Rebel Jesus

They call him by the “Prince Of Peace”

And they call him by “The Savior”

And they pray to him upon the sea

And in every bold endeavor

And they fill his churches with their pride and gold

As their faith in him increases

But they’ve turned the nature that I worship in

From a temple to a robber’s den

In the words of the rebel Jesus

             – Jackson Browne from the song The Rebel Jesus


Follow Jesus and you will soon realize you are, and will always be, a rebel.

The early Jesus people were rebels. Truth is rebellious. It upsets the applecart and the status quo. You can look at the Jesus Movement and see when it died. It died when followers of Christ stopped being rebels.

It died at Explo ’72 in Dallas, where “100,000 people couldn’t be wrong.” Oh yeah? There have been a lot more people than that in history all wrong at the same time. (Try Nazi Germany for starters.) With that kind of reasoning, truth is relegated to numbers, not truth.

The Jesus Movement died when the music started to bless rather than convict. It died when everything became worship. (Come on, people, we aren’t in heaven yet!) It died when getting a hit on Christian radio was more important than saving the world with our guitars. It died when we lost our prophetic voices.  It died when “Christian” became an adjective instead of a noun. It died when we tried to fit into the world’s system rather than speak into it. It died when hippies in church became yuppies. It died when everyone was welcome except __________ (fill in the blank).

The Jesus Movement started out great, but “once a rebel, always a rebel” did not stick. Rebellion appeared to be just a phase. It was great to kick things off, but eventually you have to conform. But look at Jesus; did He ever stop rebelling against the establishment? Did He ever conform to anyone or anything? If He had, they wouldn’t have killed Him.

So I leave you with these final words. These are the words of a true follower of Christ fighting to stay true to his convictions to remain a rebel, because that is what he must do to give honor to the one he follows and the truth He represents:

“Life is created by God.  He put me in it, and I believe even saw me in it before I was born, and I think He knew that He was going to write the truth on my heart.  I think that even in my rebellion, He has been a big part of that path I speak of.  So I see myself, on a certain level, continuing to rebel, and to understand it in others, and maybe at times to have a glass of wine over that, because I think I will never entirely grow up in this world.” – Mark Spoelstra

So I get Mark’s concluding words here, and I thank the memory of him for contributing to our thoughts this week. I only wish he could have been here to see it.

We are leaving our interview with Mark up in case you missed it or you want to refer to it again. It’s surely worth reading more than once.


After a brief biography, you will read his words taken from a two-hour interview, the first of a number of interviews we will be taking with a number of the original Jesus Music artists who were writing songs and playing their music during the Jesus movement of 1970-1972. These artists will be telling their stories on Music that Matters Radio and taking part in our programming. Our purpose is not nostalgia, but to provide a platform for their prophetic voices, and to bring them forward to instruct and inspire the Millennials as they seek to take Jesus into the next frontier. You will find that Mark is not talking primarily about the Jesus movement or even his music. He is talking about something much deeper. He is talking about life.This week we are going to get to know Mark Spoelstra. Mark is listed in Wikipedia as “an American singer-songwriter and folk and blues guitarist.” From his early days in Greenwich Village, New York, he periodically brushed with fame, but stayed mostly on the edges, endearing himself to those loyal folk music fans who were fortunate enough to find his music.

So take in his words today and the rest of the week I will break down the things he said and show why they are important for us today.

Mark Spoelstra

He is known as an American singer/songwriter and folk and blues guitarist. At eighteen, Mark Spoelstra left his home in California and hitchhiked to New York City where he played for tips at Greenwich Village coffeehouses with another young itinerant folksinger named Bob Dylan. He played an important role in those early days of the folk revival, recording albums for Folkways and Electra Records.  Raised a Quaker, he sought conscientious objector status when drafted in 1963 and spent two years performing alternative community service in a rural black community in central California. He later married and recorded more albums that kept him on the margin of the folk movement but struggling to support his young family.

