Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"Wow" - a sermon for 11/13/2016

“Wow” - a sermon for 11/13/2016
Texts: Luke 21:5-19; Isaiah 65:17-25
Preached at Blue Spring Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church of the White County Parish, Sparta, Tennessee



Be careful what you pray for, they say. During prayers one Sunday at a small church like ours, a child started whistling during the quiet time for the private personal prayers that are only on our hearts. As his mother shushed the young boy, he protested, “But Mama, I asked God to teach me how to whistle, and he did.” Be carfeful what you pray for.

For about five years, I have provided pulpit supply from time-to-time at churches around Cookeville but also in Michigan and North Carolina. Not only do I feel called by God into this work, if I am honest, preaching is an opportunity I have prayed for. In the summer of 2015, I had already agreed to preach on a couple different Sundays at a couple different churches. I didn’t know when I said yes to those opportunities, that both would turn out to be the Sunday after another of America’s mass shootings, and I would search for words of comfort and peace. Be careful what you pray for.

When I told Ms. Geeta a few weeks ago that I would preach on Sunday, November 13, I really wasn’t thinking “Oh that is the Sunday after Election Day.” Be careful what you pray for. Now starting next year, I am supposed to preach for you every week, so I really hope that after I get started, you will not all be scratching your heads and saying “Be careful what you pray for.”

No matter which candidate had won the United States Presidential Election of 2016, this would be a difficult Sunday to preach, so I offer you this difficult sermon. But on this Sunday of all Sundays, it’s good to be in church. It’s good to be in church today.

Because no matter who wins the presidency, we gather to worship the king. No matter who is our public leader, we have a peronal Lord.

No matter who won, some would be celebrating while others would be hating. Some would be singing while for others the results are stinging. Some people just shake their heads and say, “I have no words.” But for us preachers, having no words has never been an option.

This past Tuesday night, I turned off the television and attended an event called “Election Day Communion” where people who voted for Trump and people who voted for Clinton sat together at a table to share stories and songs and the meal that Christ has prepared for us. Election Day Communions took place all across the USA.
One thing I can say is that anyone seeking to know the savior Jesus Christ is welcome at his table,
young or old
rich or poor
City or Country
Cardigan or camouflage
From a sprawling mansion or from the wrong side of the tracks
liberal or conservative
Out of right field or out of left field or right down the middle of the road
All that or none of the above.

In late October, I attended “worship on the mountain” up in Allardt, and the workshop I attended looked at the lectionary for the Advent season of the church. Strangely the Advent Bible passages are not all gingerbread cookies and peppermints sticks. Far from it. The Advent passages can be terrifying. Today’s lectionary is in the same lane.

Around this time we get into the prophets. And in the gospels, the passages seem obsessed with the apocalypse, with war, with the end of the world.

As Americans in 2016, we get this. When today’s passage in Luke talks about wars and insurrections, plagues and earthquakes, the destruction that is sometimes required to precede creation, we Americans can be like, “I get that.” When the passage in Luke talks about betrayals and family feuds between siblings, against parents, against children, and against friends, we Americans can look at the fights on our Facebook and Twitter pages, we can say to Luke, “I get that.” Just this week after class, a student came to me in tears, saying that a friend of hers could not go home on the weekend because her parents did welcome a daughter who supported a different candidate.

Yet we in the church, we don’t just look on in disbelief at the anger and resentment around us; we look at the family member fighting against family member, and we don’t ignore it. As Christians we refuse to participate in behaviors we believe contradict the teachings of Christ. We are always about the business of hoping, of helping, and of healing.


If we are going to be the church, the Christian Trump supporters and the Christian Clinton supporters and the Christians who cannot support either of them are going to need to sit at the table together, break bread together, hold hands together, and sing together. If we need to cry together, we can do that too. If we don’t like the results of an election or a test or a job interview or a football game or any human event, we need to shout praises anyway.

When the going gets rough and tough, God doesn’t tell us to feel something we cannot honestly feel, but God does tell us what to do. God says give thanks anyways, worship anways, and sing praises anyways. This week, I turned to James 1:2, a verse I had heard preached at a small evangelical church in Cookeville last Sunday: “whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy.”

