Jesus Freaks and Streakers
In the ‘70s, Tustin High’s naked sprinters triumphed over Orange County Puritanism
By Stacey Warde
At 15, I felt the impact of a growing “Jesus Movement,” which arose from the excesses and disappointments of hippie love and free, uninhibited sexual expression and indulgence.
It was the early ‘70s, and young people were afire with a new kind of love. Chuck Smith first reached out to the lost hippie generation — rudderless, looking for a place to go, deeply moved but left empty with the failed promises of peace and love in a world still full of hate. With his calming voice and informal Calvary tent meetings and stories of the overwhelming power of God’s love, Smith captured the attention and newfound wonderment of a disillusioned generation.
Smith built Calvary Chapel and soon others were spawned, and cozy, folksy church groups formed all over Orange County, setting ablaze young people looking for something real, something to fill in the emptiness of lost hopes. Suddenly, it was cool to go to church.
Kids quit their parents’ churches — stodgy and crimped and lifeless, overwrought with the formalities of ritual and tradition and the same old tired stories of the inaccessible great Almighty, far beyond anyone’s reach, too far to touch the hem of his skirt, too far for blessing and acceptance.
Smith brought God down to earth, where the disappointed hippie-generation listened and felt enraptured and could touch God. It was blasphemous to the old school Christians who liked their God formidable, fearsome and unapproachable. Smith was likable, conversational and easy to hear, and so was his God. His voice reached inside of you with warmth, vitality and familiarity. It made God feel closer than ever.
At Tustin High School, Christianity spread like Holy Spirit wildfire. Churches reached out to young people with their new informal services featuring chatty bible studies, folksy singing with guitars and drums, and hip young pastors with a word from the Lord accompanied with its usual life applications.
The prettiest girls in their modest print dresses sung at evening church services with their eyes closed, faces radiant with ecstasy and rapture, and the joy of knowing God. A boy my age could go to church every day just for the pleasure of seeing those faces.
It was scandalous for the old farts who thought church had to be endured, suffered like an endless crucifixion full of tortuous dogma and indoctrination. But the enthusiasm among young people for the new Christianity could be felt everywhere on campus. The “Jesus freaks,” as we called them, were only too happy to share “The Word” and lead people to a higher calling, a life with purpose.
Once, after arriving early for morning class, I stopped by the cafeteria where a group of the campus believers had gathered inside to hold prayer and bible study and to hear a good word from their spiritual leader, a visiting pastor from one of the local churches. It was revival time, time to get to know God, and spread the Good News.
A crowd, mostly friends, had gathered outside the cafeteria windows to view the proceedings. The preacher waved his arms and smiled and blessed. The whole week would be devoted to spreading God’s word on campus and bringing in the lost sheep. We couldn’t hear everything spoken through the open windows, but we could make out bits and pieces and knew that this meant daily conversation with our Christian friends sent out on a mission to save aimless, lost souls.
A few football players wondered aloud if knowing Jesus meant no more parties with the ripening girls inside, angelic and innocent with their heads bowed for prayer, smiling, whispering through plush red lips, holding hands with the boys and girls next to them.
“I hear Jesus doesn’t like blowjobs,” one of the observers said, half to his self, half to us. The group laughed and a couple of the Christians inside looked up and smiled at us.
“How do you know that?” another asked.
“My girlfriend told me.”
“She told you Jesus doesn’t like blowjobs?”
“Not like that, you asshole. He doesn’t like her giving them. He wants her to be pure for when she gets married.”
“What a crock of shit,” someone said.
“I always thought it was kind of funny when Sally would scream, ‘Oh God, Jesus, yes!’ Now, look. She told me she’s never having sex with me again unless I marry her and take Jesus as my Lord and Savior.”
“Why not?” said another. “She’s worth it.”
“That’s a long, frickin’ time to wait.”
“I’m not getting married, no fuckin’ way.”
“Shit! Here they come.”
Suddenly the prayer group dispersed and each participant grabbed a bible and the girls threw their purses on their shoulders and they turned to exit the door near where we stood. Soon, they were upon us, with their fervor and passion and ripeness, pleading with us to spare a moment for a message of God’s love. It was hard to resist.
One of the more persistent girls grabbed “Moose,” a heavyset lineman on the football team, and said: “You wanna see a miracle? You want God to help you lose weight?”
