July 5, 1997
By Shari Lloyd & Linda T. Stonehocker
"I think that the Church has to walk on this razor's edge of teaching people to appreciate the tradition that is before them, in ways that they can grasp. People, especially high-church type people, forget that we are the edge of tradition. If we don't take a hand in where it's going, it won't really go anywhere, which has been the problem."
"In the West, the problem is not that people don't know how to become a Christian. It's that they don't know why in the world they would ever want to be a Christian, and be bored to death."
"In terms of homogenizing stuff, I've fought that through my whole involvement with CCM. For instance, the Arkangel album, they wanted us to be the Christian Fleetwood Mac. I said, "Why would we want to be the Christian Fleetwood Mac? There's already a Fleetwood Mac, and they're better at being Fleetwood Mac than we could be, and we're not even interested in Fleetwood Mac being the pagan Arkangel. We'd just kind of like to be who we are."
Scratch a musician, look beneath the surface, and you never know what you'll find. Kemper Crabb, the officiant of the Anglican Eucharist services in the HM tent of Cornerstone the past few years, knows as much about the 39 Articles as he does chord progressions; and he can speak authoritatively on either at any moment.
When we sat down to interview
the founder of the early Jesus Movement band Arkangel, we were warned:
"I'm not good at interviews because I tend to give long answers." Three
and a half hours later, we had to agree with this assessment. Fortunately,
a long answer from Kemper Crabb is never boring. The interview is presented
as one piece with several parts. That way you can skip around if you'd
like or read it through all in one sitting. We started out talking about
Kemper -I haven't always been Anglican. I grew up Baptist.
Linda - Really!
Kemper - I was a Baptist minister.
Shari - There are few cradle Episcopalians anymore.
Kemper - That's generally true, especially of my variety. How I got into it was that I read Tolkien in third grade, which is before the hippies thought it was cool. I was walking into a bookstore in downtown San Antonio and saw this book and thought it had a weird cover, picked it up, and it was the original Ballantine issue. I said, "Dad, will you buy me this?" And, of course, my parents were always buying me lots of books, so he said, "Sure!" I read this book, couldn't put it down, got to the end of it, and was like, "Oh, my God! It ends cold! Dad, you gotta take me down to the bookstore!" I expected him to say no, but I was obviously frenzied enough to where he said, OK." So on Tuesday or Wednesday night, he drives me downtown. I found (volumes) 2 and 3 and then I found The Hobbit and I was like, "Get me all of those." I was fascinated by the historical part that Tolkien made up. That led me to an interest in runes. By the time I was at the end of the fourth grade, I'd read everything that there was in English on runes, knew all the hieroglyphics, all the script, and all this other kind of stuff. And that got me interested in history, so I started reading history. Then, I became a Christian when I was eleven, and that all connected with the Pope; and I realized that the middle ages were all about Christianity. So I started reading about that.
I was very conversant with liturgy and stuff, but I was a Baptist and I couldn't figure it out. I thought liturgy was the coolest thing, but I wondered, can this be Biblical? So I started reading the church fathers and realized they had Biblical roots for liturgy, so I reached a whole different conclusion about what worship was. As I studied scripture, I became more convinced that that was the Biblical model. At the same time, I began to investigate people like Francis Schaeffer and J.I. Packer, whichled to becoming reformed. So I actually backdoored into the Anglican thing because I considered the 39 Articles to be creedally closer to what I believed.
Over the years, as that fostered, by about 1982, I began to pastor, along with some other people, a Bible church. It was reformed and sacramental, first Presbyterian, then ultimately Episcopalian. But we ended up Reformed Episcopal because we were so conservative, theologically, that the mainstream guys had problems. The Presbyterians thought we were way, way too Anglican, which we were, so we ended up hooking up with the Reformed Episcopal church.
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Shari - So how did you start doing music out of all that?