Friends, being a follower of Jesus Christ sometimes means pushing past our feelings no matter how hard it hurts. It means suiting up, showing up. It means loving your enemy, and it also means listening to your enemy. It is not about the difference between left and right, it is about the difference between right and wrong.

There’s a lot of hope in the prophet Isaiah, but on the whole, the book is not without the righteous anger and harsh judgments that characterize the prophetic poetry and prose found in the Hebrew scriptures. Now the prophet, the prophet  feels his feelings.

The late great Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel says “the prophet’s words are outbursts of violent emotions,” a “rebuke” that is “harsh and relentless,” a “breathless impatience with injustice.” What we learn from the prophets is that God is not just concerned with our personal salvation but with our collective repentance and deliverance as well.

God’s command to count our suffering as joy does not mean we suffer alone. If the God we see revealed in the Bible is anything at all, He is a God who is with us in trial and tribulations and in victorious celebrations. God hurts when we hurt and God rejoices when we rejoice.    

There was so much worry and anxiety leading up to the Presidential Election that one post I saw called it “pre-traumatic stress.” People who want to be happy and well-adjusted have been taught to reduce stress and treat anxiety as a mental disorder.

But somtimes to be a Christian is to be anxious, to be stressed out, to be maladjusted to the ways of the world. I have been dabbling in a book about the connection between Presbyterian or Reformed theology and the respect for God’s creation called Ravished by Beauty by Presbyterian scholar and writer Belden Lane. In that book I recently came across a passage that made my hair stand up. Lane argues that for our Presbyterian foreparent John Calvin, anxiety is not a disorder. Anxiety is a form of praise.

According to Calvin, to be human is to be at constant risk, which is why, according to Calvin, the psalms are often preoccupied with griefs and sorrows, fears and doubts. According to Calvin, the entirety of the cosmos and creation are not stable. Today’s science confirms this idea of chaos, the radical instability of all reality.

Not just politics and presidential elections but the cosmos and all creation have us dangling on the precipice of possible destruction. This was the reality for John Calvin, and it is our reality today.

The fear of God doesn’t mean that God is a jerk, but that rather God’s reality is awesome in its beauty and in its terror and that this reality might invoke a healthy respect, a healthy humility, and even a little bit of anxiety. Calvin claims that if we stop praising God, if we stop participating in life, we can at any point be plunged into darkness and disorder. Any semblance of sanity and fragile stability we find in an unstable world is a gift from God. Yes we can with God’s help turn even our anxiety, even our worry, and even our fear into a form of praise.

In the passages that precede today’s reading from Isaiah in chapter 65, the poet promises hunger, thirst, shame, and pain for those who ignore God. Without God’s love, we can just as easily turn our stress and anxiety into arrogance and violence.

Yet despite all this terror, despite all this evidence of our personal failings and the chaotic cosmos and freakish cruelty, God is up to something. God is making a way out of no way. God is holding the heavens together. God is turning our fear into praise. For God promises us something else.

A new heaven and a new earth. God is making a new Jerusalem. God is making a new America, too. God promises joy and delight and an end to the weeping and the stress. God promises a long life. When God says the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, he is talking to us. The liberal and the conservative will sit at table together. Our labors, the prophet says, will not be in vain.

The Presybyterian author Anne Lamott says that to pray constantly like Paul instructed, we need just three simple prayers. Help. Thanks. And Wow.

On Wednesday, the the conservatives said thanks, the liberals said help, but we all said wow. Wow, Lamott says, is the mesmerizing and the miraculous but like her we also know it is the tragic and the terrifying. Wow. Whether you are for the next President or against him, he is an unprecedented Wow. The prophet Isaiah gets “wow,” and if you have never sat down and read Isaiah through, it is a great text to work through during Advent, as it is an interlocking puzzle piece that for Christians connects the Old and New Testaments.

No matter what we do in the coming days and weeks to make sense of this change in our national leadership, don’t forget to pray. Pray for President Obama. Pray for President Elect Trump. Pray for all our leaders.

I think Abraham Heschel would agree with Anne Lamott when he writes, To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all things . . . Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.

No matter what we do in the coming days, remember to pray, remember who you are.

