Crazy Days and the Jesus Movement

“We bought an old coast-guard station and around 120 cleaned-up, Christianised hippies lived out there..”

Travel with me for a few moments in a rather crazy look back to my youth and the defining years this Englishman lived as part of a Christian community in northern California. The ministry’s tax-exempt name was Gospel Outreach of Humboldt County. Today the song has waned, and it’s just a little country church on the edge of town – and ironically middle class. But in 1971, what a different story! We bought an old coast-guard station out on Table Bluff, called Lighthouse Ranch, and around 120 cleaned-up, and there, twelve miles south from the small town of aptly-named Eureka, Chritainised hippies lived, myself included. Hitchhikers flooded in during the early ’70s and thousands of travellers met with Jesus for a one-on-one, some staying and some just truckin’ on down the road to no place in particular.

“I had informal.. access, making me a small but irritating fly in the ointment to some of the so-called eldership..”

When I say “we” owned it, no we didn’t. The “ministry” owned it. The ministry was everything. We did “the work of the ministry” which meant heralding “purpose and vision” – defined as giving glory to God and going into all the world reaching and preaching for Jesus. We sent out dozens of teams. One even landed in England, (about a mile from where I live now, as it happens). We worked in “ministry businesses” and the highest pinnacle of success (but only if you were male) was to be commissioned as a heavy-hitting “ministry elder”. I avoided a lot of the flack because working in Radiance, our media arm, I had informal and somewhat unprecedented access to Jim Durkin, GO’s founder, making me something of a small but irritating fly in the ointment to some of the so-called “eldership” from time to time. More importantly, (at least from a historical perspective), as well as gate-crashing elders’ training meetings, I visited a good number of other “works” as the were called, and managed to be on the planning committee of some of the early northern Californian Jesus festivals.

In a way, I’ve clearly got to be completely crazy in taking a squint in this rear-view mirror of life, but it’s an attempt to see where we might have done things better. While hindsight might not grant 20/20 vision, it sure does clear a lot of detritus from our eye glasses. But I’m going to give it a go in this edited piece that I originally wrote for the benefit of some of my fellow Jesus Movement survivors, tapping away on my tiny cell phone earlier today – Palm Sunday, 2019. So without further ado, to adapt a phrase, if the commune fits – live it. And to attempt just that, let’s kick off with a slightly different view of the American hippy-sub-culture Jesus People Movement that I was a part of throughout almost the entire 1970s.

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It’s interesting to compare what we had with monasticism. The discipline bears some comparison (getting up at 4 am to fold three towns’ worth of  our Tri-City newspaper broadsheets; cold winter showers; simple meals, and silence on Wednesday evenings) but the inner self-discipline of the heart and focus on spirituality was not our forte, (maybe because of the DNA we inherited from classic Penticostalism via Jim Durkin and to a lesser extent, Leroy Nidever, both formerly Assembly of God preachers).

It’s easy to look back at mistakes – but we were genuinely doing one thing very well: we were “living in the moment”. That engagement was a true gift from God, although ironically, it can be viewed as the antithesis of being “vision-driven”. We certainly did have vision, but largely it was works-driven (too often “for” Jesus rather than “in” Jesus), whereas the monastic rule emphasises living in and for the heavenly, other-worldly vision.

“Jim, still wearing his realtor’s hat, lent the place rent-free to David Leon and his Bible-waving band of Jesus hippies..”

But monastics generally are not called to be pioneers in the same way we in Gospel Outreach were. However, by their very nature, pioneers don’t stay that way forever – they become settlers. I think we somehow overlooked that fact. And that’s where (inevitably, I would suggest) the GO vision began to die. That was not necessarily a bad thing – change is an inevitable part of life – but the leadership did not grasp or handle that well; too busy as they were running businesses and “expanding the ministry”. We, the rank and file, didn’t have any voting rights to our own futures. Clearly, our Jesus commune had morphed from a living organism in the very early 1970s into what was clearly an organisational-driven “ministry” by 1974.

It’s not unkind to suggest that this was Jim Durkin’s intention almost from day one at the ‘Clark and B’ Eureka storefront when Jim, still wearing his realtor’s hat, lent the place rent-free to David Leon and his Bible-waving band of Jesus hippies passing through town in 1970. But the purchase of Lighthouse Ranch the following year sealed the business model that the ministry would ever thereafter be based upon. Jim was no hippy, and he could not have been expected to have had a hippy mindset. As it was, he was an admirable and bold cross-cultural evangelist, and he lived by the lights granted him, facilitating a pathway for multiplied thousands to find Jesus along the way.

He saw his task as forming us into disciples of Jesus Christ, and the amazing thing is that so many of us and significant numbers of our kids are still treading that path well into the 21st century.

Monastics are called to be pilgrims. In other words, monks and nuns are counter-cultural, but mainly as a bi-product of being intentionally Kingdom focused. They have a far more developed sense of the pilgrim than we ever did. A lot of us were where we were because we had no other viable options; no where else to go. We needed the kind of leadership that Jim Durkin offered. We were children of the ’60s, certainly with rebellion, if not always with vision. Some of us, not yet burnt out on playing the hippy prodigal, were seeking to make the world a better place and transform society. But with hearts and minds yet to be transformed, it was rather like stumbling along a blind alley at night. That’s where Jesus thankfully stepped in and saved us from ourselves.

“The fruit of the Jesus People Movement is still ricocheting around the world, changing the way we “do” church..”