“No thanks,” Moose said, “I like being a fat slob.”
As earnest Christian revivalists reached for their lost friends outside the cafeteria, the group that had watched the prayer service quickly dissolved, and scattered to nearby lockers and classrooms.
“See you guys later.”
“Yeah, later. See ya in church.”
Another round of laughter went up as the jocks broke their early morning huddle around the cafeteria.
The Christians I’ve known have always expressed an earnestness that makes it hard to ignore them. I’ve respected them because they learned how to be courageous during a moment of weakness. They were falling hard from drunkenness, drug abuse or an abusive home life, or they were suffering too much from any of the myriad hardships that touch young people, a terrible accident or a sudden death. Others were simply too damned scared to go anywhere without a shield, which came with the warm and fuzzy Jesus.
When things got to be too much, the new Christians told us, Jesus would make everything all right. Jesus understood our suffering and, in fact, had endured suffering on our behalf as God Almighty’s sacrificial Lamb, the one who endured the wrath of God on my behalf. Were it not for Jesus, they said, I’d burn in hell. It was a beautiful story, especially when the world felt so huge and oppressive and impossible, filled with constant reminders from parents and authorities that high school kids like me were little more than fuckups and wastrels.
We were peering into a huge abyss, our first sobering glimpse into what was in store, a lifetime of beating out a place for ourselves, an agonizingly dull trudge into a vast hole that would consume us as quickly as we came, leaving behind our words, a few soiled clothes, and maybe a hairball or two. Jesus never looked better during moments like these, where fear and weakness got the better of us. With his larger-than-life hand, he could sweep us out of the abyss and place our tender souls into God’s care forever. It gave us courage, a way to move forward again.
Still, Christians made themselves easy targets for ridicule, even with the warm, fuzzy Jesus by their side, even with their bibles shielding them from errant scoundrels, and murderers and sinners and worse evils like premarital sex. Jesus and his angels watched over everyone; as long as we stayed pure, our Christian friends reminded us, Jesus would keep us safe from harm.
Unfortunately, Jesus the Great Shepherd wasn’t quite as good at protecting us from his own flock.
My friend Marcus took a fascination with streaking when that fad hit high school and college campuses and public places all across the nation in the ’70s. Everywhere, young people threw their clothes off and ran naked through the streets, into gymnasiums and taco joints.
Once, Marcus, a sprinter on the track team, asked me to stand by the door to the football locker room under the stadium. He wanted me to make sure no one would close the door on him as he streaked through a girls basketball game in the gym across the way, and then across the major pathway for students leaving campus at the end of the day, and into the locker room where he’d quickly dress and escape.
Not long after the bell rang to excuse the final period of the day, I heard a roar of commotion from the gymnasium across the quad. Girls shrieked and laughed. The doors of the gym burst open and out flew Marcus, naked as the day he was born, sprinting in sneakers, a paper bag over his head, coming my way, his goods flapping in the breeze.
The students walking home, book bags and purses slung over their shoulders, gawked and laughed. Sarah stopped and asked me: “Who was that?” I shrugged. She went on her way with a story to tell. No one was hurt. I closed the locker room door beneath the stadium and checked on Marcus.
“How’d it go?” I asked as he hustled to dress himself and leave before any coaches or teachers showed up.
“Fuckin’ great! Did you see that?” He laughed. “Ran through the gym. The girls tried to stop me, man. Wanted me to shoot baskets. Ha!” He smiled, looking up as he tied his shoes. “I was too juiced up. Couldn’t stop, had to keep running.”
Marcus still hadn’t caught his breath as he zipped his pants and grabbed his gear.
“Gotta go, man. Hey, don’t tell anyone,” he confided, “but a bunch of us are going to streak in the morning, third period, past the pool and art building. Laurie and Marci are going. Come with us.”
Laurie and Marcie were close friends, culpable and randy, the hottest girls in school and able to stop a guy dead in his tracks with just a look. They could put up shields or snag you with hooks but once you got to know them they were like silly putty and would do almost anything. One night, on the way to a party, Marcus stuffed a tube of Cheese Whiz into Marcie’s pants and squeezed the whole thing inside of her panties as we drove through town in a friend’s car. She scratched and bit him hard, enough to draw blood, but laughed herself into hysterics, tears streaming down her cheeks, as she fought with Marcus. I had always wanted to see her naked. I couldn’t imagine running with her naked through campus, however, without giving myself away.
