Resurrection Band: Rocking the world's systems

Saturday 1st June 1996

No rock band has survived longer, rocked louder or worked harder for the Gospel of Jesus Christ than Chicago's RESURRECTION BAND. Shortly before the heavy musicianaries fly in to play the Cross Rhythms Festival, the band's founder and frontman, Glenn Kaiser was quizzed by Tony Cummings.

Resurrection band
Resurrection band

Most who read this magazine, and certainly all who'll be joining the packed throng at this year's Cross Rhythms Festival, know that the Resurrection Band are CCM legends. Jesus music pioneers, the veteran heavy rock evangelists have clocked up a stunning 22 plus years, 16 albums and countless thousands ministered to. The band members - though straining under a myriad of commitments of Chicago's Jesus People USA - still burn with a passion to reach the lost. Their line up: Glenn Kaiser (vocals, guitar), Wendy Kaiser (vocals), Stuart Heiss (guitar), Ray Montroy (bass) and John Herrin (drums) are as solid and consistent as their rhythm and power chords. Their latest album 'Lament' is a creative tour de force. Produced by Ty Tabor of Kings X it is a concept work about a young man lost in the ocean of unbelief. Recently the band have been on the road in the States with fellow heavy rock musicianaries Whitecross. I spoke to Glenn about that, and numerous other topics.

Have you been pleased with the response to 'Lament'?
"Very much so, both in terms of critical response and more importantly the way people responded to the album in concerts. We've done a lot of touring, playing night after night to both older fans who have followed the band for years and younger people, some of whom have never heard the band before. We usually hang around for about an hour after the concerts talking to people. We've been very encouraged by what people have said about 'Lament'."

I understand you toured the States with Whitecross.
"That's right. They're great people. For many years they lived right up the road from us, about maybe an hour north of Chicago. Then they relocated to Nashville. But we've been friends for years, done concerts together, and played at festivals together and stuff. It's gone excellently, I speak for the entire band and I think it's the truth for the audiences as well. Excellent, response."

As far as I can see from US playlists 'Lament' hasn't had huge Christian radio exposure.
"No, not really. Now, I really don't wish to sound arrogant when I say this, but I really don't care very much. It's great when radio gives you airplay but in this country particularly when you are talking about Christian radio, a lot of the stations are very pop. They don't play a lot of hardcore or alternative, hard rock stuff or blues. The kind of music that we've been playing is not the kind of stuff that gets played. From the beginning, you either loved us or you REALLY didn't. Years ago when Stryper were getting airplay, and I've heard this from a lot of programme directors of Christian radio, they would play some of the mellower, pop-oriented stuff that Stryper would do but STILL wouldn't play Resurrection Band! No way. I think we freaked a lot of people out. It was a very new and a very striking thing for people to hear full-on gospel rock music. Also, I think that some of the issues we dealt with like the poor or racism, those kinds of things, frankly most of the time Christian radio avoids that kind of thing."

I understand that in recent concerts you've been playing ALL the songs on the 'Lament' album. Is that what Cross Rhythms has in store?
"That's the plan. It's very different for us because we've done so many albums. We recognise some people want to hear favourite songs from over the years. We're still praying and thinking and talking about this. I'll tell you what I'd really like to do in my heart of hearts, and I'm speaking completely out of turn here because there has been no real discussion from the rest of the band yet, but I would love to tour 'Lament' through to the autumn this year and then I would like to tour most of the songs off our first two albums, 'Awaiting Your Reply' and 'Rainbows End'! Those songs with just a kind of a smattering of some of the stronger tunes and by that I mean maybe better-liked but also I think more important lyrical songs off other albums. A little bit of a history of the band, sort of do a retrospective. I'd really like to do just that for about a year after this. So who knows?"

Does the fact that you work in the arena of heavy rock stop you from enjoying fellowship with older, and for want of a better word, staid Christians?
"You would think it would. And I suppose in a very, very small way it does or can. But the truth is, one, I'm 43 years old and, two, I'm far more committed to the Scripture and far more both spiritually and in some aspects of my life culturally conservative than most conservative Christians that I've met. That's developed over 25 years and an awful lot of miles and a lot of countries. When we meet older Christians there's a little bit of conversation they get to meet members of the band, and music ceases to be the focus of their attention, because they realise it is not the focus of ours. You know, we really, really love Jesus and what we're doing in the community as Jesus People in Chicago. What we're committed to is not simply music and the arts. We don't see music or the arts simply as utilitarian, neither do we see it as art for arts sake - I suppose we're a little happier with a Francis Schaeffer approach than a Rookmaaker approach, although I am an evangelist and we do preach and will preach at our concerts. Our songs most of the time are strongly evangelistic in the typical sense of that term. Then again we are not ashamed of being artists and trying to create the best music with the highest professionalism that we can. But we are not worshipping the expression, we're worshiping God. I think it very important for people to get a sense of that very quick. So our chosen style of music is not much of a stumbling block between us and others."

