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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 16. September 8th 1971

jesus saves

page break

jesus saves

Cartoon of a man in a boat handing a bible to a hand reaching out of the water

Photograph of a group of students

Photograph of a students protesting with a sign

Photograph of a group of people on their knees praying

Rich Weaver, 25, stocky, dapper in double-breasted blazer, yellow razor-styled hair in place despite the breeze, stands on a wooden platform in the shadow of the California state capital columns, alone but for a battery of microphones. He squints in the mid-day glare, surveying the scene before his eyes. A quarter-mile away, thousands of young people massed into ranks are heading towards the capital mall where Weaver is waiting. He hears them singing, only faintly; and he sees the placards they wave, too distant to read, though Weaver knows them by heart. They say: "Jesus Loves You," "Jesus Lives," "Dynamic Duo; You and Jesus."

He adjusts a cufflink and clears his throat; now the procession is much closer. Here and there Weaver can distinguish a rapt face. Jesus on their lips. Then the parade reaches the edge of the mall and the first ranks of marchers, pressed from the rear, rush the last few yards to the capitol steps. Suddenly, the plaza is alive with kids, and the late-comers overflow onto the capitol lawn.

Looking down into the swarming mass of faces from his wooden island. Weaver comes to life, grasping the microphone, and cries: "They're still coming, they're still coming. Can you believe the revolution is on?"

A murmur from the crowd. All eyes turn to Weaver, everyone anticipating what will follow. A hush. "What revolution?" Weaver inquires casually, waiting to hear.

"The Jesus Revolution," roars back the crowd, and Weaver becomes more animated, eyes blazing, darting from face to face.

"That's right! The revolutions of hate and drugs are antiquated revolutions. It's time for a spiritual revolution. It's time for Jesus people to carry the banner high and scream it - 'Jesus is alive' - up with the Jesus revolution!"

"Right on, praise the Lord!'.

Any of the 8000 young people who assembled in Sacramento that sunny day in February - on a day the Californian state legislature proclaimed Spiritual Revolution Day - will tell you that Jesus is indeed coming bringing with him a revolution of earth shaking proportions.

"We're marching for Jesus to show we love him and that he is really here," declared a teenaged girl with a portrait of Jesus silk screened on her T-shirt.

"We've tried everything and only Jesus Christ lasts," said Trusty, 19, who, with four companions, walked the last fifty miles to the rally lugging a 150-pound cross. "You're seeing the beginning of one of the most massive religious movements in 2000 years." he said.

This new-style fundamentalist revival has spread rapidly across the country. "Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before," say these mostly young, long-haired children of America: Middle-class teenagers from the suburbs, ex-drug addicts and acid cultists, blacks from big city ghettos, and baby-faced veterans of Vietnam. All of them born-again Christians.

Hollywood, always cordial to evangelists, has been ripe for another attack of Jesus fever. Today, much of it emanates from "His Place" an unassuming two-story frame building on Sunset Strip where Arthur Blessit conducts nightly "soul-sessions" at midnight for his flock of speed freaks, acid heads, and left-over flower children. Blessit, who wears leather vests, bell-bottoms and beads, is known as the "Minister of Sunset Strip." He didn't leave the deep South until he was 20, ten years ago, and he speaks with a rich drawl.

When he was a youngster in Mississippi, Blessit dreamed of being an evangelist like Billy Graham, preaching before enormous crowds at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, turning them on, thousands baring their souls for Christ. Instead he was called to the fount of American popular culture: "Everything from the way you dress to the way you kiss is set by Hollywood standards, and if any place needs the Gospel, it's here."

His parishioners aren't the easy-going southerners of his fantasies. "Most of the people who walk through these doors." he said, "are either involved with drugs, or just empty and lonely, trying to get their heads together. They've looked at most things the world has to offer and turned them down." Blessit, who once trekked across the country carrying a wooden cross, has developed special programs and rituals for his converts. When an addict "accepts the Lord," Blessit leads him to the toilet, and as the newlywon sinner flushes away his dope, Blessit and the other Jesus people sing a chorus of "Down, down, down, all my dope is gone."

Another of his stunts is to sweep through topless clubs on the Strip, psting red "Turn on to Jesus," stickers on walls, glasses, chairs, anything he can reach before the bouncers arrive. Or he and his flock station themselves outside the clubs and talk about Jesus to redfaced conventioneers who stumble out. At midnight, Blessit walks a few yards from his office to the narrow, main room of "His Place". He passes a knot of young blacks gathered around a pool table, walks past a multi-hued, plastic Jesus that throbs from the wall, and onto a low stage. The pool game stops, 40 hard-looking young people give their attention to Blessit. He smiles, and in a friendly huckster's voice begins:

"Awright now, let's hear it for Jesus!

"Gimme a J!

"Gimme a E!

"Gimme a S!

"Gimme a U!

"Gimme another S!

What does that spell?"

"Jesus!" Everyone shouts it for the first time that night...

