Back 2 the Blues delivers.
"I love blues because it is the most human, vocally-based music I know of. It tends to be very honest, because it "tells it like it is" rather than posing or pretending that life is "cool", nothing hurts, people always treat other people fairly, etc..." Glenn Kaiser
A lot of good things could be said about the various bands who played at the “Back 2 the Blues” festival, Aug 12-14 (www.back2blues.com). Back 2 the Blues is a weekend of listening to well practiced, amateur and professional bands, with great blues names like “White Moses and the Fury”, “Breaking the Bondage Blues” and even more well known artists such as Larry Howard and Darrel Mansfield. This year was great and everyone snapped out of the weariness of all day, sun and tunes when Glenn Kaiser stepped onto the stage to do his warm up with vocals and steel guitar. This patron saint of Christian hard core music, with his matured twenty-five years of music and ministry, was definitely the cream on top of everything and everyone in the crowd knew it.
Lane Walker of Just Neighbours interviewed Glenn Kaiser at the Back 2 the Blues festival. He “tells it like it is” when it comes to delivering music and ministering, not just in words but in deeds:...
“Back 2 the Blues” is the only “Gospel Blues” festival west of Chicago and was originally inspired, started and sustained by a few ordinary people. Murry Moore, Glen Warner, Lando and Rob from House of James (www.houseofjames.com) all had a vision for a Christian concert that caters specifically to Gospel and Blues - together! Their desire is to give Christians an experience of great music and encouragement in the faith through the ministry of tenured and aspiring musicians and Back 2 the Blues delivers. I will definitely mark my calendar for this event next year.
Lane: You have often said that you like the blues because it is a particular form of music which connects to the issues in life which are common such as suffering and struggles. Can you comment about that?
Kaiser: A lot of people in the church focus so much on heaven that they have forgotten hell, temptation, the devil and the fact that Christians have old nature and we make stupid choices. They have also forgotten that God has called us to reflect our Lord Jesus in very specific ways, such as in Matthew 25, as we did it to the least of these my brethren you did it unto me. The ones that you did "not" do it to, “the least of these”, those whom we consider least in our culture and society, that's how much we love Jesus, no more no less. Gal. 5, the fruit of the Spirit and I Corinthians 13, the chapter on love, are the ways that we are supposed to reflect God's character and I think that sometimes we think that God is only reflected when we sing. But I gotta tell ya, I've been a singer all my life, singing is easy, being forgiving, being merciful, stopping my routine in the day to reach out and help the broken person is what love is about. Is not just singing the message of the gospel, it's living the message of the gospel.
Lane: Tell us about the way you live personally and how you express the gospel.
Kaiser: Wendy and I have always lived in one room, take for example your average bedroom, that's it, that's where we live, we don't have a house, we don't have an apartment, we have a bedroom! It is a 10 story hotel that we live out of. We live full-time in community there, we share our food, our finances, our honorariums from our concerts and money that comes in from record sales all goes into a common fund and helps to pay the bills and finances the ministry, it doesn't come to me personally.
We are constantly reaching out to the outer community, such as the hundred seniors that we take care of, who live within the top three floors of our building . We also have a 380 bed shelter three blocks away. In our apartments we have 18 families, mostly single moms with kids who came through our shelter programs and God has really worked through their lives. We work with inner-city kids through both our Boys Club and Girls Club. The bottom line is there is a lot of ministry to broken and messed up people. We don't live in a pretty or nice area, we live about four blocks from a very wealthy area, but our area is called uptown and its poor. There are a couple of rival gangs that have no problem fighting it out for turf (I guess we are the biggest gang so we do get a little bit of respect from those guys). The politics in Chicago as you know is infamous, and it's the truth, we're on the radar because the city sends us people to help. The city has run out of resources and so we are in a very unique situation.
Lane : Tell us about your community, Jesus people USA and its relationship to the church.