But isn't it sad that sometimes music can be just one more thing that divides us?
"I agree. I'll tell you why. Because you have bigots, cultural prejudice on both sides of the fence. There are people who think that anything old is stupid and there are people who think that anything that is new is evil or at least suspect. But I'll tell you the best historian that I've every known of in regard to Christians working in music would be your own Eric Routley. A brilliant, brilliant person. He says it very well, there has always been a tension between musicians and the Church and the music that they do if it's modern, if it's creative, if it's different. I understand the reason. I'm also a pastor so I understand that if something is new, you want to think about it, you don't just simply want to open the doors and give a general affirmation to it the first minute it shows up in the Church. At the same time, Jesus talked about things old and new, not just old, not just new but old and new. Unfortunately it is kind of an obscure verse because he only said it once; it's in one of the gospels and is not quoted very often. That sense of balance and that sense of understanding and really that sense of love and wisdom in many cases is lacking in individuals within the Church."

The Cornerstone Festival, which Jesus People USA run, is seen very much as a platform for alternative forms of rock. But wouldn't it be more radical to open the event to a very broad spectrum of music?
"It is and we do that sort of thing. We have The Crossing that does acoustic Celtic music all the way to industrial noise. We've had string quartets. Rave and house stuff. We've done all sorts of things from quiet, solo acoustic stuff to the most blown out industrial noise."

So is it wrong to think of the Cornerstone Fest as a platform for alternative rock?
"Well, I would have to say that the majority of the band would either be doing what would be considered alternative music sort of Seattle type. Really let's face it, that's the pop music of the day, Top 40. It's like anything, at first it's very underground, very unique, now it's the common thing, and nine out of 10 bands sound like they came out of Seattle, somewhere between Nirvana and Hootie And The Blowfish. The bulk of the groups would be alternative, the next category would be hardcore and/or thrash type stuff but that would be maybe 50 per cent. But it's very hard to express the vastness of the musical landscape at Cornerstone Festival. That's by design. Most of it is really good artistically and in some sense shows a spiritual maturity. The most evangelistic, and very directly evangelistic bands, are typically the hardcore/thrash bands, they're just like Billy Grahams with guitars or something. On the other hand, a number of the alternative bands, towards the end of their set, they just spontaneously end up doing some worship at the last bit, the last three or four songs. The unplugged sets people are doing around the festival, many times end up in worship. You can't go wrong. You've got people that really have a heart for worship and people that really have a heart for preaching the Gospel and of course there are certainly people there who are very committed doing the very best music they can do.

"The Church is bigger than we are sometimes as individuals. I think we limit God and get rather bigoted. The best term I can think of is prejudiceum. Prejudiceum is the Latin word that the English word prejudice comes from. It literally means not having not enough information to judge and yet still judging it. We are trying as a festival to say enough of this. It's one thing to disagree on very important issues of the Scripture, theology, but even then we've got to learn to love one another as Christian brothers and sisters. But when we start these really heavy polarisations on a CULTURAL basis, not only is that unscriptural, there's no logic behind it, there's no sense to it. I mean, we are basically painting people into a corner for the wrong reasons. We don't like their music. So what? If we have a problem with what they are doing in terms of their morals, that's something else again. But let's not pretend that sound waves contain intrinsic morality. They do not. They cannot. We've got to think more in terms of a person's character and life. It's interesting, because at the festival we are drawing more and more unbelievers. It's just one of those places where a number of people feel comfortable. They like what they are seeing and hearing culturally and I think are still getting a very strong evangelistic witness. I'm sure I can't say in all cases because it depends on gifts and callings in the individuals' lives. Whoever is playing. A teacher is not necessarily an evangelist; a musician is not necessarily an evangelist. But I would say that Cornerstone is a whole lot more concerned about direct evangelism than what tends to be the case, at least from my perspective, at the Greenbelt festival. At Cornerstone we're seeing whole families, grandpas and grandmas, pastors more and more over the years, come to Cornerstone. That's exactly what we want to see."

How many times have you been to the UK?
"Probably six or seven, something like that."

Knowing what I know about the UK Christian music scene I suspect that on every occasion you or the whole band have visited the UK it's ended up costing you money. So why come?
"Well, the obvious answer is we're out of our minds! No really, it gets to this. In the US there are some people making a very comfortable, I mean a VERY comfortable, living doing "ministry". I can't say that we are. The fact is we just don't really care about that. What we do care about is being obedient and faithful to the Lord. Jesus has only given us so much time on this earth and there are so many people who have not experienced God's love, who have not heard the gospel, the good news, who have all sorts of their own prejudice about the Church. Here we are in a band; God has put this thing together in the first place and kept us together all these years. We keep scratching our heads, going, 'how long, what's this all about?' And every year there seems like more confirmation and direction. The entire band is involved in so many different outreaches within the church here in Jesus People in Chicago. We're all involved in different gifts and callings. Everybody in the band we all have wives and kids. There is so much going on here. And yet the Lord continues to motivate us. It's true whether it's the band or I doing solo gigs or speaking, whatever. It's called love, it's called a conviction that God has gifted and given gifts and direction. It's very important to discuss the issue of missionary calling. We have no good reason to cross a border, and for that matter even a cultural boundary, unless we are willing to do our homework. Even beyond all of the practical stuff there's a deep, deep conviction in my heart that I am as much a missionary as I am an evangelist. So what happens in say Britain or in other countries is people pray and give us a call or fax us. We pray a lot and think about the possibilities. If we can even come CLOSE to breaking even financially, typically we go. This wouldn't be possible if the community here, the Jesus People of our base church, didn't support our wives, our kids, ourselves, financially. There's no question the band could have never done what we've done or lasted as many years as we have without the full, not just spiritual but financial underwriting of this fellowship and we are simply sent out as missionaries, as ministers in what we do. And that's the only reason. It's not a matter of unit sales; it's not a matter of 300 people or 3,000 people at the concert. At the end of the day, Jesus leaves the 99 and he goes after the one. I was that one once, and there are a lot of ones out there each night. That's why, there's no other good reason to go out, unless we're talking tourism."