The great GK Chesteron said that one of our greatest errors is that we do not know ourselves. Get to know yourself in the coming days.

You are a beloved child of God. Chesterton says that “we have all forgotten who we really are” and even worse “we forget that we have forgotten.” No matter what, try to remember who you are, so then if anybody asks, you will know what to say.  

You are a Christian, and you are a Presbyterian.

You are chosen and elected by God’s unimaginable love and grace for great and beautiful things.

The prophet says Be Glad And Rejoice In What God Is Creating. A new heaven and a new earth. Wow. Wow. Just Wow.


In the name of the father son and the holy spirit. Amen

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Secret ‘60s History of Cookeville, Tennessee (Banjo & Bread, Chapter 5)

En route to Ireland via Atlanta in May 2014, I returned to the Open Door Community to show the intentional Christian collective to my wife Jeannie in a long-overdue visit, my first since living there briefly as a Resident Volunteer in 1987, when I was a 19-year-old student from Antioch College. In going back, I hoped to catch up with the co-founders of this Presbyterian base community in the Catholic Worker mode, Vanderbilt Divinity School alumnus Eduard Loring and his partner Murphy Davis. Days before my visit, Murphy emailed that she and Ed would be out of town. Instead, she suggested we get with the Open Door partners who had graduated from Tennessee Tech. So we spent an enchanting few hours with Calvin and Nelia Kimbrough, who met and were married in my adopted hometown of Cookeville when they were students at Tennessee Tech in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

After meeting, eating with, and listening to my new friends talk story and then seeing some of their voluminous scrapbooks of gorgeous archival evidence, I realized that the Kimbroughs were the people I needed in my project; they were missing links in the lineage. Not only theologians and historians, Methodist ministers and radical married monastics doing full-time work as Jesus revolutionaries, they are artists and musicians who were practicing hippy Christians back-in-the-day. During the Kimbroughs’ time in conservative old Cookeville, the campus Methodist community at the Wesley Foundation was a hotbed of hippy happenings and progressive forums, of theatrical performances and liturgical experimentation. Meeting these creative Christians so committed to social justice would be a visionary glimpse of the Beloved Community on any day, but to sit with them, listen to their stories, see the pictures, and catch a glance at the vibrancy of the tiny Cookeville counterculture they’d created back when, this returned me to the deep waters of radical Christianity in which I had been baptized as a child—and entirely reframed this thesis. Over months of interviews conducted in Cookeville and Atlanta, over countless emails, social media posts, and phone calls, Calvin and Nelia revisited the 1960s and showed me a colorful Christian counterculture we could simply call the church. 

Their suggestions for further research uncovered striking anecdotes and audacious connections, revealing how the hippy Christians showed up several years before the Jesus hippies and thrived as part of a larger campus Christian movement, interacting with the New Left and organized as a global ecumenical revolution under the banner of groups like the World Student Christian Federation, the Methodist Student Movement, and the University Christian Movement. What began as my tentative and theoretical foray into the backstory of hip Christian countercultures has been dramatically transformed into a first-person theological biography of these marvelous mentors and friends with whom I feel a deep kinship and soul connection. 

Not in library or bibliography, not in some stranger’s dissertation or yet another database, I finally found the best source for understanding the ‘60s—not in books but in colleagues, not far away in California but in this conservative Tennessee college town.
If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The late great feast of fools (Banjo & Bread chapter 4)

My preliminary foray into Jesus hippy research in 2010 consisted of watching Lonnie Frisbee and Larry Norman videos on YouTube and soaking in the sunny smiles and visionary vibes seen in snapshots from the massive beach baptisms; from my initial impressions, I didn’t fully grasp the tensions between the more conservative trends and counterculture trips. Even the secular hippies shared a suspicion of rational notions of progress and an embrace of romanticized social forms. 

According to Shires’ theory, then, the emerging leaders of the new evangelical movements in the 1970s seized this sensibility and were offering young people an “antitechnocratic, non-compartmentalized spirituality” (ch.3), something similar to that sought in the wider counterculture via drugs, festivals, the occult, and Eastern religion. Ellwood eloquently points out how romancing the past enchants hippies and evangelicals: “Reference to an idealized rural past, the days of the ‘old-time religion,’ is as important as the communalistic edenism of the psychedelic culture” (18). 