Kaiser: I was 18 years old when we started Jesus people USA in the Milwaukee area of Chicago in 1973. We were a little different than some of the Jesus People houses, ministries and movement because we made it a point to reach out to the traditional church from day one. We have always had in our community, friends, pastors and leaders within the Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican . . . go down the list. We didn't accept everyone's teaching or doctrine because we would constantly go back to the Scriptures. But we didn't throw them out of the door either, we kept asking them to come back, come and teach us, speak to us. First of all, not only do we have a high view of real fellowship, real community, we have a high view of the whole church, the whole body of Christ and when somebody treats me like dirt, my job is to forgive 'em and love 'em not to dis' them or say you hurt my feelings and you got to be respecting and loving me. When we do this we are forgetting our own responsibility to express love and forgiveness and compassion for them. The issue for us from day one was you may throw us out, you may not invite us in, but we're still going to call you our brother or sister. One phrase from the Evangelical Covenant Church, which we as a community joined 14 years ago, was a quote from the Psalms " I am a friend of all those who fear thee ". And I am a friend of all those who reverence, really and truly respect, Jesus Christ as their Lord. Where as a lot of people wanted to be independent of the "traditional church", we always wanted to have more commitment, we wanted to have more relationship we really believe in the body of Christ and we really believe in accountability, its not just a word, it's saved my neck. I'm on a pastoral team of nine, and all of us really and truly do love one another, pray with each other and confess our sins and minister to one another. We've really tried to live that example out in the whole of community and we have that relationship with the Covenant denomination.
Lane: Can you tell us how living in community helps or makes it difficult to develop spiritually?
Kaiser: For one thing, when you're living close together day in and day out, not just seeing each other simply one hour a week, the iron is going to sharpen the iron, there's going to be some friction, some sparks, there's going to be some shaking, some unsettling moments and you can't just run and go home 'cuz you are home! Our "live in" membership within our community is huge (about 325 adults and 200 children) and we are constantly fellowshipping, working together, praying together or asking forgiveness and help from one another. When it comes to community, and I want to be clear about this, I don't think God has called everyone to live like Jesus People USA, in the inner-city like we do in Chicago. God has not called everyone to do the exact same stuff in the exact same way, i.e. methodology, in the body of Christ. But God has called all of us to be more interactive then independent and there is an awful lot of folks who just don't get along with other people and aren't willing to pay the price. The truth is if we can't forgive each other and love each other as Christians, in the local church, if we find ourselves dissatisfied and always angry and jumping from church to church, a bit like a flea from dog to dog, you know, wherever you go, there you are! And if I keep feeling disenfranchised maybe the problem is with me? So if you can't love your brother in Christ, whom you might truly disagree with, if you won't forgive the person who has truly and legitimately hurt you, you're going to have a hard time walking with unbelievers, who act like... unbelievers!
Lane: How do you see communities needing the church?
Kaiser: Proverbs 11:1 says "a false balance is an abomination to the Lord and a just weight is his delight." Who among us as individual Christians or where as individual churches, who has got all the answers? Who is perfectly balanced? Who is righteous and pure in all of their judgments? Who doesn't make mistakes? In First Corinthians 13 it says that "we know only in part", and I think that simple biblical humility would help individual Christians and local churches and even denominations. In the Evangelical Covenant Church, 90 percent of the time you will hear people quoting Luther, Augustine, mother Teresa and in another moment John Perkins, they're quoting Mandela, go down the list, there's a breadth and understanding, and I think a level of humility that it takes of the whole church, not just our little grain of sand on the beach, to make a difference in society.
Lane: Can you tell us about your involvement in the pro-life movement and some of what it was like being involved in rescue ?
Kaiser: Years and years of conviction from reading Scripture about caring for the poor, caring for the marginalized and trying to apply it in every way possible, obviously you will bang into people who are pregnant out of wedlock who are considering abortion. I'll tell you real specifically how it came down; there's a little girl named Heidi Kaiser, who we named, who we adopted, whose mom (not from pressure from us, but from some gentle talk and a lot of prayer) showed up in our room one night and said, " Glen and Wendy if you will raise this child I'll go ahead and have the baby". She had been involved in dope for ever, she's still messed up today, she's not walking with the Lord. She's a sad lady, but the bottom line is that she went through with it and had the child, we named her, brought her home from hospital and adopted her and she is now 22 years old. The bottom line is it's one thing to talk about pro-life, it's another thing to do something about it! Yeah, I went to jail a couple of times for blocking abortion clinic doors for "X" amount of hours before the cops hauled us off. Basically I spent a lot of time praying there asking for forgiveness.
