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Article Highlight: Davis’ "The Freaky Origins Of Christian Rock"

August 15, 2007

Slate’s Erik Davis recently wrote a great story on the origins of Christian rock. Published July 31, the piece – like many good, focused cultural histories – sails with larger currents and slows for eddies in smaller yet rewarding topics. What I particularly appreciated was its contribution to the history of youth culture and Evangelical Christianity in the late twentieth century. If you’re at all interested in the history of religion, pop culture, and the development of subcultures in the U.S., I highly recommend Davis’ article.

The following is a teaser from the piece’s beginning (with my hyperlinks – and No! I’m not be paid by Slate to do this):

“Next time you see some young folks flexing their subcultural muscle, take a closer look. Along with the baggy hoodies or the four-fin surfboards, you might catch a telltale sign of the Risen Lord: an ixthus fish tattoo or a T-shirt that looks like the wrapper for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups but says, “Jesus: Sweet Savior.” Traditionally, American fundamentalists resisted secular youth scenes and their sock hopping, sinful ways, but contemporary Christians believe that resistance is futile. Evangelist ministries and young believers have opted to enjoy pop culture’s manic energy and style while splicing in inspiring messages and strict rules of moral conduct.

The Christian embrace of hip youth scenes can be traced, like so much, to the cultural ferment of the 1960s. Given that we are all weathering a Summer of Love flashback, it might spice up the tired images of the Haight Ashbury rebels to realize that a few of them were Christians. These mystic hippies sparked the mass Jesus People movement, which injected a distinctly Christian feeling for love and apocalypse into a counterculture already up to its mala beads in love and apocalypse. By the early 1970s, a new Jesus had hit the American mind—communal, earthy, spontaneous, anti-establishment. And this Jesus continued to transform American worship long after the patchouli wore off, inspiring a more informal and contemporary style of communion and celebration that, while holding true to core principles, unbuckled the Bible Belt from American Christian life.

One of the earliest and most influential Jesus freaks was a guy with the fabulous name of Lonnie Frisbee. As told in David Di Sabatino’s excellent 2006 documentary Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher, Lonnie was a tripped-out young man who grew up in Orange County, Calif., saw God on LSD, and became a Christian in the Haight. … “

———————–

Here’s a link to an interview with Di Sabatino about the movie. And here’s a book published by him, called The Jesus People Movement: An Annotated Bibliography and General Resource.

Well, this should be enough to get an ambitious historian going. – TL

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