Our Lives as Jesus Followers in the 1970s -- more on Larry Norman

Read my last post before this one, if you haven't yet . . . and if you get these posts through Feedburner or another RSS method, go to http://www.myrealjourney.com and watch the videos I have posted there of Larry's live performances. Larry Norman live is just so much better than Larry's albums . . .

I read this tribute to Larry on facebook this morning, and could very much identify with it, so I wanted to share it with all you who never even heard of Larry Norman before my last post:

Written by Chris Clendenen
"I wanted to share the "tribute" I wrote the other night when I learned of Larry's departure, and just couldn't sleep...

"I was lost and blind 'til a Friend of mine came and took me by the hand. Then He led me to His Kingdom; it was in another land...."

Tonight I learned of the passing of Larry Norman into the presence of his Lord. I would not have immediately expected tears to come upon the hearing of this, but they have indeed come.

For whatever condition my spiritual life may be, Larry was the first person to disciple me, via a twelve inch circular vinyl LP entitled "Only Visiting This Planet". I literally wore out the grooves on that album, the one with the black label and the gatefold cover; and before I ever got a copy of "In Another Land", I had to buy another copy of "Planet"- this time the one with the blue label and without the gatefold cover.

At a time when Judas Iscariot was getting all the good press with "Jesus Christ Superstar", and it was in no way cool to be otherwise associated with Jesus Christ, Larry unapologetically proclaimed his allegiance and celebrated his Lord with verve (inside joke intended).

He brazenly mocked the pseudo-spirituality of the pop culture crowd to their faces with his scathing parody album "Streams of White Light Into Darkened Corners." Of the mainstream church, he said, "They say I'm sinful, and backslidden; that I have left to follow fame. But, here I am talking 'bout Jesus just the same." When starting a song with a line like "Sippin' whiskey from a paper cup" would have gotten you kicked out of 99% of the churches in America, Larry had the temerity to start with THAT and then to lay it on the line with a second verse that added, "Gonorrhea on Valentine's Day; and you're still lookin' for the perfect lay...." Then he made his point clearly enough that even the most dope-addled freak among us could understand: "Why don't you look into Jesus?- He's got the answer."

And thousands of us, maybe millions, dumped our dope and picked up our Bibles. We put on our headphones, cranked Larry up real loud, and read for ourselves about the Rock that Doesn't Roll and the Unidentified Flying Object coming back to take us home. Now we are a peculiar people- our ears may not be able to hear you without a PA system and power chords (or at least a good hearing aid), but our hearts hear God's still small voice ok.

And that is what Larry was interested in. He opened the doors of the church to the freaks and longhairs and tired rebels looking for a God worthy of their lives. And he gave God's new wave of musical evangelists a platform from which to proclaim their Lord- Solid Rock Records. Christian kids everywhere stood up with our fingers pointing to heaven, crying "ONE WAY!" His "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" became a campfire classic. CCM'ers, Christian folkies, Hardcore Freaks, and Christian rockers of every strype have a common musical founding father in Larry Norman.

Tonight, I imagine Larry is standing before his Lord, singing "We can be together, now and forever- I Love You". His body is whole again, and the youthful fire that burned so brightly in him is back for good.

One last thing- one more gift that Larry gave me: Years ago my wife told me that her earliest recollection of me was in the college Sunday school class of Harvard Avenue Baptist Church; perched on the back of a folding chair with my twelve-string, singing Larry's "The Outlaw" for the class, making his song my own. In all time and eternity I do not think I could imagine a better first impression I would want for my Kathie to have of me.

Thanks, Larry; and rock on.

Chris Clendenen
February 25, 2008
This World is Not My Home- I'm Just Passin' Through.
Death is Conquered While You Slumber- Seven is the Perfect Number."


Larry Norman is home with Jesus now

My faith was nurtured in my teens by "Jesus Music", and the original Jesus Rocker died last weekend. This is what was posted by his brother:


Hello everybody.`

Our friend and my wonderful brother Larry passed away at 2:45 Sunday morning. Kristin and I were with him, holding his hands and sitting in bed with him when his heart finally slowed to a stop. We spent this past week laughing, singing, and praying with him, and all the while he had us taking notes on new song ideas and instructions on how to continue his ministry and art. Several of you friends here got to come and visit with him in the last couple of weeks and were a great source of help and friendship to Larry. Ray Sievers, Derek Robertson, Mike Makinster, Matt Simmons, and a few more. Thank you guys. Larry appreciated your visits very much. And he greatly appreciated the thoughts, wishes, support and prayers that came from all of you Army members on a daily basis. Thank you for being part of his small circle of friends over the years.

