But The Jesus Jam -- ever the punks -- violated this restraining order and played a handful of secret, unexpected shows in Jerusalem. It's hard to say exactly when and where these shows occurred (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John couldn't agree on all the details), but we do know the handful of fans who witnessed them were distraught at the idea of never seeing their favorite band play again. The Jesus Jam comforted them by playing a life-affirming set dominated by songs about The Holy Mojo, something their fans would need to get workin' if they ever hoped for their versions "The Word" to come anywhere near The Jesus Jam's performance chops and Awesome God's compositional skills. Almost as importantly, though, these secret shows are famous for a bit of stage banter in which The Jesus Jam's ingenious frontman promised their fans that the band would return for one final encore.
That encore is what we wait for to this day, and it's probably the hardest thing about being a Jesus Jam fan. For centuries upon centuries, numerous performers of "The Word" have tried to calculate when exactly this encore will take place, and every single one of those prophecies has passed by unfulfilled thus far. To this day, you can see some poorly trained musicians on street corners performing sloppy monstrosities of "The Word," carny barking their way through Holy Bible lyrics and encore predictions in the midst of something as relatively routine as a heavy thunderstorm. Of course, the thunderstorm eventually stops and all those performers are left with is a wet, short-circuited PA system. Some who, for the sake of this post, I will refer to as Christian Friend #1 recently said she sometimes wonders if The Jesus Jam frontman just promised an encore in order for all their fans to remain loyal in their physical absence -- regardless of whether or not that absence will actually be dispelled one day.
I'd be lying if I said I don't feel much the same way from time to time. I have no doubt in my mind that The Jesus Jam changed the lives of all who listened to them, and that they did play that handful of secret, uplifting shows after being banned from Jerusalem, but for them to come back for that last encore? After so many well-intentioned, supposedly well-researched predictions turned out wrong? After the world has infested itself with countless amounts and varieties of unlistenable noise, both literally and figuratively (that's right, CCM, I'm looking at you)? After so much suffering continues around the world, in the lives of people who don't deserve to perish but often do at the hands of power-mongers justifying their atrocities in the name of "God?" If our ears were ever in need of that glorious encore, now may be the time; if not, I can't bear to think about how much more discordant the world will become before The Jesus Jam finally feel the need to unload their gear down here and rock us into victory.
But in the end, do any of us as imperfect performers of "The Word" have any right to proclaim exactly when that encore will take place? Far too many Christians forget that when The Jesus Jam's fans asked the frontman when the encore would be, all he did was shrug his shoulders and say, "Your guess is as good as mine; you can try asking our Manager, but good luck getting a straight answer from Him." When he was asked the same question again at those secret shows nearly 2,000 years ago, the frontman informed those devoted few fans that The Jesus Jam had signed a contract forbidding them from spilling the beans on when they would play their encore -- that has always exclusively been the decision of Awesome God. And we as believers must come to grips with the fact that NOT KNOWING IS OK. If we were given a booklet of sheet music with which we could anticipate every nook and cranny of "The Word" once and for all, where's the fun (and the faith) in that? The Jesus Jam are not like most bands, who will play an encore simply because their fans are shouting in unison for them to play one.
The best encore I ever saw was in August 2003 at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe, Ariz. That night, alternative rockers Eels -- one of the most criminally underrated bands of the past 15 years -- made a stop in the Phoenix Valley on their Shootenanny! tour. The band played two encores, walked offstage and then the lights came back on, signaling for the roughly 200 attending Eel-heads to head home. My father, sister and I walked out of the theater proper into the lobby, marveling at how effortlessly they knocked out radically different versions of old favorites like "I Like Birds," "Last Stop: This Town" and even "Novocaine for the Soul." Then, suddenly, a cymbal crash and subsequent bluesy stomp erupted faintly from inside the theater. After exchanging some flabbergasted looks, we reentered the theater and sure enough, Eels had come back onstage to play yet another encore. They didn't bother turning the lights back off, and really, all they were playing was an instrumental cover of ZZ Top's "La Grange." But you could tell they were having a blast playing it, and all 30 or less of us who actually got the chance to witness this secret encore were thoroughly enjoying every note. If only for a few minutes, we felt like this band was truly ours.