I am about to take a two-week leave of absence from Cross Rhythms to go out to the Sudan and work on a project with World Vision. After my last trip out to the Sudan and Ethiopia a few years ago I came back and was soon very disorientated and dissatisfied with much of the sheer trivia I found in the West's evangelical and charismatic churches. What would you say in response to that?
"There was a little poster up on the wall in a Jesus house years and years ago here. It said, 'bloom where you are planted'. The question is what has God called you to do, what has God called me to do? A very important phrase that I also heard many years ago that rings so true is 'a need does not constitute a call'. There are thousands of places literally that we could go to that would tear your heart out, tear your guts out. You either wouldn't want to leave or you almost wouldn't want to live any more knowing what you know now -seeing such incredible suffering. The question is where does God want me to go, what does he want me to do, what CAN I do, what do I have in my ability, what powers, what gifts of the Spirit, what calling of God is on my life, what practical, natural skill could I surrender to the Lord, to employ in serving, in ministering? And of course the word minister literally means serve. That's it, that's all there is to it. Now, someone has to mop the floor, someone has to see to it that the sound equipment works, someone has to preach the sermon, someone has to cook the meal, someone has to administer medication, someone has to lobby in Parliament. 'What must I do to be saved?' is the first question to settle. But after that, 'What do you desire me to do?' is the next. The answer is simple, practical service. You put one foot in front of the other and you walk each day. And that's all any of us can do. That's all Billy Graham or Mother Theresa or you or I can do. But it relates to all those things I was speaking about, gifts and callings, that sort of thing. You look for confirmation, you look for a real sense of direction from the Holy Spirit, from God's word as you pray, from pastoral accountability, you look for doors opening or closing and sometimes, sure, signs and wonders. And the Lord confirms his direction, his plan and then ultimately you step out in faith and you do it. You obey. It might be a very simple, as Paul says in Romans 12, 'Give yourselves the humble task,' and it is truly up to God and needs to be up to God."

Don't you sometimes feel alienated by American culture?
"I've said this for years, I'm a lot more gracious to people in Britain, or to folk in Germany or Australia or wherever than ever I am in America. If you guys think I get brutal with some of the things I say and do in Britain, you have no idea! In the US there's no way I can't be affected by the self-centredness, the materialism, the hedonism. There are just an awful lot of people who can hardly see past their own nose here! I think one of the wonderful things about short term mission like Operation Mobilisation, YWAM, Oasis, some of the work British Youth For Christ does, is that there are so many opportunities for you to work in the middle of the poor and the suffering. I think that that impacts people. I think it would be great if every teenager could spend at least a few months serving in some short-term mission, whether it's in Brixton or Sudan or Haiti or the inner city of Chicago. Living in Chicago convinces me more and more that I don't have the time to worship art. And I should not give as much time to the trivia. Obviously we need to have recreation, we need to rest, and there's no sin in that. But balance is needed. I take half the time I used to kick a soccer ball, and with that time now I'm writing articles, editorials, and a book. Basically, what I'm saying to you is more and more mission and ministry is my hobby. It takes up most of my time, it's taking up more and more of it and I think that that's as it should be. I think that as you mature in Christ your heart is stretched and you realise that there's so much to be done. The fields are white and there really aren't an over-abundance of labourers."

If only all believers could see that we CAN make a difference.
"You know, my heart gets torn out. I have to start acting, start moving. You speak, you write a song, you encourage, and you sit down and say, 'how can we do something about this?' But not only talk about it or write about it either, but actually get our hands dirty. God, show us how to practically impact a situation and enter into the suffering and deal with these things. A number of our people went to the funeral of a 15-year-old boy yesterday. He was killed, he'd just gotten out of the detention centre and it was a drive-by shooting. It looks like it was probably gang related. 15-year-old boy. His mother and his brothers had been in our shelter for a number of years. There's a lot of struggle with drugs in that family. One of the pastors here preached at the funeral last night. This is reality. This is where we live. When I see the foolishness that happens in the Christian music culture, or the triviality of what goes on in some of the evangelical or charismatic streams of the church, believe me, I'm not gonna stand there and not speak about it." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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