Echoing Shires and Ellwood, Eskridge claims that hippies on both the counterculture and evangelical side shared “a sweeping pessimism about the future” (86). He further explains how “the hippie Christians merely shifted cultural gears” from the likes of the I Ching and Carlos Castenada to “studying the symbolism and hidden prophetic clues in the writings of the Old Testament prophets and John the Revelator” (86). As we know, though, such an intense focus on predicting the End Times, fighting the Antichrist, or anticipating the Rapture remains popular today in religion as well as in the dystopian bent of science fiction films. 

In America, fear sells. Despite charges of anti-intellectualism, the Jesus People in general seem to be a well-read demographic. But what books did they read? Eskridge quotes Ellwood, citing: “The book The Late, Great Planet Earth is one of the few volumes besides the Bible found in virtually every movement commune, home, and church parlor. Next to the Scriptures, probably no other book is more read” (Eskridge 86; Ellwood 89). Written in a sensational and accessible style, but dismissed and discredited by scholars, Hal Lindsey’s text as mass-market paperback sold millions, focusing on wars in the Middle East, a coming Armageddon, a violent judgment for the lost, and an eternal peace for the saved. The evangelical Lindsey dismisses religious Leftists as Satanic “ecumaniacs” (172), and the Jesus hippies bought into this. The ecological left that also descended from the hippies has its own versions of emotionally manipulative shock literature. During the last decades of the Cold War, it wasn’t just the parachurch preachers exploiting our fears; the peaceniks did this with anti-nuclear war films. 

But why did Lindsey’s “apocaliterature” so capture the imagination of the Jesus hippies? Couldn’t another book have been second-only-to-the-Bible in communal relevance? Another “Jesus revolution” looks like Harvey’s Cox’s Feast of Fools. While the evangelical freaks were feeling the heat of the coming wars and judgments, the life-lovers on the Left were grooving with the gentle jester and festive gestures of the Harvard theologian’s frolic and flow, in harmony with the best of the hippies and protesters, the tendencies Cox defines as the neomystics and militants. As my research intensified, I realized the seminarians were reading Harvey Cox alongside a host of other progressive Christian thinkers and acting on their theologies. 

Harvey Cox carried no compulsion to combat the counterculture; he even hoped the church would not contaminate it. Cox charges, “The challenge Christianity faces is how to embrace this spiritual renaissance without crushing it, how to enrich it without polluting it, how to deepen it without mutilating it” (133).  While the evangelicals defended the usual dualities of saved versus damned, outside the world versus in it, Cox encouraged the “verve and brightness” of the neomystics to remain engaged, to “transform celebration into a way of being in the world, not a way of getting out of it” (132). Cox’s books share an eschatological bent with other books of the times, but he embraces the future with fantasy, hope, and humor—inclusive in tone yet incisive with tension. By the 1970s, the evangelicals would be bent on selling their brand of Christianity to the unsaved, while in the 1960s, the ecumenicals embraced secular culture—a church losing itself to find itself, a feast to which all are invited—especially the holy fools. 

In Feast of Fools, Cox celebrates forces that were already at work in the late 1960s convergence of counterculture and Christ. The prankster surrealist Jesus practices the timeless theater of the times. Even though the ecumenical Christian student movement of the 1960s had its roots in the liberal church, it cannot correctly be called “liberal”—it turned out much more radical. Ironically, the religious Right also rebelled against the liberal establishment to separate itself into an organized, dominant political force that became powerful within the very power-structure it decries. The religious Left remains interfaith and influential in pop culture, dissenting but disorganized, but experiencing revival in the emerging church.

If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Right On & Left Out (Banjo & Bread chapter 3)



The conservative conversions come from a genuine place. Sin-addled yet saved-by-the blood, their testimonies ring true. Because their passion for the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ resound, because the sheer spontaneity and widespread popularity of their revival affirms relevance, I cannot dismiss the long-term impact of—or the lingering musical and cultural contributions of—the Jesus People. But as Preston Shires documents in his book Hippies of the Religious Right, as T.M. Luhrmann notes in her essay for Harpers called “Blinded by the Right,” and as Larry Eskridge documents in his comprehensive God’s Forever Family, the Jesus People represent a clear-cut counterrevolution within the counterculture. 