Kemper - My mom always listened to the radio when I was growing up. I was very interested in music, and I listened to it all the time. Then when I became a Christian, I began to sing in choirs at the church, which I really enjoyed. I got really serious about Christianity when I was fifteen years old, in 1970. The Jesus Movement thing was in its first bloom, and I heard some of the really early Larry Norman stuff. I'd heard about Love Song, and there was nothing like that in San Antonio. I had all of that early stuff, like The Everlasting Living Jesus Music (the first Maranatha record), and listened to it all the time. I thought, "Man, there needs to be more of this kind of stuff," so I learned to play the guitar so that I could write songs like that.
I got bands together in high school, and we did Christian music in talent shows and junk. Then we decided to take it on the road, so we toured for a couple of years, then went back and finished college. Then I met the guys from Hope and Glory, who were huge regionally. They were a Benson (record label) band, and one of the guys in there started Star Song along with another guy, Daryl Patterson. Daryl came over to my house one time, and I had a mountain dulcimer sitting there. He asked me, "What it is?" I said, "It's a dulcimer." He said, "Can you play it?" I said, "Well, the only things I know on it are things I wrote." "Great!" I played him a couple of songs, one of which was "They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships," which I wrote on dulcimer. Then he asked, "Do you know any other songs?" I said, "Not on this, only on guitar." So I sat and played him some guitar and he said, "We want to sign you!" I said, "You can't do that; you have to sign my whole band." I didn't know anything about getting on a label. I was just playing music, playing wherever they'd let me play. He said, "When are you playing next?" "Tomorrow night." They came out and saw us and said, "OK! To get you, we'll sign the band." So that's how it happened.
Shari - Was David Marshall in it back then, too?
Kemper - David Marshall was there. The band that we had then, most of those guys ended up not being real hard-core musician types. They were playing, and they were young. People get a little older, they get a family, get kids, and it's hard. It's hard to be a musician. Dave hung in there, and Dave and I have been best friends since twelfth grade.
Shari - I was listening to a speaker the other day, and it sort of drove home a point for me. He was discussing that we tend to homogenize Christian music, that we sort of come from all these different groups, and rather than keep what is distinctive in that group, we sort of homogenize it down to nothing. But your music doesn't seem to do that. You seem to have kept the distinctive. At first I couldn't see the Anglican influence, but more and more I can.
Kemper - I don't think that there is much Anglican influence, except that it's informed by liturgy, at least a lot of it is. But the things that inform liturgy are the same things that inform everybody. If you understand the basic things of liturgy, you can take somebody in who doesn't know anything about Christianity, and you can take him through the service, and give him the Gospel in a symbolic form. To me, it's just like a song, or a dance, or something, but the themes are the same themes that every Christian church attempts to encapsulate. It's just that from my perspective, the liturgy tends to do that better.
The thing that people tend to call more Anglican is The Vigil kind of stuff, but I envision that as being medieval, when there weren't Protestants. There were heretics, and there was the Church Catholic. It is true that Anglican stuff is closer to the Catholic traditions in the broad sense of the word. So I don't really think of it as Anglican, I think of it as just Christian.
In terms of homogenizing stuff, I've fought that through my whole involvement with CCM. For instance, the Arkangel album, they wanted us to be the Christian Fleetwood Mac. I said, "Why would we want to be the Christian Fleetwood Mac? There's already a Fleetwood Mac, and they're better at being Fleetwood Mac than we could be, and we're not even interested in Fleetwood Mac being the pagan Arkangel. We'd just kind of like to be who we are." I think part of that was I was not terribly influenced by Christian music after the very earliest days. It got so filled with dreck, so derivative that I tended not to listen to it. I listened to mainstream bands and in our minds, with Arkangel, we weren't trying to do a CCM thing. We were trying to do music by Christians, and we got tons more air play in mainstream than we ever did in the Christian marketplace.
Perennially, both Arkangel, and then later on, Radiohalo, which is what Arkangel became in the eighties, had a really gigantic following, regionally. I'm not talking about among the Christians. We played clubs. As a matter of fact, we never played a Christian venue from '83-'92. We thought, if the church isn't into the rock 'n roll thing, no big deal. I don't have any ax to grind. We'll go play to the pagans, they don't care. Plus, that's where, in our minds, we belonged anyway. Our peers and who we were competing with weren't in the Christian marketplace. They were Kansas and Yes and Rush and Jethro Tull.
