Sunday, January 21, 2007

Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher

Some friends of mine were very involved in the early days of the "Jesus Movement" in California during the 70's. Among their friends from that time period was Lonnie Frisbee. Frisbee was a gifted and charismatic young man who became central to the foundation and explosive growth of both Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard.

He was also gay.

A filmmaker named David Di Sabatino has just released a documentary entitled "Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher". My friends were in contact with Mr. Di Sabatino throughout the process of making the film and they are extremely pleased with the way it turned out. I had a chance to see an early "rough cut" version of the film and the final cut which is now available on DVD.

This film is challenging, thought-provoking and touching. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Challenge

My friend Michael had been “witnessing” to an acquaintance whom I’ll call “Spike”. Michael had known Spike from our pre-Christian rock & roll days. Spike worked as a roadie and concert lighting technician and projected a rough, tough demeanor. His language could make a sailor blush. He was loud, bodacious, obscene and funny as hell. Spike was also openly contemptuous of Christianity.

Michael took it as a challenge to “share Jesus” with Spike. Spike was up for the challenge. They would dialog, debate, argue. They genuinely liked each other and enjoyed butting heads.

One day, one of them (I’m not sure who), came up with a proposition: Spike would come to church with Michael and, in exchange, Michael would go wherever Spike chose to take him. A dangerous scenario (and one I would not recommend entering into). Both parties accepted the challenge.

As you can probably guess, Spike’s venue of choice was a strip club. He had attended church with Michael and although he had been pleasantly surprised by it, he hadn’t been converted. Now it was Michael’s turn to anty up.

Michael had been to strip clubs before, prior to becoming a Christian, so he knew what to expect. At the club, he ordered Coke. Spike had beer. They sat at the front of the small stage. The dancer came out and began her act. Michael looked into her eyes. He felt overcome with a sense of how deeply God loved this woman and knew her pain. He continued staring into her eyes, seeing her as a person, not an object for sexual gratification. By her expression, she seemed a bit taken aback by this man who refused to ogle her body but instead looked her in the eyes with kindness.

Spike, unaware of what was going on, held up a twenty dollar bill. The dancer came close and allowed him to tuck the bill into her g-string. Michael reached over and also tucked something in. The dancer, sensing the presence against her skin of something other than currency, moved back and retrieved from her crotch what Michael had placed there. It was a little laminated plastic card. She stopped in mid-step and read the card -- transfixed by it -- suddenly oblivious to the pounding music and audience of men.

It read as follows:

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: One belonging to him and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of his life.

This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.”

The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

The woman burst into tears, covered her face with her hands and ran off the stage.

I don’t know whatever became of Spike.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

To Whom It May Concern

To Whom It May Concern

To whom it may concern
Whatever your address
I didn't think I'd have the nerve
To write this I confess
To get it off my chest
But now that I have your attention
I must make sure I get it right

To whom it may concern
Dear madam or sir
I don't know your name
Or if you'll ever read these words
I know that sounds absurd
I know you don't know who I am
You know that we haven't met

And I hope this is alright with you
I hope this is alright with you
I remain your faithful servant

To whom it may concern
Let me cut to the chase
We're gonna have to meet one time
Before we quit this place
Gone without a trace
And you may have already won
So please fill out this questionnaire
And say a prayer

To whom it may concern
Now we will begin
I'm not gonna post this
I'll just throw it in the wind
And wonder where it lands
But I know that it will reach you somehow
I know that it will be received
I must believe

I hope we'll be alright with you
I hope we'll be alright with you
I remain your faithful servant....

(From the CD John Wesley Harding's New Deal by John Wesley Harding

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Jesus on J Street

I was in Sacramento, on business. After a long day’s work I decided to go downtown to J Street for dinner. J Street is lined for several blocks with trendy restaurants and coffee houses. On either side of J Street (yes, H, I and K, L) are stately Victorian-style homes; some rundown and vacant, some converted to apartments, some restored by Yuppies to their former glory. This area of Sacramento has been moving upscale, but is still close to the mean streets of downtown. Young professionals sip lattes and eat tapas at sidewalk cafes while winos crouch in doorways of vacant storefronts, bumming for change.