Yesterday afternoon he knew he was going to go home to God very soon and he dictated the following message to you while his friend Allen Fleming typed these words into Larry’s computer:
I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God’s hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home. My brother Charles is right, I won't be here much longer. I can't do anything about it. My heart is too weak. I want to say good bye to everyone. In the past you have generously supported me with prayer and finance and we will probably still need financial help. My plan is to be buried in a simple pine box with some flowers inside. But still it will be costly because of funeral arrangement, transportation to the gravesite, entombment, coordination, legal papers etc. However money is not really what I need, I want to say I love you. I’d like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort. There will be a funeral posted here on the website, in case some of you want to attend. We are not sure of the date when I will die.

Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.
Goodbye, farewell, we’ll meet again
Somewhere beyond the sky.
I pray that you will stay with God
Goodbye, my friends, goodbye.

Thank you to all of you who were so nice to my brother over the years. Kristin and I will post funeral information in the next day or two. Right now we’re not able to function very well, but the whole family is here... our mother Margaret, our sisters Nancy and Kristy, Mike Norman and his new wife Tiffany, and Silver. We miss him beyond words. Thank you for everything.

Peace to you all in Christ,
Charles Norman"

Here's some of his music:


The Greatest Commandment

A friend of mine invited me into her home when I was dropping something off today so that I could see her mess and not feel bad about mine. She is a stay-at-home mom, and also a former 20-year career person who worked long hours, and we have commiserated about what it is like to make that transition. Recently I was venting to her about life now that I'm back at work, and so today she took the opportunity to make me feel much better!

I am so rich in wonderful people in my life! She is someone I think could be a very close friend, if I took the time for that friendship, and as an added bonus, my husband even likes her! (I am very lucky that he likes my friend Barb too!) And I have so many connections right now that are so precious to me!

As I did a few hours of housework and listened to a play-list that included all my music (so Mozart and Chopin mixed with AC/DC and Aerosmith and John Michael Talbot and Rich Mullins and Eric Clapton and James Taylor and U2 and James Blunt and Fergie and many many other genres and artists) I was struck again by my very-full very-rich life. But the reason I am happy is not the stuff or the opportunities or even the music and books and freedom . . .

The reason I am so happy is the people in my life, including the 3 persons of the Triune God.

We always look at "the greatest commandment" (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself) as if it were just a prescription for good ethics and for pleasing God.

The truth is this: Abundant Life is found through our relationships with God, each other, nature, and our own selves, and "the greatest commandment" is not so much a prescription for righteousness as a prescription for happiness. Of course, sometimes we are more conscious of that happiness than at other times, and sometimes there is a cost to our own agendas for that happiness, and sometimes we have hardships in our lives that obscure that happiness with grief . . .

But sometimes everything falls into place at the right moment, and there is just happiness.

Theologies, Ideologies, and Reality

My life is very full -- of wonderful people, of everything I need and most of what I want in terms of possessions and stuff, of wonderful books and music and images from movies and life, of more opportunities to use my gifts than time to take advantage of those opportunities, and of virtual complete freedom to manage my time and resources according to my own wisdom or foolishness rather than according to the dictates of a boss or of anyone else. When I stand before my Lord at the final judgment to give account of my choices, I will really have no recourse than to hang my head in shame for the ways I have wasted the abundance He has given me . . . unless I manage to actually walk in that "daily intimacy and obedience" that I write about and talk about and desire to be my reality.

I love philosophy, psychology, sociology, and theology! My mind loves to spin on figuring out "how things really work" and on "what that means for my choices in life". But I have 44 years (in 2 weeks, that is!) of seeing how people construct systematic theologies and how people buy into various ideologies in order to feel safe and in control, and then do their best to ignore all the evidences of major flaws in their constructed representation of reality. "Education" at its worst just gives one very good tools to defend a very-flawed ideology against all intrusion of reality! But then, real education is a continual give-and-take between reality and our mental representations of that reality, and a conforming of the mental representation to reality in better ways, in order to allow us to experience life more fully -- both as individuals and as societies.

I have concluded that my goals do indeed require a return to school -- this fall, I plan and expect -- but that they also require me to manage my life so that I do not over-commit myself and thus lose the ability to walk in that daily obedience and intimacy with God that would allow Him to use what I learn in school to refine and shape my perception of the world according to His plan for me. I believe that a full-time load may well push me over the edge into simple indoctrination into the ideology of the school I attend, and move me ahead faster into a life that might match the definition of "success" for that ideology, but would miss God's plan for my success in being conformed to His image.