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I think a lot of the homogenization of CCM is because of marketing. The marketing thing that drives CCM is we've got to sell these to Baptists, or whoever, Roman Catholics, or whoever, so we want to make sure we dumb it down as much as possible and lop off the distinctions. I just wasn't interested in that.
In the West, the problem is not that people don't know how to become a Christian. It's that they don't know why in the world they would ever want to be a Christian, and be bored to death. You all know I love Cornerstone. I think this is great, but the reason this is here is that Evangelicals feel guilty about listening to regular music, and that's reinforced by the CCM market. It's in the interest of the Christian labels to reinforce the pietistic idea that you can't listen to Sting. Consequently, the labels are real careful about how they put stuff forward, and that's how the homogenization process takes place. My career has suffered greatly because I radically disagree with that approach.
Actually, I have this great reputation. Everybody says, "Man, Kemper, you write these incredibly sophisticated songs, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah." And I ask, "Well, how come y'all never use any of them?" And they go, "Well, because, you know, they're a little too. . ." Whatever! At various points, labels have wanted to take me and turn me into the Christian Bruce Springsteen or something. This is so stupid! Consequently, I don't have a lot of money, but you know what? I can look at myself in the mirror, and I can go before God and not feel like I sold Him out for filthy lucre, if you know what I mean. Don't get me wrong. I would be happy to have a big hit record and all that kind of stuff, but I'm not holding my breath to be Michael Jackson.
I do my music because God gives me this vision, He gives me this music. I've developed it according to the standards and tastes that I have, and I'm just not willing to compromise on it. No big hero thing, I'm probably just too stubborn. God calls us all, and He gifts us to do that. The parable of the talents to me means that I better be darn careful with what I do. I'm not willing to go out into the outer darkness because I wanted to make a little more money.
Shari - Have you ever experienced any controversy?
Kemper - Well, you know, a lot of people wouldn't carry The Vigil when it came out because they thought it glorified the Crusades. To which I responded with, "In my estimation if it hadn't been for the Crusades we'd all be Muslims now. It was the Crusaders who stopped the Muslims first at Constantinople, and later, in Vienna." Wars are nasty, dirty things where people get ungodly and their passions get carried away. But God uses things, and it looks like the West may have an opportunity to face such an incursion again, in our own time, in another way. What can I tell you? I wasn't necessarily trying to glorify the Crusades.
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Shari - Let's bring your musical endeavors up to the present. Why did you join Atomic Opera?
Kemper - I don't know. Well, actually, I played with Caedmon's Call for six months. I don't know if y'all were aware of that.
Shari - Yes, I did know that. At an age when someone sort of rests, you keep pursuing new things.
Kemper - Well, actually, it's been a really weird couple of years for me. My wife left me three years ago, and it was really devastating, destroyed my whole life. I don't want to say anything weird about my ex-wife or anything, but it was a very, very interesting situation because she left me and ended up with somebody else. And in that whole thing, all I could think about was, "I just have to do the right thing." A lot of people in those situations will flip out and do weirdness and stuff. Instead, I focused down. I took a leave of absence from the pastorate and went to school for a semester and, during that period of time, I lived almost a monastic existence. I went to school, I came home, and I saw a lot of movies. Then after I got back from school and started back in the pastorate, I found that I really didn't feel like I had a lot to give in terms of being a front man.
It just so happens I met these people in Caedmon's Call, and they needed someone who did the kind of instruments I did, and asked me to come play a concert with them. We hit it off, and I ended up being asked to be in the band for six months or so, which was a wonderful experience. I was able to play, which I love to do, without much pressure. All I had to do was show up, plug in, and play! Plus, I was able to play a lot of instruments I hadn't played in a while.
I left Caedmon's to head up a label. I was asked to, kind of pressed into, this Black gospel label that was ostensibly doing pretty well. Then we discovered that my predecessor had totally ripped off the company for hundreds of thousands of dollars, so it bellied up. That was about the time when I was hanging out with Frank (Hart of Atomic Opera), and I was actually supposed to produce his last record. I wasn't able to do it, but in the middle of the project I was hanging out with him all the time. He said, "Man, I'd love you to come play something on one of these songs," which I did. Then he said, "Well, gee, man, why don't you just join the band?" I was able to play this thing and not have to be a front man. It's a heck of a lot of fun playing in somebody else's band. Even though I'm a member, it's really, as far as I'm concerned, Frank's deal. Although I'm sure there'll be some of my songs on the next album, I still look at myself as being a sideman in it.