A late arrival to the Jesus movement, he showed up at Peninsula Bible Church, Palo Alto, California in 1973 with his wife, two children, and a heart to use his musical gifts to the glory of God. He joined John Fischer’s newly formed Discovery Art Guild, became an avid student of the Bible, and wrote and recorded two albums of Christian songs. Though he had some success in the Christian market in the mid to late seventies, he still remains best known for his folk music days in the ’60s and his unique 6 and 12-string picking styles. Ron Olesko writes in his Folk Music Notebook, “Mark was a brilliant musician and a talented songwriter. His music deserved a wider audience, and those who were fans keep his music for life.”

His Christian music is equally deserving and well worth the hunt if you can find “Somehow I Always Knew.”

From “Gospel Trucker” on that album:

     I got me a roof over my head

     A darlin’ wife and four little kids

     The Word lives here and we love the Lord

     And what else more could a man ask for?

His commitment to Christ and love for his family is apparent in these lyrics and explains why he set his music aside and moved to Stockton, CA in the early 1980s to selflessly support his family doing any and all jobs he could find. Twenty years later, with his children out of the house, his music enjoyed a renaissance, as did his performing skills, playing in folk venues throughout California.

Mark succumbed to a swift moving pancreatic cancer in the winter of 2007. His son, Joshua wrote the following tribute to his last memory of his dad. “On February 25th, 2007, my father, Mark Spoesltra, passed away here in his lovely but modest home in the Sierra Foothills of California. There was snow on the ground and we could see the trees that surround the house like sentinels swaying with the force of another approaching storm. We held him as he left us and I know he had no fear and felt no pain, and even though his life was cut short he found the strength to tell each of us he loved us. I will miss him greatly.”

Mark’s comments here are not directly about the Jesus movement since this interview was taken in 2004, prior to when the focus of this book project was established, but his thoughts on life and the church ring with the prophetic voice of one who participated in the free expression of those days and who was still seeking to find an adequate vehicle for capturing his faith and love of life when he left this world.

     Well I feel like a truck filled up to the brim

     With every good thing at my command

     When I pull the last grade and I stall in the dust

     I’m gonna drive around heaven in my golden truck

                  – from the song “Gospel Trucker”

I’ve had sixteen jobs since I got married. I always wanted to make a living in music.  I thought that’s what God had planned for me all along. But instead I’ve had to do those sixteen different day jobs.  It has taken a lot of humiliation. I am a bus driver for a casino and for the longest time I didn’t want anybody to know. But you know what? All my kids have degrees. My wife and I… we never got to do that.

And now people are finding out that I’m a songwriter. Some people have sought me out and found me after all these years, and told me I was the most unique songwriter to come out of Greenwich Village in the early ’60s because I was willing to take a chance, not only in my talent, but in what I chose to write about.  So when people say those things to me I say, “Well, perhaps then God is telling me, you’re doing right son with what I gave you.”  That is a very deep spiritual reward.

The Lord seems to be justifying me in this process.  He didn’t allow me to be a big star.  He didn’t allow me to think for very long in that box. I don’t like particularly being famous.  It makes me uncomfortable.  So the justification I think, if that’s the right word, would be that the Lord is showing me that these songs are functional and these songs are important, not just a waste of my time.  They are not just a self-centered indulgence that has no value.

I think about the freedom to be creative, and the talent… I certainly didn’t create the talent.  It was something that was given to me like a piece of clay that I had to discover and mold.

I used to admire the street singers who sang gospel songs. They used the music of the people, like Reverend Ray Davis for example, on the streets of Harlem. He used a guitar style that is unmatched in its intricacy and its conception by any guitar player in the world. It’s indescribable how elegant his guitar playing was.  And yet he would sing gospel songs.  That’s all he would sing. Of course people would have the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ.  But I don’t think he was seeing himself as someone who was bringing people to Christ.  He was just there as a trumpet, as a herald.   