In 1971, renowned evangelist Billy Graham published his book Jesus Generation, a comprehensive book-length tract—a manifesto for the movement more than a text about the meaning of the movement. According to Eskridge, when Graham’s crusade hit Chicago in 1971, a ragtag rebellion of Yippies and Satanists and the like showed up to make mischief, but even more than the baton-wielding Chicago cops, it was a song-singing and hand-holding group of Jesus People that diffused the situation by infusing a disruptive conflict with love. A watershed moment in the public history of the later “Jesus movement” came with the Godstock festival held in Dallas, Texas in the summer of 1972. Officially titled “EXPLO ’72,” this evangelism conference and energizing concert marks a culminating moment for the movement in the national spotlight, highlighting the sympathetic loyalty to the movement in Graham.

Graham’s energizing endorsements helped clear the way for this “explosion” (which the title EXPLO abbreviates) in the national imagination, but the event was also an evangelistic organizing platform for Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). According to Larry Eskridge, Campus Crusade’s leadership harbored a serious “concern about the nation’s volatile political and cultural scene” and planned to avert the “calamity” of a leftwing revolution (170). Even though the conservative bias of the event was clear, the organizers made sure that “attention was paid to denying claims CCC was in any way tied to right-wing political elements” (Eskridge 170). Eskridge tactfully treats this topic and its apparent duplicity. Because of this desire to appear politically unbiased while cultivating a sincere conservative bias, the EXPLO refused to invite President Richard Nixon to the event, despite the strong private support for Nixon shared by many of the organizers. 

While the weekday rallies were at the packed Cotton Bowl, the concluding Godstock concert attracted almost 200,000 people, so it took place at the Texas State Fairgrounds. Charged with thousands of watts of power, color-coated with a psychedelic backdrop, and starting at 7:30 in the morning, the event’s musical headliner was the great Johnny Cash. The vinyl compilation of the day’s music is a Jesus People collector’s item, capturing the ambiance of the movement with inspiring musical tracks. The music fan in me would have loved EXPLO, but the activist in me would have only gone in subversive Christian solidarity with Jim Wallis under the banner of the People’s Christian Coalition. As retold in two 21st century dissertations on the evangelical Left by David Swartz and Brantley Gasaway respectively, Wallis and his comrades essentially picketed the event with anti-war messages like “Choose This Day—Make Disciples or Make Bombs” or “Love your Enemies or Kill Your Enemies,” then going so far as to disrupt one of the rallies that had overtly pro-military content with chants of “Stop the War!” and unfurled a banner saying “Cross or Flag, Christ or Country.” 

They were hardly embraced by their kin in Christ. Gasaway explains, “The crowd of conservative Christians seemed stunned at first by this brazen display but quickly drowned out the chants with thundering ‘boos’” (40). Wallis and his group of “post-Americans,” the prototype of today’s still influential Sojourners magazine and movement, were not Jesus Freaks; in fact the Jesus people in Dallas, hippies and straights alike, seemed okay with uniting cross with flag, the prince of peace with the President’s war. This tension within culture and church remains today. 

Although I shouldn’t be shocked by these accounts, I admit great discomfort at the implied conclusions: that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Christianity was at first dominated by spiritually-dead and ostensibly liberal churches, and then, transformed by a conservative revival of reformed hippies who had once dropped acid and thus could handle the dramatic fire of the Holy Spirit. Were some of these seeds of the Christian right in fact “right on” while others were reactionary? There’s something sacred about Jesus Freaks, but what about the lineages of the Christian Left that are “left out” of the scholarly literature on the Jesus movement?

To read chapter four, go here:
http://www.presbyhippy.com/2016/07/the-late-great-feast-of-fools-banjo.html

If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Eclectic Koolaid Vision Quest: Hippy Christians or Jesus Hippies? (Banjo & Bread, chapter 2)



When I told my friend—a Cookeville, Tennessee native and my church and university colleague Mike Birdwell—that I was researching Cookeville’s hippy Christians from the late 1960s and early 1970s, he quipped that Cookeville only ever had one true hippy. Before I began my research, I would have believed him. In fact, when this project began, I was looking everywhere but Cookeville for legends and clues about the lost history of the Christian counterculture —my former homes in Chicago, Cleveland, or Detroit, a monastery in Kentucky, and of course the legendary California. 