I do have His Kingdom, right here and right now . . .

And I do not dare to give that up for any other goal.

And as I live in that Kingdom and walk in that daily intimacy and obedience, I am starting to really believe in my core that eternal life includes today and that the future does not end at the grave, but that there is indeed a new heaven and new earth and new resurrected body awaiting me.

And I am starting to believe in my very core that He is not really that concerned with most of the stuff that the Evangelical culture has taught me that He is concerned about, but that His concerns go right back to all that is expressed and implied in the whole story from creation to fall to redemption to resurrection:

He is making me into someone with full free will of my own -- no automatons here -- whose free will will be in harmony with His Will in that eternal new creation we will inhabit together.

And He is building a relationship with me that nurtures real intimacy between us, with proper dependencies and proper fulfillment of my own responsibility.

The One with the best relationship skills possible is pursuing the healthiest relationship ever with me (and with you), and is taking the responsibility to teach me what I need to know to play my part in that relationship.

Theologies and ideologies can't substitute for His role in a real relationship with me and my response to Him! The best they can do is play their appropriate part in my growing understanding of that relationship and of daily reality, and in the appropriate bonds I form with other followers of the Great Pursuer.



The Biblical definition of "evil" is essentially that it is purposeful opposition to the purposes of God -- His agenda in the world and in the lives of individuals and groups.

For most of us, we experience "evil" as those things and persons who threaten our sense of "a good world" . . . our sense of "how things ought to be." And we equate this gut reaction with God's reaction to the same things and persons.

I am a fan of the writer/Christian/psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, and the first book of his that swept me into his stream of thought was People of the Lie, a collection of stories from his practice illustrating his definition of evil and his understanding of a proper response to it as Christians. I paraphrase his definition of "evil" as "the use of power by any of us to protect that which is sick within us, at the expense of the health and well-being of those around us." I think that lines up well as a practical "bottom up" understanding of the Christian definition of "evil".

Dennis Okholm did a wonderful teaching series at St. Andrew's for Advent based on N.T. Wright's book Evil and the Justice of God. Wright does an amazing job of looking at the theology of sin and evil and God's remedy for both.

We are bound up in our own perspective on what "the good life that honors God" is, as much as we think that we base it on Scripture rather than on our cultural conditioning. And out of that perspective we so often lose the ability to understand that our gut reaction to others as "evil" and to ourselves as "not evil" leaves us very vulnerable to being truly evil ourselves.

One of my favorite C.S. Lewis books is The Four Loves, in which he talks about Phileo love (non-sexual non-familial deep friendship) and the potential for evil out of it, as deeply bonded friends agree with each other on their perceptions of good and evil, and reinforce each other as they act out of those perceptions. We bond together in like-minded bands, and, like the mob, feel reassured that our chosen way of life and our ethics are safe and good, and that those who oppose us are evil.

The remedy is simple: Jesus said “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye."

Teach me how to live, Lord Jesus!


You Are Uniquely Important

One of my favorite illustrations from popular culture is the story of the blind men and the elephant: several blind men had to describe the creature they each encountered. One man grasped the elephant's trunk and said that the creature was like a great thick snake, writhing back and forth. One man pressed against the elephant's side and said that the creature was like a great wall covered with leather -- soft, but impossible to move. One man felt the elephant's ear and said the creature was more like a fan. Another man felt the elephant's leg and said the creature was actually more like a pillar. And one man felt the elephant's tusk and said that the creature was like a hard curved pipe. And, of course, they were all right, but they were all wrong. Each one had a portion of truth, but the whole truth required all of their perspectives.

That fits well with many explanations of the "image of God" in Christian theology, and also fits well into all the Pauline theology concerning the church as the body of Christ, with each part important to the whole. Each one of us reveal God in a way that no other person reveals God, and each one of us contribute to the mission of the church -- the Body of Christ -- in a way that no other person can contribute to the Body. Paul instructs us to revere each part of the Body, and to give honor to the lessor parts.

This sets the context for Paul's instructions to the Romans about how we respond to each other in love and humility out of our response of gratitude for the gift of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Proper humility does not think more of oneself than one ought, because in a proper view of myself in the context of all of us, I see myself as filling the role I am called to fill and each one of you as filling the role you are each called to fill. Pride elevates my role and minimizes the role of each of you. False humility minimizes my role and abdicates my responsibility as I expect you to not only fulfill your callings but to take on the weight of mine as well. Proper humility sees my own responsibility clearly, and sees your responsibilities clearly, and calls each one of us to obedience in fulfilling God's call on all of us. (Proper humility also shows an understanding of the dynamics of sin and righteousness, and that I am just as vulnerable to private and public sin as is my brother, given the right circumstances.)