Berkeley, where religious taste usually leans towards Meher Baba or Curdjieff, boasts a grwoing community of Jesus freaks (their term). At the fringes of the Berkeley campus, an evangelist in a raincoat buttoned to his chin runs down a fiery sermon to a crowd and ends it with:

"Dear Lord, save these sinners from the ways of hate and evil. Open your heart and pluck them from the eternal fires of hell. Show them your love. Dear Jesus, like you have shown it to me a thousand times over. Come into their hearts, sweet Jesus, come into their hearts." A few feet away, the Krishna monks chant and pound away at cymbals. A brave effort, but the Christian clearly has the crowd.

A few years ago, the sole evangelist in Berkeley was probably Hurbert Lindsay, a former auctioneer from Arkansas. Lindsay, a gap-toothed middle-aged little man shouted, himself hoarse haranguing spectators at political rallies with messages of doom and damnation.

Hurbert disclaimed credit for the rapid spread of the Gospel in Berkeley, saying it has taken him by surprise. But some street Christians swear to his effectiveness. A Jesus freak at one of Hurbert's sermons who had been without food for two days said he was converted on the spot when a loaf of bread mysteriously appeared in his hands.

The Jesus people are tireless prostelytizers, and the artists and writers of the Liberation Front crank out buttons (I'm a Jesus Freak"), bumper strips ("Super Soul Shepherd Jesus"), psychedelic religious posters, and an offset tabloid, Right On, filled with accounts of conversions, evangelistic editorials, even reviews of "inspirational films". Additional the Front peppers Berkeley with religious tracts, among them a series entitled "Letters to the Street Christians", which spreads the Gospel with a heavy sprinkling of "right on" and "dig it."

Personal testimony still wins more converts than anything else. Without much prompting converts recite a litany of horrors from their past broken homes, suicides, drugs, jail, minds blown by acid and desperation. Now, they tell you, they have found love, companionship and peace of mind. "I want to tell everyone I meet about Jesus," a street Christian named Roger said, followed by the inevitable question, "Say, brother, are you a Christian?"

The old-time religion it may be, with heavy reliance on scriptured authority, but worship is likely to be communal, free-form, or otherwise unorthodox. On Sunday mornings, hundreds of young Christians gather in Convina Park near Los Angeles for a religious service complete with rocking paens to Christ provided by a band called Agape. In Berkeley, a regular Monday night biblestudy and worship service draws about 100 street Christians and students. They sing religious folk songs and take turns reading aloud from the Book of Acts.

Leading the activities one evening was Koala Bear, a hefty, amiable noveau preacher with shoulder-length hair who looks strikingly like paintings of Jesus Himself. At one point, talking about the apostle Paul, Koala asked, "Did the Jews dig what Paul was laying down?"

"No man, they stoned him."

"Right on," Koala Bear said. "Now here's this dude Paul coming into town, bow-legged and bald, and the people they're digging on Zeus.."

"What happened to change their minds?" a worshipper interrupted.

"I don't know what he said to them, but it must have been pretty good. I think he laid it right on them."

Revival in old-time religion brought with it a revival in the old American custom of public baptism. West Coast Jesus people are likely to be baptized in fountains, swimming pools, or the icy Pacific. Each month, thousands of young people gather for a public baptism in a sheltered cove near Laguna Beach in Southern California.

A more private ceremony was held at the beach near the Santa Monica Pier for a recently-converted young lady trapeze artist and her muscular partner. The only spectators were a knot of people from Hollywood's community of Christians, and fishermen casting in the nearby surf. Twenty feet offshore, Duane Pederson, a former night club magician, now a street minister and publisher of the underground Christian Hollywood Free Paper (circulation 260,000), tipped the pretty, dark-eyed lady once, and again, into the chilly water. Next, her partner.

Afterwards, a spectator rushed over with a blanket but the girl shrugged it off despite the cutting breeze. Her lips were turning blue but she was beaming.

"How does it feel?" someone asked.

"I feel so good, so good inside."

"Are you cold?"

"Not any more, I'm warm. The Lord keeps me warm."

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At last count, there were an estimated 150 Jesus communes on the West Coast, perhaps 600 nationwide, with names like Tree of Life. Port of Call, God's Love, Ecstatic Umbrella, Green Rainbow. One congregation in Ohio calls itself Alice's Restaurant.

The fish was the early Christian's secret sign; the Jesus people have one too - index finger pointed to the sky. Each commune has a style of its own, as well as a "ministry," or mission. For some, it might be as vague as "grooving on the Lord." Others operate drug hot-lines, or religious coffee houses. All the commune dwellers practice evangelism from time to time, roaming the campuses and the streets alert for potential converts.

Clayton House, in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, is furnished a lot like a Holiday Inn; turquoise counches and gold rugs. The people lean toward a middle American homogeneity. Sweaters, modest length skirts for the ladies; the men wear ties. Kathy, who used to deal acid, displayed a photograph from the San Francisco Police Department blotter taken a year ago. It shows her with long, straight hair. Now it is arranged in a Bouffant, and held in place with hair spray. "When I cut myself off from my godless life. I cut off my hair to show I was really free." she said.