As I cruised down J Street I spotted the restaurant I was looking for: a pan-Asian bistro that was getting rave reviews. It was a busy night and the only parking space I could find was on a side street four blocks away.

I parked the rental car and walked up J Street towards my destination, avoiding eye contact with some of the scarier looking doorway-crouchers. I was within a half a block now. I passed a man on the sidewalk going the opposite direction and it took a moment for my brain to register that something was amiss. He was a tall thin black man. His age was hard to discern but I guess somewhere between 55 and 65. He was wearing a woolen cap and dirty coat. None of this was strange for the area in and of itself. What was odd was that he was dragging an electric wheelchair behind him down the sidewalk. The wheels of the electric chair weren’t moving and the man had hold of the thing by one of its armrests, pulling it sideways with a grim expression that reminded me of Sisyphus, forever pushing his rock up the hill in Greek mythology.

The electric wheelchair was not one of the newer, lightweight models that seniors in Arizona zip around the shopping malls in. It was a bulky, heavy, old-style electric chair – the kind that the kids with MS used to have back at my high school in the 80’s. The kind that would have to be slowly lowered out of specially-equipped vans onto the ground using an elevator.

I stopped and turned around.
“Looks like that thing doesn’t want to move”, I said.
“Yeah,” he replied, “it broke down on me again. I just need to get it home.”
“How far do you have to go?” I asked.
“’bout six blocks.”
“How far have you dragged it since it died?”
“’bout two blocks.”

I could see that he was tired and sweating. But was this really his wheelchair? Perhaps he had stolen it in hopes of hocking it for drug money and then realized too late that it was not going to be easy to get away with. If I helped him, I might be an accessory – an unwitting dupe – to a crime. And what might happen if we got it to wherever he was taking it? What if it was a crack-house or gang-banger hangout? What if he was a psycho and had a knife? The mental worst-case scenarios began to spiral and escalate.

And there was my restaurant a half block away.

I gave my racing brain a mental slap and chastised myself silently.
“I’ve got an idea”, I said. “My car is parked a few blocks away, how about if I go and get it and we load your chair into the trunk and take it to your place?”
“Really? You would do that?”
“Sure. You wait here; I’ll be right back.”

I jogged down J Street, the way I’d come, found my car and drove back to where the man and his wheelchair had been. I could see that he was still pulling the chair along and I realized he had probably figured I wouldn’t return. He was at a point where the sidewalk intersected with an alleyway, so I turned into the alley with the rear-end of the car facing the sidewalk, and popped the trunk. “OK”, I said, “let’s get this into the trunk.”

When I travel, I typically rent Economy or Compact class cars. I don’t really like big cars. It suddenly occurred to me that this chair was not going to fit into my car. But I’d come this far, I had to try. The man looked surprised to see me again (and mildly shocked about the size of my car). He stepped away from the chair and I grabbed hold of it to pull it to the trunk. I yanked and it barely moved. Shit. This thing weighed a ton. It must have taken this poor guy hours to drag the thing two blocks! Now that he had stepped away from the chair and stood upright, I could see that the man was even thinner than he had originally appeared. His right arm hung limp at his side and his right leg drug on the ground. I realized that, along with pulling the chair, he had been pulling half of his body down the street.

I marshaled my strength and began muscling the chair towards the car. It was moving along now, though the wheels still refused to turn. They made little skid marks on the sidewalk with each tug. Now the chair was at the trunk and it was obvious it wasn’t going to fit. The only way I could see that it would work was if I loaded the chair upside down into the trunk so that the chair back was inside and the wheels stuck out. Perhaps then I could find something to tie the trunk lid down with. The man stood off to the side with an expression that betrayed both hope and skepticism.

I got my arms under the chair and lifted, trying to use leverage to tilt it upside-down into the trunk. “Damn, this thing is heavy!” I thought. I could see that it was the huge battery under the seat that gave it its heft. “Wow, you're strong”, the man said in earnest. “Well, I work for a construction company” I told him, skipping the detail that I actually run the computer networks for a construction company; a job which entails sitting at a desk all day.

