Some Matters Should Really Stay in the Closet

Full and unequivocal equality for Petra fans? I don’t think so:

My best friend became a loser right around age 14. I had hopped a Greyhound from Hamilton to the far side of Toronto to spend a weekend with Paul. We sat down to do what boys that age do—probably something destructive—and he popped a new tape into his stereo. “These guys are Christians.” I scoffed. “They’re called Petra. The album is Beyond Belief.” I laughed. What a weakling. It really was beyond belief. He and I used to listen to Duran Duran together. Bon Jovi. Guns N’ Roses. And now we were going to listen to this tripe? Come on. Plus they can’t actually be Christians. Not good Christians, anyway. They play electric guitar! They’ve got long hair, for pity’s sake!

I endured it for the weekend, though I’m sure I griped and complained all the while. Or maybe I played along—I don’t exactly remember. But I do remember that moments before I left for home I scrounged up a blank tape and copied just one song—just one song to take home to my friends so we could laugh together. I ended up with the first song on the second side: “Underground.” Then I went home.

Sure enough, I played it for my friends and we laughed. After all, we were Reformed and baptized and catechized—we didn’t need Christian rock. Christian rock was for Arminians or Pentecostals or Baptists—weaklings all of them. It certainly wasn’t for the likes of us.

I played it for some more friends. I played it for my family. I kept playing it until I realized I was playing it for me. This song was saying something to me. At some point I had started to hear the lyrics—to really hear them. I realized “Underground” was a song about professing Christ instead of denying him, of being bold instead of intimidated. That was strong, not weak. Was I willing to stand for Christ? Or was I a weakling? Uh oh.

“Mom! Can you take me to the Christian bookstore?”

I bought the album and listened to the rest of the songs. It started with “Armed and Dangerous,” a song about relying upon God, then went to “I Am on the Rock,” a proclamation of confidence in God. “Creed” was simply The Apostle’s Creed set to music, “Beyond Belief” was about current and future hope, while “Love” was an adaptation of 1 Corinthians 13. And that was just side 1. I listened to it until I wore it out. I listened to it on my ghetto blaster, in my parent’s minivan, on my awesome walkman—whenever and wherever I could. I listened until I knew every one of John’s words, every one of Louie’s beats, every one of Bob’s solos.

I listened until I became a Christian.* Late one night I caught a glimpse of the ugly depravity of my heart side by side with the heart-stopping holiness of God. (A night, as it happens, when I was also reading a Frank Peretti book, but that’s a story for another day.) I was undone. I was redone. I was reborn. All of that parenting and Bible-reading and sermonizing and catechizing had done its work in me, but somehow it was just waiting for one more thing—for news of the warm and personal relationship with God that Petra kept singing about.

I could respond with my own encounter with Iron Butterfly and In A Gadda Da Vida (BABY!!), but as I (mmmmeeeeeeEEEEEE) say, some thing are best left in our private selves, divorced from our public identities.

35 thoughts on “Some Matters Should Really Stay in the Closet

  1. I wonder if Tim credits his parents faithfulness in catechizing, bible reading, and church going for all his discernment he has now.

    Also, I wonder what Tim’s parents would think of that post – all their hard work for nothing… All they needed to do was give him a Petra tape! (I’m a huge Petra fan myself)


  2. My experience was the opposite. I was only allowed to listen to christian rock growing up. By the time I hit 6th grade I had a secret collection of hardcore punk rock. Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, The Cramps, etc. Somehow I still managed to make it to the reformed camp. I still have a soft spot for punk rock, but mostly listen to trip hop now.


  3. Maybe it was a tad too sanctimonious to feel more righteous by going to Christian roller skating night on a Thursday back in the day best left unnamed.


  4. In the words of my musical hero,

    Dearly beloved
    We are gathered here today
    To get through this thing called life

    Electric word life
    It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
    But I’m here to tell you
    There’s something else
    The after world

    A world of never ending happiness
    You can always see the sun, day or night

    So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
    You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright
    Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
    Ask him how much of your mind, baby

    ‘Cause in this life
    Things are much harder than in the after world
    In this life
    You’re on your own


  5. Jeff: You get it; Jon’s dog would be happy with your sitting. And if he gets away from you: Shining, flying, purple wolfhound, show me where you are.


  6. Hah!

    So, I never realized how much the young Jon Anderson looks like Harry Potter’s younger brother.


  7. Heh. Indeed. And the late, great Chris Squire there evokes Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. (Check out those boots. Trippy, man.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. At least he didn’t say he got saved at a Stryper concert. Jeff, Harry does not have a younger brother. Do you mean his friend Ron Weasley?


  9. @ Todd: hypothetical younger brother. Jon A looks for all the world like Daniel Radcliffe without glasses, but with longer hair and questionable sobriety.


  10. Jeff, got it. Only could see Yes at one of their movie concerts. Came out and my car (father’s car) had been towed. Not a happy day. CW, make it stop.


  11. What amazes me about Yes is that their music shows a really thought-out compositional method (such as Perpetual Change, or later with pretty much everything on 90210. At the same time, their lyrics seem to have been written by John Cage with a dictionary.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Darryl,
    Could you remind us of your time in Switzerland when Yes were recording Going For The One? Did you meet them? I see quite a few comments about about Jon Anderson and I can never get over how such a down to earth Lancashire cotton mill town called Accrington where Jon hails from could inspire him to be such a hippy trippy type. Maybe it was the move to London that did it.
    America has it’s equivalent to such blokes in Todd Rundgren, probably one of the best song writers, guitarists and fruitcakes to come out from the early 70’s rock scene. BTW Jeff, it’s 90125 for the Yes album. Another random thought: Bill Bruford should have stayed with Yes – tons better than Alan White. Today little Britain is still producing the odd gem musically as Rick Wakeman recently showed with Public Service Broadcasting. Their latest concept album The Race For Space is a corker, not quite as good though as The War Room.
    Going back to Chailles’ article, is this a joke? Or is he serious?


  13. Paul, okay, if you insist. I was at L’Abri in the fall of 1976 (when the intellectual Francis was telling us Carter vs. Ford was Satan vs. God) and the students wanted to go on our day off to Montreux to hear Segovia (link added for the youngsters out there). And there I am at intermission looking across the foyer at Chris Squire and Steve Howe. Squire, at least, had some classical guitar background.

    The story gets better. Back in the States I took off the next semester and worked the ground crew at a Lancaster (PA) public school system. In one of our high schools Yes practiced for their Going for the One tour and I observed a few moments of Jon Anderson at the piano (if memory serves).

    Of course, it was a sign that Ronald Reagan would be the next president.


  14. Forbidden to listen to the secular, I grew up on Steve Taylor. I will never know what it is like to view the world through a non-sarcastic filter. Even though I started sneaking into the secular realm in high school, it remains true that he influenced my poor young mind far more (with my parents’ permission) than the Cure or Depeche Mode ever did.


  15. Petra inspired New Calvinists more than Jonathan Edwards?

    I couldn’t help but reminisce as I read your recent article about Petra. Growing up in the 80s, Christian music had a profound impact on the development of my faith—especially Petra. Looking back, I realize how much I appreciated that they always included Scripture in the liner notes. I remember looking up the references and learning to understand the biblical basis for the songs I loved and the truth I believed. Because of that biblical underpinning, I have often referred to Petra’s music as the hymnal of my teen years (I guess that was OK in an Assemblies of God church). Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.


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