweat before their second song, but they had worked hard at their craft, understanding the importance of quality of music, but also the importance of entertaining others. In fact, this was one of the most entertaining concerts I have ever see, out of hundreds if not thousands, and the bass player for Blessed is He, was the single most entertaining musician I have ever seen. Not that the primary importance is entertainment, but the entertainment is one of the things that enables and gives the people the desire to stick around and listen to the message and then, even stick around for hours after a concert to talk to the members of the band.

Blessed is He and I Am Alpha and Omega didn’t just provide quality music though, they did something else that reminded me a great deal of the old ‘Jesus Music’ days, they took the time to share of their lives and to share Jesus with the people they had just finished playing for. I’m not talking about a few moments here, or a few moments there, I am talking about hours. These guys had stated that they were there to serve the people at the concert, you know what? I believe them. Don’t get me wrong, they also spoke during their musical sets, but it was then, and afterward that their lives really came through. It reminded me, that just like in the early days of ‘Jesus Music’ there were still artists that played because of their love for Jesus, and in return, their love of Jesus would be transformed out to their love for the people, which is really what the love of Jesus is all about.

Over the years, I had developed a bad taste in my mouth regarding the Christian Music Industry. Truth is, I still have a bad taste to some extent, but I Am Alpha and Omega and Blessed is He gave me hope, hope that there still exists some of those same types of people who existed during the ‘Jesus Movement’ days. These are people who had as their primary passion ministry. People who hadn’t had their music, opinions, and life polluted and destroyed by an industry that had a larger concern about things like profit than they did things like souls. Don’t get me wrong here, these guys like the others doing real ministry deserve all of the success they can get. Phone bills still have to be paid, children still need to be fed, and I could go on and on, but these are areas where we who also believe in these passions, also believe in this type of ministry can come in and help out and support. Hopefully God chooses to use us to do that.

One of the guys in my church, Chris realized how he could help out. Seems as if these two bands were having some trouble with their bus electrical system or something and Chris had some knowledge in this. Chris didn’t really have the money for he and his family to get into the concert. As is always the case, I will let someone in free to something like this if they don’t have the money. Chris’s wife brought homemade cookies for the band, and Chris ended up working on the bus to try and help them along. Chris realized there was ways he could help out without giving money. If we all think about things like this we can all find ways to help each other out. While money is nice, the things money provides can be provided by other means than money, by things like labor, service, and showing love by cooking a meal, offering a shower or you can imagine any other number of things. These are lessons and experiences we can all experience if we have reminders of love and service like these guys provided for me and the others at the concert the other night.
I had an eye opening, blinding experience on Monday night, September 29, 2008. I learned that I as well could learn to love Hard Core music. While my hair is back in a pony tail most of the time, I had a friend at the concert that encouraged me to let my hair down, literally, I did. It wasn’t long before there I was, an almost 50 year old guy, head banging with the best of them, while allowing my long glorious hair do some of the talking for me. I was having fun, even finding myself understanding the lyrics, which dumbfounded some, but I found myself, more than anything, entering into a place of worship that I was not expecting. I found myself having fun, being ministered to, and worshiping Jesus in a loud, Hard Core way with a new generation of people needing in their own way the very thing I needed when I was growing up and needing the music of Larry Norman, Pat Terry, Resurrection Band, Rob Cassels and numerous others. I was reminded of the love these forefathers of Christian music had, because I was seeing that love continue on in bands like Blessed is He and I Am Alpha and Omega.

For those wanting more information about these bands, contact them through their MySpace pages. Just click here to contact Blessed is He, and click here to contact I Am Alpha and Omega. I encourage churches, youth groups, or others who promote concerts to contact these guys. My hope is to have them again at some point in time at Mosaic. Not just these guys but any group that is willing to go out of their way to reach their cultures, from Bluegrass to Country, and from Rock to Hip Hop, finding ways to use music to reach the culture is worth it, because the people who make up the culture are worth it. Next time, I want both or one of these bands for 2 days, we’ll be doing a skate park where I raise funds to do that, then a school, or something like that prior to the concert at the church or other venue. Why, because now I am sold on at least these two bands because I have seen their heart. Hopefully others on board reading this will be willing to do the same.

On a scale of 1 – 10 for the live concert of these two bands, Hard Core and all, I give an old time, enthusiastic 10

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