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Of course, I've been Frank's pastor for years. He came to the church, just felt compelled by God to do; so we became close friends. Christ Church is very much a family kind of deal with extreme commitment to each other. So we all end up playing in each other's bands, working on each other's records, and hanging out.
Our church specializes in "EBO's," or Evangelical Burn Outs. We have lots of artists who slipped between the cracks. They still loved God but didn't know what the heck to do because they felt so ripped off and rejected. Because Dave Marshall and I are artists, we've come into contact with these people. Christ Church is now probably 85% artists.
Linda - 85%?
Kemper - At least. A lot of the bands in our church are mainstream bands. The problem that mainstream bands have in most evangelical churches is they're viewed with suspicion. But from our point of view, they've taken the right path. If you can, you ought to be on a mainstream label.
Shari - How do you nurture these young bands? It seems so often there's a lack of accountability.
Kemper - There normally is a lack of accountability because most evangelical churches don't take the concept of accountability very seriously. Our church is part of a denomination that actually excommunicates people if they fall into hard-core sin and won't repent. In some ways, you'd think that rock bands would be the last people in the world to like a church that does liturgy, is extremely doctrinal and reformed in its practice, that's pretty radical in its discipleship programs, and actually would excommunicate somebody. But it's been our experience that if you offer something to somebody that is substantive, they'll respond to that.
As far as accountability goes, a lot of their confusion is in areas of holiness and sanctification. Those things take care of themselves. Plus we have high involvement with each other. It's not like people go off into playing clubs and nobody knows. If somebody plays in a club, the whole church goes. What are they going to sneak off and do? Plus, in our estimation, if you're going to fall into sin, you're going to fall into sin. You don't have to go to a bar or a club to do that. Of course, if we know people have weaknesses, for instance a weakness for alcohol or something like that, then a lot of times we'll put them in a discipleship program and they're more accountable than other people might be until they become strong again. But we don't believe in the perpetual weakness syndrome either. You have to help people get stronger. That's kind of the point! (laughs) Basically we offer people basic Christianity, try to teach them spiritual disciplines, and get involved in their lives. I don't think there's any other way to do it.
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Linda - I've got to ask you this. What sort of music do you play in your services?
Kemper - Actually, we play a lot of my music, which isn't really my choice. We do worship choruses, I'd suppose you'd say, although we're pretty picky about that. We don't do much Jesus mantra music where you repeat it fifty billion times and modulate until everybody achieves the blissful oneness with God. We tend to think worship is for God primarily, and not for us. We do that to please Him, not to cop a holy blessing off of it or anything. We do hymns: "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," "Oh, God Our Help in Ages Past," "Fairest Lord Jesus," the more high-church hymns. The liturgy settings are mostly mine. Frank (Hart of Atomic Opera) normally plays cello, I play mandolin, and then we have guitars. We don't normally have keyboards. We just don't have many keyboard players.
I think that the Church has to walk on this razor's edge of teaching people to appreciate the tradition that is before them, in ways that they can grasp. People, especially high-church type people, forget that we are the edge of tradition. If we don't take a hand in where it's going, it won't really go anywhere, which has been the problem. So we try to achieve a balance.
The Vigil music started because I hated contemporary worship music so much. I actually wrote most of those songs just for myself. I didn't realize they were worship music. About two-thirds of the way through recording The Vigil, I looked at Daryl Harris, who worked on it, too. I said, "This is a worship record!" He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Yeah, Kemper, duh!" and went back to what he was doing. But it was a revelation for me because I was so distanced from that kind of worship music that it didn't occur to me that that's what I was doing. I realized then that what I had been trying to do was evoke the types of traditional music, especially from the medieval period, that would be accessible to me and to modern people. Generally speaking, that's what Christ Church has tried to do. Still, somebody who comes from a high "traditional" background would not feel terribly out of place. At the same time, people who come in who've never been in that tradition are able to relate to that music and take it into their homes, into their home worship, and into their lives. We've just tried to do what Christianity is generally about, which is achieving a balance. And my settings and everything have become the "contemporary worship paradigm" for the denomination.