I got the chair upended into the trunk. But all the weight was now at the top and halfway outside the trunk. The chair was precariously balanced and the slightest bump might flip it out onto the street. I searched around for something I could use to tie the beast down but they don’t equip rental cars with ropes or bungees. “Well, here’s the deal”, I told him, “This is as good as its going to get. We’ll just have to drive very, very slowly and hope it stays in.”

“Ok”, said the man in a dubious but hopeful tone.

As the car inched along at walking speed down the backstreets, I introduced myself. The man told me his name was Willy. He repeatedly thanked me for helping him, saying “I don’t know what I would have done.” I muttered something like, “Well, let’s just see if we get there.” I had noticed the man’s chair had a bumper sticker on it from a local jazz radio station, so I asked him if he liked jazz. “Oh, yes”, he said politely. “Who are your favorite jazz artists?” I asked. He told me he liked Kenny G. I told him I liked Miles and Coltrane. I doubt that he really listened to Kenny G and, I admit, I probably couldn’t identify Miles or Coltrane if you played either one for me. We were telling white lies to try to make each other feel more comfortable.

Willy directed me through the streets and we finally pulled up in front of his home, which turned out to be an assisted-living apartment building. “My apartment is on the first floor” he said. I whispered a silent prayer of thanks for that. The chair came out of the trunk much easier since gravity was now my ally. It was also much easier to drag the wheelchair on the linoleum of the apartment hallway than it had been on the concrete sidewalk. I got the chair into his apartment, which I could see was a one-room studio. Willy reassured me that he would be able to get the chair fixed.

He thanked me again, said he didn’t know what he would have done, etc., then looked at me and asked, “Are you a Christian?”
“I try to be.” I said. “I try to follow Jesus."
“Well," said Willy, “you did tonight.”

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Adventures in Charismania, Part 2: Be Ye Drunk!

It was at the same prophetic conference that my friend Karl stumbled towards me. I liked Karl a lot. He was a musician; a pretty good worship leader and guitar player; and a fun guy to be around. Although he kept it pretty hidden, Karl also had anger issues. His church had cast a “spirit of anger” out of him, but for some reason it kept coming back.

Karl’s church was part of a Charismatic movement called “The New Wine”. They believed, among other things, that one manifested the infilling of the Holy Spirit by appearing drunk. Obviously this was based on a unique application of Acts chapter 2. I used to sometimes run sound for their services and enjoyed the antics as people stumbled around laughing, bumping into things, hiccupping and raising toasts with imaginary glasses filled with 100-proof Holy Spirit.

So here came Karl, weaving towards me like Otis the town drunk. He put his arm around my shoulders and slurred, “You know, the Bible says to be drunk with the Holy Spirit.” Then he careened away – giggling – bouncing off of chairs and people.

I didn’t get a chance to tell him that the Bible actually says “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18) and “Be sober of spirit. Be on the alert.” (1 Pet. 5:8).

But then, he probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear that anyway.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Adventures in Charismania, Part 1

I was once playing in the worship band at a charismatic “prophetic” conference. My bass amp has a “direct box” built into it, which enables it to be connected to a sound system (PA). Because my amp has a tube preamp, it has a tendency to “discharge” the tube a couple of seconds after being turned off. This “discharge” causes a signal to get sent out of the “direct box” into the sound system which, frankly, sounds rather like a fart. As a result, I’ve learned to leave the amp turned on after playing a worship set.

On this occasion though, I forgot and switched it off as we left the stage and the prophetic speaker walked up and took the microphone. As he began to speak, my amp “farted” into the PA. He froze in mid-sentence, his eyes got really big, and he whispered into the mic, “Did you hear that?! Did you hear it???!!!” People responded with raised hands and enthusiastically bobbing heads. The speaker, now inspired, launched into a prophetic word that the strange sound was Satan being cast down which, in turn, was a sign that this particular conference would have world-changing ramifications. This elicited a wave of hallelujahs, further binding of various evil spirits, more prophetic words, etc. I was practically rolling on the floor behind the sound board, trying not to burst out laughing.

It took 45 minutes for things to settle back down. The consensus for the rest of the conference was that a powerfully supernatural event had occurred at the outset, which set the tone for the entire event.