Tracing the lineage of my joyful radical Christianity to foreparents in the 1960s is a social question as well as a spiritual necessity—a personal quest requiring prophetic memory. In the early 1970s, my primary school consciousness made sense of my family’s devout Christian faith coupled with our unwavering support of the farmworkers and the feminists. There was a split in the lineage of the hippy-Jesus family tree around that time. Both Left and Right Christians of the era embraced the musical and cultural hippy vibe but diverged in politics. On the Left side, we descended from the Beat Generation, the Berrigan brothers, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers, from civil rights and the antiwar movements. Writers like mystic Thomas Merton or artists like Sister Corita Kent were visionary voices. On the Right side, the evangelists embraced the street people and ex-druggies with such fiery grace that, once converted, these so-called Jesus Freaks bought into an anti-abortion, apocalyptic agenda. What about the members of the Jesus revolution who stayed Left at the split? We are just the kind of people you will meet today at North Carolina’s Wild Goose Festival, see lobbying for universal healthcare or prison reform or even prison abolition, protesting the water shutoffs in Detroit, attending the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, or advocating for immigrants and workers. Living with endless war and the weariness of economic exploitation, it’s difficult to locate Jesus as liberator. But it’s this loving and liberating Christ who will show us how to preserve the 1960s revolutionary edge and communal spirit by inviting us to the Kingdom. 

Endless resources already exist about the secular side of the hippy counterculture, and likewise, the Jesus People movement inspired numerous books, blogs, and bibliographies. A complicated but inspiring interrelationship resides between those secular and sacred subcultures, but with this present scholastic adventure, I uncover some lost links at the intersection between these subcultures, pieces that remain largely untapped in the existing academic and popular literature, especially the recent books on the Jesus Movement. This shows how fragments from the New Left became a newer Right—but that is not the whole story. Understanding the conservative rightwards shift causes an uncomfortable degree of dissonant friction. What is true? What is historical fiction? Research is a process where too many doors, windows, crawl spaces, and multidimensional Narnian wardrobes get tapped open, and the information is dizzying. But the answers to my questions weren’t down the rabbit hole of a search engine or online database but at home and down the street; I just had to trust my lineage and look deeper. 

When I first realized that yesterday’s Jesus People are today’s Tea Party Republicans, I got sick to my stomach and wanted to quit the project. But this is what I feel God says I must do: chart a new trajectory between the pacifist collectives, campus movements, and underground church of the late 1960s and early 1970s and show how this Left alternative actually remains intact, in today’s resurgence of evangelical progressives also called the “emerging church.” Unlike the born-again Christian hippies of the 1970s who fanned the flames of reaction against revolution, the original hippy Christians of the 1960s displayed deep connections in the defining moments and movements of the decade that transformed the church and the continent.

Photo is Sister Corita Kent, scanned from an old motive magazine.

To read chapter three, go here:
http://www.presbyhippy.com/2016/07/right-on-left-out-banjo-bread-chapter-3.html

If you would like a copy of the complete
Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Prepare Ye The Way (Banjo & Bread, Chapter 1)

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’ (Matt. 3:1-3)




According to my parents Barb and Ken Smith, my poetry and preaching career began at a very young age. We had gone to see the musical Godspell in the theater—this legendary 1970s rock revival rendition of the gospel according to Matthew, the sensational musical that launched the Broadway composing career of a Jewish twenty-something named Stephen Schwartz. As we sat in the audience that night, I was ready for the opening of this play, which involves John the Baptist coming forward with an invocation—the epic, beautiful refrain “Prepare Ye The Way (Of The Lord).” As the people in the theater sat quiet and John the Baptist started to sing, an eager young child interrupted the proceedings and shouted at the top of his lungs, “That song is on our record.” And based on my Dad’s retelling, the entire cast joined the audience in stunned laughter at my spontaneous disruption. 