“No thanks,” I told Marcus. “I’ll watch. But I can’t keep any doors open for you this time,” I said as Marcus ducked out of the stadium locker room, “I’ve got art with Mr. Robles.”
I hadn’t the guts to streak, let alone streak with two girls I lusted after, and I couldn’t imagine myself hobbling along naked through campus, with my wantonness out in the open, chasing after Laurie and Marcie. That kind of nudity, I told myself, belonged behind closed doors, where it couldn’t be observed. But I supported my friends if they wanted to run bare-assed through the campus halls, creating a ruckus, exciting young students and making thrills for the teachers.
The next morning a buzz stirred in the hallways about students who planned to run naked through the campus grounds. I knew the plan and who was going to do it and kept it to myself, and waited for third period to arrive. Upon entering Mr. Robles’ art class, my friend Tom, the best artist in school who’d had hours of sketching nudes and painting with oils and sold his work to local collectors, confided that the Christians were planning to blockade the streakers from passing through the halls and reaching the getaway van in the street.
Mr. Olsen, who taught ceramics and led the bible and prayer meetings of campus Christians, caught wind of the nude sprinting and had been informed of the planned route. He stood outside, between the art buildings and the pool area, grousing to himself as Christians with their bibles gathered and stood in a circle and bowed their heads for prayer, and then, like everyone else who had classes near the pool and in the art building, waited for the big event. The bell to start third period had hardly finished ringing when a wave of laughter and squeals and “oh-my-gods!” could be heard in the distance, near the P.E. buildings.
Mr. Olsen sent his prayer warriors scattering to the gates leading to the street where a van had just pulled up next to the curb. He stood like a sentry, sniffing the air, chest puffed, his potbelly sagging over his belt, and bible in hand. Then, shrieks arose a few classes down, and Mr. Olsen stretched his arms out like Christ on the cross, as though he would soon gather in his lost sheep, but they ran naked with the wind, breezing past him, ignoring him. Marcus, Marcie and Laurie and two other naked sheep, brushed past him and swept through the hall in a kind of nude triumph over Puritanism.
Mr. Olsen, shocked and scandalized, started, first with a kind of whimper, then a wail and finally a loud roar, “Stop! You students come back here this instant!” He turned to pursue the swift running little lambs shorn of their clothing. “Stop this instant! Come back here!” He tried running after them but his belly wouldn’t allow him more than a painful trot. “Stop them!” he ordered his prayer warriors. He waved his bible and yelled. The prayer warriors, amused and similarly scandalized, stepped aside to let the lost sheep pass through the gate.
The back doors of the van opened, and the streakers piled in, one naked body after another. I could imagine the rush they were feeling, skin flushed with excitement, heads abuzz and delirious, safe from Mr. Olsen and his moral crusaders. Now, I wished I had gone with them, laughing, rolling around in orgiastic delight in the van as it sped away from Mr. Olsen, who stood helplessly in the street waving his bible, demanding order and propriety.
Mr. Olsen’s righteous indignation put me at odds with Christianity for a long time. His actions cast a dreary pall over any religious inclinations I had entertained at that point. The campus Christians who followed him showed themselves to be little more than a pack of sweet, earnest killjoys. My lack of desire to attend church only increased because I didn’t want to miss out on life. I didn’t want to trade the exuberance of living out in the open for endless prayer meetings and bibles studies and preachers talking about God. I didn’t want to stop thinking about Laurie and Marcie running naked, free as the wind, past stiff, dried up prunes indignantly waving bibles.
Deep inside, I knew that Jesus had nothing to do with Mr. Olsen’s crusade to stop streakers from their third-period naked run through Tustin High School. The Jesus I imagined would never take such an intolerant stance, nor would he be such a horrible killjoy. I doubted that Jesus would have waved his bible and yelled at young teens feeling for the first time in their lives what it was like to really be alive. I had a different feeling about Jesus than most Christians at the time, even the well-meaning Christians who wanted people to lose weight and read their bibles. I decided to wait for the time when I might actually meet the Jesus lover who knew how to laugh and who felt the absurd impulse to run naked through a field, a taco joint, or high school campus, who knew, in fact, what it was like to be a human being and live.
Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.