Welcome, Refugees and Strangers

In the early 1970s, I was part of the Jesus Movement.[1] Movements come and go, of course, living up to their name. Behind and beyond this movement is the hope that we are not alone, not orphans, and not destined to fade into oblivion—in other words, into complete death, a felt reality for many (many) people.

Couple youth with the expectation of meeting the Creator of the Universe, add a bit of counter-culture tang, and you have the ingredients of a movement. In our innocence, we had joy. We had insights. We had each other. Some of us prayed all night at times. We felt that the ennui and insignificance to which we had grown accustomed was passing. A better future was now.

Decades later, I look at a bleaker, darker landscape. The skeptics were mostly right: much of it passed. Parts have become politicized in ways that would make Jesus turn over in his grave if he were still there. Much of what passes for Christianity has ossified (once again) into an institutional niche that makes sense only if one likes institutional niches.

However, there is a remnant—among us and within us—of something that still longs for meeting the Creator of the Universe. The mission, then, is to help the remnant—myself and any readers—to see the unseen reality of Christ and to value rightly his role in this world.


[1]  More on the Jesus Movement & its aftermath:
In the 1970s, it offered a drug-free high to teens and young adults who were seeking something beyond materialistic goods—the sequel to the hippy movement.

It was aptly named “movement” because it seemed to arise out of nowhere. In my case, during the summer of 1971, one friend went to Minnesota and heard the gospel, returning to high school that fall to talk to us about Jesus. Others who had gone to church all their lives came out of the woodwork and began sharing their faith. One prayer meeting in the basement of a home on Barranca Mesa (in Los Alamos) had about 100 high school and jr. high school students each Friday night. Churches that most of us had ignored all our lives were opening their doors to us, not only inviting us to visit but also to share our experiences. Parents, who, to much of my generation, were remote and inaccessible figures, now joined us in our prayer meetings, several of them, including several scientists, now teaching the good news to us. Bands sprang up overnight, singing a new song of hope, love, and joy.

The role of music would be hard to overestimate, at least in the circles in which I traveled. Larry Norman is generally recognized as the father of music for the Jesus people, but also many other bands surfaced, full of the creativity that worked on secular musicians in the 70s…minimal cliches and commercialism, maximal variety and authenticity. Here’s to the multitudinous talented people who found that Jesus inspired them to put their artistic talents to play! Everywhere we turned, we heard a new song.

The Jesus Movement was slowly absorbed by traditional forms of Christianity. Ad hoc prayer meetings and random gatherings slowly merged with Sunday church services. These institutionalized meetings were more reliable historically of course. But to many of us, they were less interesting than the spontaneous, counter-culture movement that attracted us to Jesus.

Over the decades, I attempted to work with and find value in these weighty institutions. In my case this meant attending protestant churches, mostly non-denominational. While I still respect many aspects of the best moments of these organizations, the representations of Jesus that excited me in the beginning became increasingly harder to experience.

Eventually, I stopped calling myself a Christian, as I explained in a talk, because that label had accrued too much cultural baggage. This baggage created so many obfuscations of Christ that I threw it overboard, like ballast, so that I could keep looking for and seeing, if only at a great distance, Christ. You could say I’m label-sensitive and feel obliged to defend the merits of a label. Dropping the name of “Christian” was of course for mental relief and not something I expected of others.

Since that time (2013), things have gotten much worse, in America at least (2022). The forced marriage between Jesus and nationalism, as well as that between the Gospel and lamentable conspiracy theories, makes me sad. Both conservative protestant and Catholic circles have been infected.

I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing I am not a card-carrying “Christian,” with the ostensible duty to either defend or reform the various institutions. Of course I pray for and focus my attention on the people—and even then I give priority to individuals over groups.

If I were to need a label, I’d call myself someone who loves Jesus.

After decades of refusing to say much publicly about my faith, I am now gaining confidence. The good news about Jesus has won my deepest respect and inspires me to write.