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Revelations faith column: Rock 'n' roll religion and unconventional Christianity

By BY JENNIFER PREYSS
Jan. 20, 2012 at midnight
Updated Jan. 20, 2012 at 7:21 p.m.


In a recent conversation about cultural Christianity with a pastor friend of mine, I learned something interesting about Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer, Jerry Lee Lewis.

The "Great Balls of Fire" singer, revered for his high-energy, boogie-woogie piano and vocal skills, had early aspirations of using his musical talents for the church.

Before the launch of Lewis' career in the 1950s, he was briefly enrolled at Southwest Bible Institute in Waxahachie, primed to perform evangelical God tunes with a rock 'n' roll twist. But The Killer's unconventional sound at a school talent show one night - even while performing the worship tune "My God Is Real" - ruffled a few feathers in conservative Christendom, and Lewis was expelled the next day.

Lewis would go on to generate numerous chart-topping songs and receive recognition from Rolling Stone Magazine in 2003 as one the top 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. There's even a movie about his career, "Great Balls of Fire!"

The brazen singer-songwriter didn't waste his God-given talents. He used them often, and used them well - he simply used them for the world, rather than God.

And as my pastor friend and I discussed Lewis' school expulsion, we fantasized about what would have become of him if his Christian community hadn't turned up their nose.

What if his fellow God-followers encouraged Lewis' talents and prayed over his unconventional style? What if they recognized his willingness to inspire and excite others about the Lord through his musical gifts, rather than banish him for not fitting neatly into the cultural, 1950's Christian box?

What if all these years later, Lewis was recognized as a great gospel singer, an evangelical paragon, rather than one of the secular world's best musical talents? (Lewis' marriage scandal to his 13-year-old cousin notwithstanding).

My pastor friend attended the same university as Lewis, now called Southwestern Assemblies of God University, and said he thinks of Lewis often when he considers what real, timeless Christianity is supposed to look like.

And he said he uses Lewis' story whenever he considers his own ministry and how he chooses to teach the youth about God's love for them. He now recognizes the gravity of Christian culture and aims not to follow the rules of man and church and denominational tradition, which will inevitably change again and again as the years pass. No, he aims to follow God, his holy Scriptures, and the model of Jesus: No glitter, no robes, no prerequisites for admission.

I relate to Lewis' story because I remember growing up with an understanding that God's rules and the rules of my parent's church were taught as superior to walking in God's love. Over time, I too, became exhausted with the culture and eventually rejected Jesus and his church.

But I was blessed to be wooed back into God's embrace - through a network of strong, unconventional Christians - and find an unwavering relationship with my Lord. I was blessed to find a few strong, love-minded Christ followers who refused to turn up their nose to me, when others thought I was too worldly, and spend time answering my (sometimes hostile) questions.

I was blessed that my unconventional Christianity, eight years later, affords me the opportunity to dialogue about God on a daily basis.

But my future and relationship with God could have been much different if I'd kept down the same road. Funnily enough, it seems Lewis' future could have been much different as well.

Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jlpreyss@vicad.com.

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