I didn’t always have the courage to put references to the Lord in my songs. I did it in the church for so many years and it became really stale for me.  It became formula music, formula messages, formula worship and formula truth.  I really have a sneaking suspicion that the Holy Spirit is pulling out of American churches right as we speak.  They will remain social gatherings.  People will still have their meetings.  People will still have their Wednesday night together and they still will have this wonderful comfortable feeling of peace and joy but the Lord really isn’t going to be there. We tend to live in our own neighborhoods for a sense of safety, and we tend to go to our own churches for a sense of self-righteousness.

You go to Christian bookstores and a lot of that is formula stuff too. I think a lot of it is worthless. Still the Gospel is being taught and preached in one form or another, but I think the Lord is disciplining the church in America for making a living off the Gospel.  I feel that very strongly.  That’s one of the reasons I stopped in the 1970’s.  The Lord was very clear that I was not going to make a living singing in churches, and it was okay with me because I was uncomfortable with it.

I think it’s wonderful we have the free will and the ability to have a relationship with God. When I read the Gospel I hear the Lord talking to me and teaching me, and it’s not all that difficult to understand what He’s saying.  Why does it have to be formalized?  Why am I following along with this verse and that verse to make twelve ministers a good living so they can pay their mortgages?  I can read it myself.  I can go home and read it. A job is one thing, but it seems to me that there is something about what happens when you’re motivated to make a living with something. It begins to take on different rules than what it should be about.

The façade of church is in the buildings – the multi-million dollar investments – the organization and control of a group, supposedly to enrich and encourage and teach souls of Christians. It doesn’t give room to the individual.  We’re all created so wonderfully different, it’s just a marvelous thing, and so mysterious.

I have a song called “Anything But Love.” It says, “Show me how to believe and to hold onto love again, the kind of love that never ends.”  Doesn’t everybody want that? People look to drugs or promiscuous sex to find it and here I am telling them to ask the Lord to give them what they really want.  That’s kind of a mindbender for some people, and I love it, because it stills the room.  It just stills the room.  The song goes on to say that after all is said and done there will only be one thing left.  I will forget everything but love.  All the failures.  All the drugs.  All the sex.   All the mistakes that I’ve made with my children.  All the mistakes I’ve had with my neighbors.  Everything will be wiped clean except love.  Everything that I did in love will remain and will live.  That gives people hope.  People say, “Do you hear what that poet is saying? He’s saying that it is possible that when we all go to the bridge the only thing that is going to endure are the loving things that we did.”

So when I yearn to be closer to Him, there’s a song I like to sing. “I want to go where I’ve never been, and talk to the one who’s talked with the wind.”  That’s really what I feel.  I just want to walk and talk with the Lord.  I really think that’s going to happen someday. I can’t possibly imagine what’s going to be in store for me but I like the adventure and I’ve always made decisions on the romance and the adventure of how I see the future, and then just find out what’s there when I get there. Most of my decisions in my life are based on this kind of indefensible faith that where I’m going is where I should go.  And sometimes I get stuck out there with no gas in the desert, but something always happens.  Someone always comes along.

Life is created by God.  He put me in it, and I believe even saw me in it before I was born, and I think He knew that He was going to write the truth on my heart.  I think that even in my rebellion, He has been a big part of that path I speak of.  So I see myself, on a certain level, continuing to rebel, and to understand it in others, and maybe at times to have a glass of wine over that, because I think I will never entirely grow up in this world.

It’s a big part of my journey to seek truth and equality.  Certainly I can imagine people who wouldn’t give a rip about that, but I think it’s part of my journey to seek truth and the way it manifests itself in the world.  That’s very exciting to me – thrilling, in fact. I really hope that my path will become one on which I’m traveling more and continuing to perform and sing in various situations.  And I can’t say honestly that I have an evangelical thrust about this.  I don’t see myself as an apostle.  I don’t see myself as an evangelist.  I don’t see myself on a mission.  I’m on life.

And if my life were a movie, well it’s a romance, and an adventure, and a historical novel all rolled into one, and it would have to end well, or you’d be damned sorry you ever read it.

