MAY DAY, Thursday, May 1st, 2008. Well it’s not May Day but Tuesday, May 13th today.
Fecund, laborer; Two May Day words. It is the first day of May and spring is gathering steam. Like a thunderstorm building on the horizon, spring is mounting towards its guaranteed crescendo of renewal, fertility, hope, a natural Easter. And if you are a laborer—or a student—summer vacations!
Anyway, how about that story of my life I was telling?
I’ll pick-up where I left off:
BASIC: Brothers and Sisters in Christ, that famous happening. Well, maybe not famous, but it was a spring from which issued many significant streams of consequence. At least two churches are still functioning in Wichita that grew out of BASIC, a coffee house and music venue (now defunct as far as I know) operated for several years and was an alternative to the drug and music scene. During this era of the Jesus Movement in Wichita hundreds of young people were influenced at BASIC in positive ways that carried over into their lives. Many have continued to live in a manner that honors this brief period and their experience of BASIC. Hundreds of kids came out on Saturday nights to praise the Lord and sing, hear bible preaching, think about what love means, and to see and meet each other. (My little group always went to Big Boy on Kellogg afterwards for burgers and fries.) It was an exciting time.
I had been attending BASIC for several weeks and I was beginning to believe that these folks were on to something with all the Jesus talk. They were joyful, serious, young, pretty, and had long hair like me. I had begun reading the bible daily and I was predisposed to believe in Jesus anyway because of my Catholic upbringing. I liked the singing, I liked hanging out with my friends, and I was a serious kid too. I liked these people and I liked the emotions I experienced. There was a joy and certainty I felt when singing and hanging out at BASIC. It was believable that God was alive and changing lives.
You just had to look at these kids. Many gave-up drugs, unhealthy promiscuous sex, experienced forgiveness and a sense of radical acceptance, began to focus on loving people and themselves, took school more seriously, and generally got outside of themselves and their narrow egos to think about the larger world. The two churches are examples of institutional results. But there were countless ways individuals where changed and motivated to be different. In a way my entire life’s direction was set by my experience at BASIC, as was the direction and lives of many.
One example from my experience at that time illustrates how it affected many kids. My high school was riven with racial tensions. We had fights in the hallways almost daily and security guards roaming the halls. There were unwritten rules one had to learn in order to navigate this minefield. One rule being that white kids and black kids had to use specific restrooms. I discovered this on my first day at school when I went into a restroom and was slammed-up against the wall by a group of black kids who demanded to know what the fuck I was doing in their bathroom? This was 1969 and I was among the first group of white kids affected by desegregation efforts in Wichita. I had to attend the “inner city black high school” and I learned the restroom rules the hard way.
By the time I was a senior the racial climate had calmed but there was still significant tension. I thought I would try to do something about it. Following my “conversion” I decided to organize a club. I don’t remember the club name but the inspiration for it came from Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I wanted a place that modeled this passage. Where anyone could come and find “artificial” cultural barriers removed and made irrelevant. I don’t remember it as particularly successful. It didn’t attract hundreds of kids but who knows? It made a difference in my life I suppose and that counts for something.
When did I come to believe myself? It is hard to say. I always believed having been a cradle catholic. I never had a “conversion experience” but I did have a moment I radically committed my life to following Christ, literally. I used to tell the story of the night I was at Danny McDowell’s apartment during the fall or winter of 1971/1972. I had been going to BASIC since the summer and enjoying it. I had been doing some reading—the bible for sure—other specific books I don’t remember. At this time I don’t think other books were important to my commitment. (A few books I read early in my “new life” were C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer.) It was more the hymns and scriptures I was reading than books that “changed” me. But I absolutely approached this time all through all I had read and experienced prior to it. My experience of the world and my early reading shaped the way I believed and how lived it.
While the teaching at BASIC influenced me—much of which I was questioning and later would explicitly reject (more on this later)—the central thing was I knew I had to make a radical commitment. This is something I did that night at Danny’s apartment.