In the opening of David Greene’s 1973 movie version which I also watched at a young age, the disciples heed the call to follow the hip bearded baptist to a public park for a communal immersion, with the fully dressed disciples soaking and splashing as frolicking misfits in the city fountain. As I would wear out my parents vinyl copy of the cast album, I would “play Godspell,” reenacting everything from baptism to crucifixion in my six-year-old way. In regularly  reaffirming my baptism in such a playful primal way, I became a childlike puckish follower of the hippy Jesus. In early 1968, when my actual baptism took place in Chicago at the Church of the Three Crosses, the hymn that day was Sydney Carter’s anthem of the counterculture church, “The Lord of The Dance.” Although in the 1990s I preferred the drunken visions of New Age hedonism and tried to reject even the anarchic hippy Jesus, Christ’s love would not let me go. Whether sprinkled or dunked, our baptism claims us, and mine claimed me for unconditional love and radical service in the counterculture church. 


As explained in Defying Gravity, Carol de Giere’s biography of composer Stephen Schwartz, the originator of Godspell John-Michael Tebelak developed the play as a graduate school project at Carnegie Mellon (ch. 4). Offended by uptight Christians who harassed the hirsute thespian one snowy Easter morning and energized by exposure to the raw style of the Living Theater, Tebelak theorized his clownface messiah (after reading theologian Harvey Cox’s Feast of Fools) as bringing joy back to the story that the uptight church-types had sucked dry (de Giere, ch.4).  In One Way: The Jesus Movement and Its Meaning, Robert Ellwood invokes what he dubs the “playful Christianity” of Cox as a kind of alternative jubilant antidote to the stern joyless asceticism that emerged among some of the so-called Jesus People (139). Perhaps it’s because I memorized most of Godspell, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Free to Be You and Me, and some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches around that time, but the ecstatic picture that Cox and Godspell portray of Christ commingling with counterculture in festive cooperation accurately reflects my memories of church-back-then and captures the spirit of this current analysis.  


Looking at the upheavals of the 1960s through the lens of liturgy and locating ministry in aspects of New Left liberation, Banjo and Bread chronicles the inspired interventions of two “hippy Christians,” who as college students imbibed the avant-garde insurrections of art, music, and performance as liturgy that accompanied the “Methodist Student Movement” as well as the peace, civil rights, and feminist movements. The text that follows is the faithful manifesto of a counterculture Christian born in 1967 and in love with this colorful lineage—organized largely as an oral history, as the first-person theological biography of Calvin and Nelia Kimbrough. The Kimbroughs’ coming-of-age captures a time when the hip counterculture and the activist Left openly conversed and the campus church provided safe space for both. This text draws from extensive prayer and conversation, primary research and oral history, personal interviews and archival documents, charting the Kimbroughs’ lives through a radical campus ministry at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, the locale where I live, worship, write, and teach. We also see the Kimbroughs mature as co-founders of an intentional community in Evansville, Indiana called Patchwork Central, and finally, working hard until their 70th birthdays as partners at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, a covenantal Christian collective committed to solidarity with the poor and the prisoner, to ending homelessness and stopping executions. 


In my visits to Atlanta, the Kimbroughs granted me access to an extensive personal archive of scrapbooks and photo albums, in which we discover the full influences of the day, from psychedelic artwork on handbills advertising the campus coffeehouses to the couple’s hip fashion statements seen in photographs, documenting times like 1968 when these romantic college seniors were married in an impromptu ceremony presided over by their mentor and campus minister.  Hopefully, the reader will sense God’s sacramental presence in the liturgical practices that revolutionized church at the intersection of art, music, literature, and activism.

Go ahead & read chapter two here:
http://www.presbyhippy.com/2016/07/the-eclectic-koolaid-vision-quest-hippy.html


If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 



Prepare Ye The Way (Banjo & Bread, Chapter 1)

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’ (Matt. 3:1-3)




According to my parents Barb and Ken Smith, my poetry and preaching career began at a very young age. We had gone to see the musical Godspell in the theater—this legendary 1970s rock revival rendition of the gospel according to Matthew, the sensational musical that launched the Broadway composing career of a Jewish twenty-something named Stephen Schwartz. As we sat in the audience that night, I was ready for the opening of this play, which involves John the Baptist coming forward with an invocation—the epic, beautiful refrain “Prepare Ye The Way (Of The Lord).” As the people in the theater sat quiet and John the Baptist started to sing, an eager young child interrupted the proceedings and shouted at the top of his lungs, “That song is on our record.” And based on my Dad’s retelling, the entire cast joined the audience in stunned laughter at my spontaneous disruption. 