That's what I believe The Jesus Jam's upcoming encore will be like -- totally unexpected, bathed in light and joyfully rewarding for the hardcore fans who stuck around to listen to it. In my ideal vision of this encore, The Jesus Jam's return sounds less like a seventh trumpet and more like the climax of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," at last silencing the world's most corrupt, hideous noise with an invincible power chord and triumphant "YEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!" Upon making that grand entrance, our favorite band will offer the truly righteous rockers an all-expenses-paid trip to finally meet the Great Composer Himself at the Ultimate Temple. I don't doubt that He will laugh hysterically over all our precious arguments and finally give us the REAL answers for which versions of "The Word" are right and wrong, if He is even that discerning. The chosen righteous rockers will jam gloriously on "The Word" with none other than Awesome God conducting the whole thing. "The Word" in all its majesty will be the only song available for performing at the Ultimate Temple, but anyone who's ever zoned in on the Holy Mojo at its purest knows "The Word" is impossible to tire of.
Unfortunately, though, not everyone is on the guest list for this eternal jam session. It's impossible to say who is and who isn't, but I don't think it's that great of a stretch to imagine Awesome God frowning upon the unrighteous rockers who play everything except "The Word," simply listen to "The Word" without performing it or -- worst of all -- people who have completely forgone their instruments in favor of more "reasonable" professions or hobbies. The most unrepentant of these brayers and snorters will foreseeably not be invited to the Ultimate Temple at all. In fact, they may very well suffer a much crueler fate: Silent Separation. My most horrifying vision of this eternal banishment from Awesome God is far removed from any images of fire and brimstone. Rather, it entails a place where those who refused to perform or even listen to "The Word" are punished with total deafness. And there are no chances for these newly christened demons to become Ludwig Van Beethoven-type prodigies; those in Silent Separation have no hands or feet to play anything, no vocal cords to console themselves with a hymn, no mouth to conjure a tuneless squawk from a saxophone, not even eyes to see sine waves.
This may seem like a harsh image -- let alone fate for those who do not take their performances of "The Word" seriously -- but far too many Jesus Jam fans downplay the very real notion that not all of us will get to take part in that great jam session at the Ultimate Temple. Another person I will call Christian Friend #2 recently told me she doesn't believe in hell, and as far as I'm concerned that's the equivalent of reducing The Holy Bible to nothing but smiley-faced, Polyphonic Spree-style hippie prattle (or even worse, the simplistic, exclusively positivist sentiments of most contemporary worship music). You can't have the sweet without the sour, and we must accept the possibility that some of our dearest loved ones on this Earth may not get to experience that encore. Larry Norman put it best in what many consider his definitive track, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready": "A man and wife asleep in bed/She hears a noise and turns her head, he's gone/I wish we'd all been ready/Two men walking up a hill/One disappears and one's left standing still/I wish we'd all been ready/There's no time to change your mind/The Son has come and you've been left behind."
As a Lutheran, I'd like to think that baptism is our ticket to not being left behind, but I could be wrong. For all I know, some people I consider consummately un-Godly may be given first chairs in the Ultimate Temple's orchestra, and I may be one of those ne'er-do-wells condemned to Silent Separation. No one has any authority over that but Awesome God Himself, and don't ever let anyone definitively tell you otherwise. I say all this not just to instill some kind of fear into your heart (though I think that can be productive), but more so as a reminder to numerous believers who have seemingly forgotten that there will indeed be an encore, and if we have no faith in such an amazing comeback, we have no business being Jesus Jam fans at all.
That being said, Christian Friend #1 was correct in the sense that The Jesus Jam's frontman didn't promise an encore just to scare people into still listening to them after their supposed demise -- he said it to instill hope among their biggest fans that loyalty to The JJ will be rewarded, and that their favorite band's legacy must be kept alive by performing "The Word" in all its diversified glory for the whole world to hear. The Jesus Jam may have physically departed from this Earth, but aurally they are alive and well in the nourishing words, melodies and cadences of those who've really got the Holy Mojo workin'. And in the end, who cares about what grade we personally, ultimately receive on our performances of "The Word"? If that's our main impetus for playing it, we're missing the point; what's really music to Awesome God's ears is the selfless act of inspiring others to pick up instruments and join this beautiful symphony.
So to those of you who feel crushed or overwhelmed by this world's perpetual onslaught of apathy, injustice, skepticism or straight-up denunciation of the Great Composer, fear not -- to quote my friend and fabulous singer-songwriter Matt Beem, from his song "More Than Conquerors," "Pay no attention to the floods and the earthquakes/For you will be delivered on the wings of a dove/And on that day the darkness will be defeated/And we will have the last word." And to you brayers and snorters who are perpetuating any of that aforementioned onslaught, pay heed to Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around": "The hairs on your arm will stand up/At the terror in each sip and in each sup/Will you partake of that last offered cup?/Or disappear into the potter's ground/When the man comes around?"
And what exactly will we be doing when the man comes around? Whenever that time may be, we might as well live as if it's a daily possibility. Amen for the encore -- here's hoping I get to see you all there.