Linda - For the entire denomination?!
Kemper - Yeah. What's happening is the R. E. (Reformed Episcopal denomination) has grown at a rate of about 300% a year. Mostly, it's buster and boomer congregations who reach reformed or liturgical conclusions. They want historic accountability and stuff, but they're very evangelical and conservative in terms of things like the ordination of women and so forth. So we've got these congregations coming in that are a lot more like us than the other congregations that have been in the church a long time. They're not coming from an Anglican background, they're coming from Assembly of God backgrounds, or Baptist backgrounds, or Free Church, or whatever. They instantly identify with the way that we do it because, of course, they're much closer to popular culture than most people who come from the R.E. background.
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Kemper: I actually am not R. E. anymore.
Linda - You're not?
Kemper - No. I love the R. E., it's great, but I met this bunch of guys called the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches. They're the only other denomination in North America that still confesses the 39 Articles. These guys came from charismatic backgrounds, low-church evangelical backgrounds. They were part of one of the continuing Anglican movements, but they were a little too charismatic for most, so they developed their own denomination.
I believe that if the American church is going to fulfill its calling in our generation, then it's going to have to draw on the evangelical and the reformed theological basis, the liturgical and sacramental worship patterns, and the kind of life that comes from the charismatic movement. Those things form a tripod. Until the church, either as a whole or even individually in congregations, achieves some kind of sane balance between those three legs, we're going to continue to be deformed and not do our job. So these guys, basically a bunch of these bishops, formed into this Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, which is worldwide. They've got hundreds of thousands of members in the Philippines, Africa, and other places. I actually have no problem with the R. E., but I just felt their vision is actually a little closer to what I think is going to happen. I'm not much into denominationalism anyway, to tell the truth. I really don't give much of a hang about it.
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Linda - Why did you stop with Episcopalian Church? What kept you from going into Eastern Orthodoxy like so many evangelicals and fundamentalists are doing? The short answer. (laughs)
Kemper - Well, I can tell you in a pretty short answer. One is, I am a hard-core Protestant. I am reformed, and I am hard-core because I believe that scripture is inerrant and infallible, and that tradition must be judged in light of that. But Eastern Orthodox traditions have beliefs more like what the Roman Catholics do in terms of the sacred depository of truth in which scripture and tradition are co-equal. I think that is a pretty extreme error. I love the Roman Church. John Talbot, one of my best friends, and I have this same conversation incessantly. Also, I am reformed which means that I am essentially what I guess you'd call a Calvinist, although I kind of think of it more as Augustinian.
The other thing is, I think the Eastern Church's understanding of salvation is flawed. I think that they confuse sanctification and justification, and I think they've been impacted too much by Platonic chain-of-being stuff; and that affects everything from their view of the civil government to their view of salvation. I'm not trying to dog 'em or anything; you asked me the question. Actually, I have personally learned a great deal about worship from Eastern Orthodox theologians. I think that both the Roman Church and the Eastern Church have much to teach the Protestants.
Linda - You can't talk about this on stage, can you?
Kemper - Actually, The Vigil crowd tends to be highly articulate and very interested in things like this. The Arkangel crowd tends to be that way because they are older. The Radiohalo guys, they didn't get that. When I write the column for Heaven's Metal, I have to be careful to be very succinct and not get too theological in my terminology. For me, the challenge in that is to communicate these things without hanging people on the terminology. But it's funny and great because there are a number of people now who know me from my column in HM who've never heard my music. "Kemper Crabb, dude, I read your column every issue." Sixteen years old! "Really, do you like it?" "Oh, man! Changed my life, dude!" They don't know anything about my music. Nothing. I kind of like that.
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After the tape ran out, we stayed and chatted about his father's Nobel Peace Prize candidacy based upon his adventures as a missionary in Nepal, the danger to the church of neo-platonic pietism, and secularized evangelical culture, and true worship.