I was sitting at the back of the church with 2 friends on the evening of Ash Wednesday, and late in the service an older man came in, and our eyes met as he passed. He reacted to me in anger, saying loudly and with contempt "You're not important!"

I do not know this man, or the impetus for his words to me. He may have some senility going on, or may have some observation of me personally that he was reacting against. I do not know. But as I considered his words, I thought "No, I'm not more important than you, sir . . . but you are important, and in the same way, so am I! God thought each one of us was so important that He would have died to redeem any one of us . . . that He did die to redeem each one of us!"

I think that the changes in gender roles are hard especially for older men these days, and even for some of the younger ones of us. Women used to be expected to be cheerleaders for the football players, and now most of us are unwilling to be limited to the sidelines when God has gifted us with the skills to contribute to the game . . . and we have a new understanding of gender and of scripture and the culture in which it was written that leads many of us to conclude that God's call to each one of us requires us to contribute very actively to the competitive game of life. But to those entrenched in a view of gender that came out of the 50s. it is easy to react to what they perceive to be a Christian movement that follows the secular feminism of the 60s and 70s. In fact, Biblical feminism is rooted in all of Hebrew and Christian history, and predates secular feminism by thousands of years.

We are so indoctrinated by our cultural backgrounds that we lose the ability to rightly perceive the world around us. I know many wonderful men who have listened to the same speakers as I have -- men and women speakers and teachers -- and turned around and made statements about the quality of those teachers that elevated the men and denigrated the women. They hear the men as better speakers than they hear the women as, and assume that their perception matches the perceptions of others and supports a church structure centered around traditional gender roles . . . even as they also support "equality" and the ordination of women. Their perception does not match mine, and I grieve for the years of practice at preaching given to mediocre speakers while other truly talented speakers were relegated to non-speaking ministries in the belief that the church was most edified by the choices that were made regarding this. I wonder what could have happened to the church and the ministry of each of these people if the perceptions of the decision-makers were less distorted and better able to judge accurately the abilities of all the players on the team. (This is meant to be an indightment of the larger church, not specifically of St. Andrews. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to listen to John Huffman Jr. and to Jim Birchfield at St. Andrew's, and that I do not consider them to be mediocre in any way! Nevertheless, I see Lydia Sarandan and Leah Stout both as gifted teachers and preachers, and wish each had had opportunity to hone their own skills in front of such large groups week after week. We take for granted the amazing quality of preaching we get at St. Andrews!)

One of the biggest ways we each go after our own agenda is to boost the power and status of those that we believe will work toward the "right" agenda (my agenda!) and to try to take power away from those that would foster agendas that are "wrong" (your agenda when it doesn't match mine!). We apply all the tools and labels of modern psychology to honor those on "my side" and to denigrate those who are after agendas that don't match our own. We use all the social norming techniques to do the same, and do our best to use scripture and theology and church polity in the same way. We see ourselves as "on God's side" and believe we accomplish His agenda by using every available means to do just that.

The only problem to all this is that Scripture is really just too clear about the value of each person to the whole. We are not called to "be right" or to "build God's Kingdom." We are called to make disciples . . . and disciples are people! The teachings of Jesus and the teachings of the writers of the epistles to the early churches are just too clear about this to be able to let us invest into any idealogy at the expense of investing into the person who shows up in your office today.

I am called to experience God's love in Christ, called to abide in that love, called to offer that love to my brothers and sisters in Christ, called to offer that love to the stranger I encounter each day as to my neighbor, and called to offer that love to my enemies . . . and out of knowing that love and living that love, to teach the world the source of that love and how to experience that love and live in it. That is discipleship, and that is the great commission.

A Christianity that is centered around programs and doctrine and ideology but doesn't have time to give a 5-minute ride to church to someone who isn't part of my social group or to have my day interrupted by the needs of someone who is just causing their own problems . . .

isn't Christianity, at least not the way Jesus or Paul or John or Peter explained it.

While I was completely enmeshed in a lifestyle that not only caused my own problems but caused a lot of problems for other people, God loved me and gave His son to save me. How much more will He move me forward toward fully experiencing that salvation now that I claim to be His and say I want His help?

So how can I do anything other than offer the same love to all those other "losers" who keep asking for help even though I don't believe they will ever change the cycles that make them need my help?

It is exactly that kind of sacrificial love that Paul exhorts us each toward when he commands us to not think we're better than we really are.