Because the problem is that we don't do enough, none of us does enough, but we don't do enough for anything. I mean there's always poor people, Jesus said the poor you shall always have with you, and you can do good to them " whenever you want to ". When do you want to? When are we going to want to? When is it going to be beyond survival? I gotta tell you part of the conviction and call in my life in community, is that instead of simply working like a maniac, to pay the bills, and having no time and no energy left to really reach out and serve anybody, that's not my call. And I don't believe God has called anybody to simply pay somebody else to do their ministering for them. I happen to be called and gifted as a pastor and evangelist, what about somebody who doesn't believe they have those spiritual gifts? Well, the Scriptures say that the Holy Spirit is giving gifts to all of us, question is what are they and what are you doing about it? Romans 12 says use them and that means work. It's not always exciting and fruitful, we don't always see visible results and the bottom line is God calls us to love in action, not simply in talk. I think when you love in action then your words have meaning, until then what is it worth? It's just information, the devil can quote scriptures, he is still the devil. What makes us any different than the world, simply because we believe Jesus died for us, end of story? That's the beginning of the story!
Lane: Tell us about your experience of racism.
Kaiser: My best friend from the third grade up until the end of high school was African-American. I grew up very poor in northern Wisconsin, I am not black but I have a serious kinship to black culture in society, I understand being poor and I understand people looking down their noses at you because you're wearing threadbare hand-me-down clothes, eating peanut butter because government food stamps were keeping you alive, that and hunting and fishing, and I understand what it's like simply because people get sick. Like my dad who had a series of diseases and had no money to pay for the operations, we lost everything because a business partner of his ran off with the money in the till and nobody ever found him. The bottom line is that out of nowhere we were dirt poor and overnight people looked at us differently, simply because of our economic basis. Now you can do the same thing with colour of a person's skin, that's an issue. Perhaps their First Nations, Asian, Hispanic, whatever, they're of a different tribe, a different tongue, different ethnicity, whatever, Jesus shed his blood equally for everyone, everyone!
Lane: Does your community get involved in gang-related activities and crime/violence prevention?
Kaiser: On occasion. I'll tell you how it happens… they come to us. We've been livin' where we’re livin' for so long so that if someone has a fire in their apartment and they need help, they come to Jesus People. If somebody needs food or clothing they know where to come. If somebody needs a place to stay, housing, if somebody gets killed, on occasion we get called to do the funeral because they don't know anybody else and we'll do it for free. And they don't know anybody else who will do it with some level of integrity, 'cuz these guys don't hangout with Christians or church people. So the bottom line is we have involvement, I think it's because of our longevity and the fact that we don't look or feel (if you know what I mean) like "Church people".
Lane: talk a little about the tendency in the inner-city is for the White middle class people to leave for the suburbs...
Kaiser: the Exodus out of the inner-city is a great question. The reasons are fear, because of property values, because we don't want our kids to somehow get swallowed up by these " people", because of prejudice and racism on some scale. Let's get down to it, if you're afraid for your kids or your grandkids, you often make some pretty severe changes, which means selling out, getting as much money as you can and going to the burbs. If you had asked me this question five or six years ago, I don't know if I would say what I am about to say, but I can say now, it's changing. For example, one of the things that we don't talk a lot about is that we are part of the Willow Creek Association (a mega church) and they sent a lot of people to Jesus people, to our shelter to serve food to the poor. More and more and more, the larger, wealthier white suburban churches have been convicted of the need to do something. If not to open a center, then work with someone who is living and working daily in the inner-city, such as Jesus People USA, and we've been seeing more and more of that. We have youth groups from all over the United States and Canada, some are pretty traditional and of course here we are with earrings and tattoos and every kind of culture and subculture represented in our fellowship and church, we live where we live, in the inner-city and you can't dress it up, it is what it is and these groups come in groups of 10 or 20 and they will work for a week straight as an urban mission experience. We have so many bookings it is hard to keep even 7-8 months down the road a free week open for people who want to bring their group down. People come from all over the U.S. and Canada to do that and we are just one urban ministry that is receiving groups. Why is that? People are starting to wake up and realize that these a larger cities with all their crime and all their unemployment and all their poverty and all their mix and melting pot of racism and that not only the cities need help from the church, but they realize their kids and the elders team and the parents come along and they get ministered to. And they comeback over and over again, so believe me, the attitude is really beginning to change.
Lane: Thank you Glenn and thank you guys for holding this event, I can't wait to get "Back 2 the Blues" next year!!"
For further info on Back 2 the Blues contact: www.back2theblues.com