Hair is long and ample at God's Love, Berkeley's principal commune. Many of them are ex-street people and dopers. They don't look any different as Christians. "We're not hung up on material things," one of them explained.

God's Love takes up an entire three story apartment house in a grim neighbourhood of bars and laundromats near the Berkeley-Oakland line. Founded three years ago, it shares some of its 25 rooms with the Christian Liberation Front. Inside is a spacious common room created by knocking out interior walls. The furnishings were all donated or salvaged: a half-dozen stuffed chairs and couches arranged around the perimeter of the room. Pinned to the front door, a reminder: "Did Jesus Ok it?"

The building's rent is a modest $85 a month because the landlord is sympathetic to the commune's religious outlook. During a visit to supervise repairs, however, he scuttled nervously through the house, smiling wanly. How does God's Love pay its uneasy landlord? "We live on grace," one of the elders explained. "We're in a temple of the Lord. He promised to feed his faithful, and he does." That grace is augmented by the few members who have jobs, and the contributions that sometimes come in from sympathetic churches or from Christian businessmen.

One young black man who had arrived at God's Love the day before to spend the night was attentive to the efforts of a pair of Jesus people telling him about rebirth. "Listen friend," said a bearded Texan named Joe, "man is sinful by nature, because man chose to go his own way. Without God. you're spiritually dead."

"I can dig it man. only sometimes, you know, I'm hungry. Then I think it's all right to rip off somebody. Je us didn't say nothing about that."

"You're dealing with Satan and the forces of evil and' you've got to fight him off" said Joe more earnestly."This is a revolution. You've got to ask for Jesus Christ in faith."

Then a girl with sleepy brown eyes and long red hair chimed in: "God has the power to fight the powers of darkness. But you have to accept him first. Accepting Jesus doesn't mean that a bolt of lightning is going to come down and strike you or anything. It's a wonderful feeling. You know that your life isn't your own. It's in God's hands. Life is a gift the Lord has given me. He wants me to put all my cares and problems in him. The more I depend on the Lord, the more satisfied I am."

"Praise the Lord." said Joe. He's from Crosby. Texas, from a family of Primitive Baptists, a sect, he says, more conservative than the Southern Baptist Church. "I've always been a Christian," he said. "I've always related to Jesus. What my parents told me made sense. I never doubted it."

At Texas Tech where he studied advertising art for a year, his fundamentalism went unchallenged. Not at a worldly Denver art school where Joe's preaching and witnessing made him the target of a campaign to make him "drink and go out with women." He resisted both vices. At 26, he's still resisting, although he's hung up because "God hasn't seen fit to send me a woman. People tell me it's not natural. Well, a Christian is not a natural man. The natural man died with Jesus on the cross. Sooner or later, divine grace will send me a woman."

Now he's art director of Right On, preparing himself for the end of the world, a belief he shares with most Jesus people. What if he hadn't become a Christian? 'd be a mess without Jesus, probably gay or maybe a gigolo. I know the desires of my flesh - money, fame and girls.

With the young supplying the Jesus movement's style and language, it's no wonder that a sizable Christian rock gospel scene should have emerged. One entire band in the Northwest - Wilson McKinley - recently declared for Jesus.

Every week, the Christian street newspaper lists events billed as Jesus People Concerts, Sounds of Soul, or Gospel Rock Concerts, featuring groups with names like Agape, Simple Faith, Kentucky Faith Blue Grass and the Love Song.

What is the music like? In many cases, content outweighs style, which leads to such lyrics as "I don't worry, I don't fret, God ain't never failed me yet."

"Jesus people have a different concept of music," explained a street minister and [unclear: amateur] musician. "The music isn't always great quality but it's funky because it's about Jesus."

But a few professional musicians are playing Jesus music too. Chuck Girard's group. Love Song is now an acoustical "contemporary gospel" band. A few years ago it played the acid-rock night club circuit. Its members, at one time or another, went through eastern philosophies, vegetarianism, religious cults, and drugs - all, they say, in a quest for "truth and spiritual fulfillment.". Girade started singing in high school, free lanced as a studio background singer, and became involved with one hit, the Hondell's "Little Honda"

"The Jesus rock scene is pretty limited right now." Girard said, "because there isn't a lot of musicians and music, and most of the kids who play don't come from a professional background.

"When you ask somebody what our songs are about there's no ambiguity. It's right there in plain simple language with no deep intellectual vibes. What we're saying is Jesus, one way. If you want the answer follow it."

A musician also feels different playing Jesus music. Girard said. "There's a completely different purpose to it. It's not glorifying yourself or feeding your ego so people will say what a great musician you are. It's glorifying the Lord through the music. When you're really singing you can feel the Lord working, feel Him working through you, so that you're reaching the kids. I've seen kids come up to the altar and give their hearts to the Lord because the music affects them.

"It's not us, it's the spirit that comes through to them and speaks to their hearts."

Mr Natural's 719th Mediation

Mr Natural's 719th Mediation