My 23-year-old son is a huge fan of Barack Obama, and calls just to talk to me about politics. I am not a fan of Obama, but somehow we manage to have not only civil but actually enjoyable conversations! (I am a fan of Mike, my son, and he seems to be less discounting of me and my opinions than he was even a few months ago. So we've go that going for us!)

One of the things we've been observing is just how much of the popular vote is really based on sound-bites and photo ops and a general "buzz" of "information" shared between voters that often has nothing to do with reality. He changed my plans for Super Tuesday by urging me to actually read the position statement of the person I was going to support in the primary, and I was amazed to find how different my belief about that candidate was from his published campaign position statements! And I love this quote from Mike just yesterday: "The first woman president will look like Katie Couric, not like Hillary Clinton. Male or female candidates are judged primarily on their appearance!"

It does take a little bit of work to educate yourself about the issues and about the candidates, but it is part of governing -- part of fulfilling the responsibility God has given each one of us under this form of representative democracy. It is interesting that we ignore all the places that scripture calls us to fulfill responsibility well (as in "care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God" and in "as each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God") and act as though we are being the faithful stewards we are called to be by fulfilling the command to submit to the governing authorities. The fact is that we are poor stewards and not in submission to God's authority in our situation if we do not participate in the process of electing those to whom we later should indeed submit. We need to read the position statements and we need to vote.

Much of spiritual and mental health can be summed up by the simple idea of fulfilling the responsibility that is indeed mine to fulfill and letting go of the need to force others to fulfill their proper responsibilities. It is my responsibility to speak the truth in love when God calls me to do that, but it is not my responsibility to make others listen. It is my responsibility to love them with agape love whether they listen or not.

Our presbyterian churches and denominations are full of people who get all these concepts, and also full of us who do not. American representative democracy was created out of the concepts of presbyterian polity, and many of us presbyterians have a good grasp of our proper political responsibilities in our national process but miss the connection to our responsibilities in our church governance. Presbyterian polity is also based on the concept of a representative stewardship of authority on behalf of the whole congregational body, yet we err either on the side of neglect of the "bottom up" responsibilities to pick leaders and voice our perceptions of truth or on the side of neglect of the "top down" responsibilities to truly act as stewards of the well-being of the whole body as seen from the perspective of those not in leadership. (This is not to say that those in leadership positions are not first responsible to God. It is to say that we all are first responsible to God, and that He speaks through all the perspectives in the Body of believers as we live life and interact with Scripture together.) Here again, "submission to authority" means educating ourselves as to the issues and voicing our perception of truth as we listen to every other voiced perception. Anything else is irresponsible.

In both arenas -- presbyterian polity and American representative democracy -- God has called those at the bottom to exercise their responsibility just as deliberately as those at the top. If we do not, we will be held responsible by Him for the errors of those in elected leadership, despite our weak excuses of powerlessness.

And I thought I could just "opt out" because I needed to put away my clean laundry or because I'd filled my life so full of social commitments and other actual responsibilities! Oh, well!


Looking Good and Writing Well

Our church published a lenten devotional with 40 daily devotions written by members -- all the way from children to teens to pastors to middle-aged laypeople like me. I wrote one of the pieces.

The booklet was distributed today, and I flipped through it. It was great. I liked the assortment of pieces. I came to mine. I read it, and found that I had messed up my grammar and punctuation. How could I have done that? I took care to edit what I wrote and submitted. How embarrassing!

So I went to find what I submitted, and found that what was published had been altered from what I submitted. I actually can write with full sentences, and had written it as was grammatically correct for what I was saying. Oh, well! Sigh . . .

I guess the first lesson to me is that -- since I am so deliberate about wording and grammar and style -- I need to not agree to write when I'll be out of the loop in editing and publishing what I wrote. I find it horrifying to be identified with something that just isn't the way I think it should be written!

The second lesson to me is the theme of my life these days: daily obedience, with my focus on the One I'm obeying. All the rest is just "stuff" He has to manage all that I cannnot see or anticipate or understand.

I can try to dress nicely and groom myself well . . . and later discover that I had black mascara smeared down my cheek or some other embarrassing detail that mars the picture I intended to create . . . and know that God was in both the effort to appear my best and in the accident that ruined it. I can trust Him. And most of us born as long ago as 1964 are pretty okay with that by now!

And I need to apply the same thing to my writing and all the other details of life . . . I will obey God in the effort to produce my best work, and then leave the results to Him.

God is God, and can even use bad grammar to communicate His truth. May it be so!