Over the course of the past two days I have been introduced to someone, an encounter that has changed me. Frankly, it is an answer to my prayer for this Lent. The way Christ gets my attention is by dropping things on my path, or introducing to me people along the way, even if those people have passed (I must write again sometime about how I became friends with St. Gianna Molla). He is never heavy-handed, but uses my natural curiosity and, to paraphrase Abe Lincoln, appeals to what the better angels of my nature. At the beginning of Lent I picked up and read Kallistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Way, from which I quoted liberally. It is a basic book, which really didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, which is why I was able to read it in such a way that it struck me. It was from Bishop Kallistos’ lovely little book that the Lord gave me my theme for this Lent: moving from image to likeness. Hence, my constant prayer over these days of fasting has been the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner"). It was a great grace to recognize this theme, not in order to generalize it so that I could seek to impose it on others, but to see how I am being called to conversion, to change, to move from image to likeness, to become more Christ-like. My Lenten journey has been a truly ecumenical journey.
This year I entered the desert via the Eastern Church and very organically I began to come more into contact with Evangelical and even Pentecostal Christianity. My post from a couple of Sundays ago that featured a short video by Billy Graham was prompted by watching one his Crusades from the late 1950s. How did I come cross this television show? Well, I was sitting in my room with my 5 year-old son doing something I almost never do these days, watching t.v. Not knowing what to watch, I was surfing and I noticed this program on Trinity Broadcasting and thought, “This looks interesting, I’ll check it out”. Both of us watched the whole program, especially Dr. Graham’s message, in which he proposed Jesus Christ as the answer to all that ails the world.
This week I came across the name of a missionary and evangelist from the 1970s, the so-called hippie preacher, Lonnie Frisbee. Frisbee died from complications related to AIDS back in 1993. In addition to being an evangelical/Pentecostal missionary and evangelist, Frisbee was homosexual (I eschew the article “a”(n) because I don’t think anyone can be defined by her/his sexuality- I am heterosexual, not a(n) heterosexual, as if that says everything about me, when it doesn’t even come close to saying the most important thing about me, which is that I am a beloved child of God). This is why you almost never hear Frisbee’s name mentioned among evangelicals. Frisbee was instrumental in the beginnings of two major evangelical movements that rose out of the Jesus People Movement, which started among hippies in the late 1960s, Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard. David Di Sabatino made a documentary, which I can’t wait to see- Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher.
In an interview with the OC Weekly, Connie Bremer-Murray, who was married to Lonnie for several years in the 1970s, related something Ted Wise, who was Frisbee’s first mentor in San Francisco, speaking of the time before he knew Christ, "I used to think, from the way I saw Christians talk and act, that Jesus was like a guard in the merchant marine, or at the very least a Republican". Connie continues by saying that Ted said that most Christians with whom he came into contact before his conversion wanted to know "where I stood on the issues". This is why Wise said that he never read the New Testament until much later in his life and that when he finally did, it "surprised" him that "Jesus was so cool and totally different than I'd been told".
After she left Frisbee, Bremer-Murray goes on to say how she conformed to what she calls standard Christianity, saying, "I blocked abortion-clinic doors. It seemed so right. But after the third or fourth time, God jerked me by the collar and said, 'Would I do this stuff? Would I do this anywhere?' You need to walk with him to get those messages. The enemy comes as an angel of life, appearing as good and right. Don't expect the enemy to have horns and steam coming off him. I believe the enemy will come right out of the mist of the religious-right movement".
Talking about the time when she and Lonnie were living Orange County and Lonnie was ministering at Chuck Smith’s church, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, Bremer-Murray recalls that "[p]eople would come from all over the world to sit in our living room and talk to us like we were some kind of gurus. Lonnie and I would look at each other and break out giggling. They would come all this way to hear us say love is the door you open to reach God. But how about feeding them? How about loving them? Churches lock their doors. My heart goes out to gay people. Lonnie would say he got saved from that, but when you walk out of the world of the spirit, you walk into what you were in before. But that's no more of a sin than making the children of God live on the lowest rungs". (underlining emphasis mine) Chuck Smith’s son, Chuck, Jr., who is also a pastor, but who has broken theologically with his Dad, reflecting on how poorly Frisbee was treated by Chuck, Sr. and others, "If the church says to anyone, you cannot come here, you cannot engage in the life of the church, where are they supposed to go to find Jesus?" As a Catholic deacon all of this goes hand-in-hand with something the always wise Trip D posted yesterday on his blog, Deacons Today.
Here’s a clip of Lonnie preaching:
David DiSabatino, whose master’s thesis became the film, alluding to Matthew 7:21-23, says, in the same interview, “I think people (from the Christian right) are seduced by the same thing Christians are supposed to rail against: power and money. Those things have nothing to do with Jesus. What's even worse is they use fear as a motivational tool. Fear has nothing to do with faith [see 1 John 4:18]. What scares me to death is their image of judgment. Some of these people are going to come up, say they did all these things, and God is going to say, ‘You're not on my team; you didn't get it’”. DiSabatino goes on to quote a woman from his film on Frisbee- “If I'm sick of my own sin, don't heap more scorn on me when I come to you with my problem."
Matt Coker, who, beginning with his March 2005 article, The First Jesus Freak, has written a number of fascinating articles for the OC Weekly on Frisbee and his influence, contrasts Frisbee’s being shunned for being gay with something that happened to a Calvary pastor just last year, a man who came to Christ through Frisbee. Coker is indeed correct when he asserts that Frisbee "obviously picked the wrong sin".
The words of the apostle Paul are still ringing in my ears from last Sunday: "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us". (Rom. 5:8- ESV). I think Lonnie, who understood this from his experience, his encounter with the Risen One and who is now likely realizing it in its fullness, would agree.