Aside from monastic rule, many intentional communities, (secular as well as faith-based), wither and die after the first flower of youth when participants hit their 30s. Either that, or they become self-governing clusters of families living in various mutually agreed terms of commonality. While statistically, these also occur in urban settings, the most interesting ones, (and arguably the most successful), are the rural ones – maybe because of the greater necessity of being self-sustaining in a rural setting. (I was going to say “easier to be self sustaining” – but it’s rarely easy living out in the wild.)

All said and done, I was privileged to be part of a defining moment in American cultural and, quite frankly, without overstating the case, Christian global history. Gospel Outreach was just one part of it, but the fruit of the Jesus People Movement is still ricocheting around the world, changing the way we “do” church. More real, more relational and with so much more reverb. With over four decades of hindsight of course we could have improved on what we did. However, I think it is sufficient to be very grateful to God for allowing us -for some reason known only to the Father, even picking us- to be at the fulcrum of arguably one of the two most significant world-wide moves of God in the past 115 years. My marker is down for the prior move being the Welsh/Azusa Street Revival of 1904-1906 that triggered global Pentecostalism. (Forgive me, but I lump rural Wales and urban L.A. into one teapot, much as I do the Jesus People Movement and the Catholic Charismatic renewal.)

Although we can’t go back, we do have more than just memories: there are new generations who are keen and eager to learn from us, provided it’s a pathway for them to experience more intimacy in Jesus and to live in closer contact with our Lord’s emerging and unique pathway for them in the difficult years ahead. While of course I’m unable to fix the foolish, youthful mistakes I made during the late 1960s’ and early ’70s, (and I certainly can’t blame “the ministry” for them all) my reflections may help those following to avoid some of our more glaringly freaky “Jesus Freak” errors.

“The fellowships that are drawing in young people all appear have some kind of engagement with contemporary styles of worship..”

These days, back in England, I’m increasing finding myself standing back and admiring what God is doing in and through young Christians today, especially musically. Having been involved from the fairly early days of the back-packing troubadours’ forays, (Karen Lafferty swung by our Jesus-ranch teaching us “Seek Ye First” years before she recorded it on the Marathana! Music label), I’m amazed and thrilled at where the Contemporary Christian Music scene is today. Contemporary praise and worship, a bold, engaging and matured outgrowth of the musical backdrop of our Jesus Movement days, offers a spiritual counter-draw to a growing number of today’s youth, who all too often have already become fully-baptised blasé secularists.

Young graduates are engaging in mainstream society while being evangelical witnesses in the workplace, casually inviting colleagues and friends to Christian encounter groups such as Holy Trinity Brompton’s “Alpha Course” which now has global – and across the aisles – reach. Alpha itself is partly a progression from the Californian Jesus People Movement, having benefited greatly by the cross-pollination provided by Vineyard founder John Wimber’s visits to the UK. Now, wherever one goes, the fellowships that are drawing in young people rather than repelling them, all appear have some kind of engagement with contemporary styles of worship. This is not just a good thing: it’s a great thing. This current world-wide flowering of our nascent ’70s “purpose and vision” was beyond the power of our imagination back in 1972, emerging as we were from the hippy sub-culture; but it’s very welcome even if some of the extremes tend to be beyond my ken to appreciate fully.

“I see a hunger in people to learn from the past as never before. This all has to be a very good thing.”

Today, as I get older (a lot older!) I seem to be more effective in reaching out to people than possibly I ever have been; through small groups and mentoring, though radio, Facebook groups, and (like here), through the written word. And I see a hunger in people to learn from the past as never before. This all has to be a very good thing.

I’m keen to encourage these new emerging streams of Holy Spirit led activity, and to help others track Jesus and the Word of God with faithfulness, accuracy and spiritual insight. Maybe then, (although I can’t go back and change my own past or re-live the halcyon days of the Jesus Movement), I might just be used to share from my experiences in ways that, with hope and prayer, may offer some encouragement to the emerging millennial generation.

To the extent that I am able to achieve that in the days to come, this somewhat self-indulgent nostalgic blog post perhaps doesn’t make me out to be quite as crazy a Jesus Freak as I first imagined.

 

John E. Ruffle, April 14, 2019. Palm Sunday.

One thought on “Crazy Days and the Jesus Movement

  1. Good word, John, with some interesting comparisons. I do have a couple of comments…

    Something to remember about Gospel Outreach – not everyone lived at the Lighthouse Ranch. I may be harping on that because I never lived there, but because I didn’t, I know that there are others like me too. Different houses provided different experiences for which I’m thankful. I think it gave me a well-rounded experience.

    Regarding the disciplines you speak of that we didn’t have for inner self-discipline and focus on spirituality – – –
    We were children in the Lord, not knowing how to self-discipline at the time because of our lack of maturity. (Even a lot of the elders didn’t have the market cornered on maturity yet). When we admire certain people as role models and try to imitate their lifestyles only then did we begin to practice any kind of discipline on our own, because we wanted to be like THEM, and I think that’s how children do it too. It’s part of growing up. The more we practiced it, the better we got at it. Now some 40-odd years later I still don’t dare say I’m “mature” but I’m more mature than I was.

    MY personal focus on spirituality almost depended on who I was living with at the time, and I can say I lived with a few spiritual dudes. If the household made time for morning prayer or personal bible study, then I immersed myself into it. There’s a balance to everything though and I believe that some of the really ‘spiritual dudes’ were less relatable than others. Like the song, too heavenly minded to be of earthly good. Taking care of stuff was one focus, but I think relationships were definitely another focus. If you’re hard to relate to, it’s hard to build a relationship with you. Believe me, I worked at it though, even with some of the spiritual dudes.
    And THAT is why we’re here today, because we’re still in relationship with each other. We may have made some mistakes along the way but we worked at becoming a family. I think that foundation is part of what enables us to reach out to others today and befriend them too. We’re family.

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