This entry was posted in Integrity, Jesus, Jesus Movement, revolution and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Rebel Jesus

  1. Perhaps an act of rebellion we can all engage in together as we ponder Johns and Marks messages above – and if we honestly want to revive our flame of Spiritual brightness that has dimmed through the decades – is to follow the example of our devout Jewish brethren as we enter into this weekend of Yom Kippur: the “Sabbath of Sabbaths” (Leviticus 16:29–32).

    It is the holiest day of the Jewish year, a day of inner purification and of reconciliation with God and fellow human beings.
    The inspiring, yet sobering, words of the 58th chapter of Isaiah are read publicly in the synagogue to reveal the true meaning of Yom Kippur:
    “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen,” says the prophet, “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6–7).

    As Christians (in the True “rebellious” sense, not the political or religious affiliations) we, too, need to take stock of our lives, humble ourselves, and make amends with God and others before we venture out on any noble or holy cause.
    When was the last time you and I honestly humbled ourselves, sincerely sought forgiveness, and wholeheartedly trusted God to help us through the uncertainty of our day-to-day life?
    If we’re struggling to answer that question, is it possible you and I might need to engage in a little (or a lot) of personal repentance?
    Yes, we all make mistakes, but repentance is always possible.
    Through repentance, God created a way for us to fix what has been broken.

    God has given us the power to release ourselves from the tentacles of sin by asking forgiveness and resolving to behave differently in the future. God promises, “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

    The possibility of repentance and the pathway back to God is always open.

    “The single most important lesson of Yom Kippur is that it’s never too late to change, start again, and live differently from the way we’ve done in the past. God forgives every mistake we’ve made so long as we are honest in regretting it and doing our best to put it right.”
    ~ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    Here is a link to learn more about Yom Kippur:

  2. John A Fagliano says:

    I think that everyone wants to be a rebel. Society is made up of sinners and we all are victims of sin in some way or another and so we want to rebel against that. Some people rebel by the clothes they wear and the music they listen to. Others rebel by smoking, drinking, doing drugs acting out sexually and showing disregard for their own bodies to rebel against those who would tell them not to do those things. People rebel to please their own desires.

    Jesus rebelled against materialism by sacrificing. He rebelled against hate and indifference with Love. He rebelled against hypocrisy by welcoming sinners and letting His example inspire them. He rebelled against sinful leadership by speaking Truth to power. Not resentment and bitterness but real Truth. His rebellion wasn’t about pleasing Himself and finally getting what’s His. It was about others.

    Maybe what Christian rebels did wrong was to forget it was about others. We rebelled against those who said, “Christians can’t play rock music” and we did it anyway. We rebelled against those who said that Christians have to fit in a cookie cutter and we broke the mold. But we followed the worlds example and did those things for OURSELVES. Once we were thinking selfishly it was easy for pride to take over and with that came all the rest of the compromises.

    I think the best rebels are those who know how to rebel against their own tendency to be selfish and have an ego and try to build a better world for everyone else.

  3. Sandie says:

    I always identified with the music and words that knocked me off-kilter spiritually – When I was in a band I covered a lot of those songs. I was desperate to make Christians especially, THINK! And frustrated when so many were content kicking back, waiting for us, the pastor, the praise songs (pick one) to bless them. getting their holy fix to get them through the coming week…instead of bringing spiritual fruit to share Sunday morning. I was never content with ‘baby food’ and tried to instill that desire to REALLY walk WITH Jesus into uncharted territory. I always identified with Peter…poor fool, sinking under the waves because he took his eyes off Jesus. How about this? He was the only one to get out of the boat! Yes he sank, but survived because he turned back to his salvation!

  4. jwfisch says:

    Way to go. I beginning to think the Catch is made up of a bunch of rebels. If so, let’s get going making a difference.

  5. Sandie says:

    Now that I’m older, the difference I make is more nuanced. I’ve had to learn – still am learning – that it’s the small things that add up to some really big things. Though I miss that mic in my hand something fierce at times.

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