In the opening of David Greene’s 1973 movie version which I also watched at a young age, the disciples heed the call to follow the hip bearded baptist to a public park for a communal immersion, with the fully dressed disciples soaking and splashing as frolicking misfits in the city fountain. As I would wear out my parents vinyl copy of the cast album, I would “play Godspell,” reenacting everything from baptism to crucifixion in my six-year-old way. In regularly  reaffirming my baptism in such a playful primal way, I became a childlike puckish follower of the hippy Jesus. In early 1968, when my actual baptism took place in Chicago at the Church of the Three Crosses, the hymn that day was Sydney Carter’s anthem of the counterculture church, “The Lord of The Dance.” Although in the 1990s I preferred the drunken visions of New Age hedonism and tried to reject even the anarchic hippy Jesus, Christ’s love would not let me go. Whether sprinkled or dunked, our baptism claims us, and mine claimed me for unconditional love and radical service in the counterculture church. 


As explained in Defying Gravity, Carol de Giere’s biography of composer Stephen Schwartz, the originator of Godspell John-Michael Tebelak developed the play as a graduate school project at Carnegie Mellon (ch. 4). Offended by uptight Christians who harassed the hirsute thespian one snowy Easter morning and energized by exposure to the raw style of the Living Theater, Tebelak theorized his clownface messiah (after reading theologian Harvey Cox’s Feast of Fools) as bringing joy back to the story that the uptight church-types had sucked dry (de Giere, ch.4).  In One Way: The Jesus Movement and Its Meaning, Robert Ellwood invokes what he dubs the “playful Christianity” of Cox as a kind of alternative jubilant antidote to the stern joyless asceticism that emerged among some of the so-called Jesus People (139). Perhaps it’s because I memorized most of Godspell, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Free to Be You and Me, and some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches around that time, but the ecstatic picture that Cox and Godspell portray of Christ commingling with counterculture in festive cooperation accurately reflects my memories of church-back-then and captures the spirit of this current analysis.  


Looking at the upheavals of the 1960s through the lens of liturgy and locating ministry in aspects of New Left liberation, Banjo and Bread chronicles the inspired interventions of two “hippy Christians,” who as college students imbibed the avant-garde insurrections of art, music, and performance as liturgy that accompanied the “Methodist Student Movement” as well as the peace, civil rights, and feminist movements. The text that follows is the faithful manifesto of a counterculture Christian born in 1967 and in love with this colorful lineage—organized largely as an oral history, as the first-person theological biography of Calvin and Nelia Kimbrough. The Kimbroughs’ coming-of-age captures a time when the hip counterculture and the activist Left openly conversed and the campus church provided safe space for both. This text draws from extensive prayer and conversation, primary research and oral history, personal interviews and archival documents, charting the Kimbroughs’ lives through a radical campus ministry at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, the locale where I live, worship, write, and teach. We also see the Kimbroughs mature as co-founders of an intentional community in Evansville, Indiana called Patchwork Central, and finally, working hard until their 70th birthdays as partners at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, a covenantal Christian collective committed to solidarity with the poor and the prisoner, to ending homelessness and stopping executions. 


In my visits to Atlanta, the Kimbroughs granted me access to an extensive personal archive of scrapbooks and photo albums, in which we discover the full influences of the day, from psychedelic artwork on handbills advertising the campus coffeehouses to the couple’s hip fashion statements seen in photographs, documenting times like 1968 when these romantic college seniors were married in an impromptu ceremony presided over by their mentor and campus minister.  Hopefully, the reader will sense God’s sacramental presence in the liturgical practices that revolutionized church at the intersection of art, music, literature, and activism.

Go ahead & read chapter two here:
http://www.presbyhippy.com/2016/07/the-eclectic-koolaid-vision-quest-hippy.html


If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line.