Leader CEO Michael McKibben talks about his friend
(Apr. 26, 2014) —A cool YouTube video titled We Can’t Live Without Each Other appeared about a year ago. It was produced by Leader Technologies’ CEO, Michael McKibben, and some former colleagues. It chronicled the work of a spunky Gospel group named “Living Sound.” Comprised of four different music "teams," they performed around the world, including the former Soviet Union. That's right, back when militant atheism was communist government policy. Remarkably, this Christian group even performed on Soviet TV and on the official 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic film. McKibben was their European Director between 1997 and 1982.
Full citation: We Can't Live Without Each Other (Hам не жить друг без д руга) music video, A. Pakhmutova (А. Пахмутова), N. Dobronravov (Н. Добронравов) , N. McKibben, Living Sound, 1980, Melodiya Records / Mosfilm / Evgeny Ginzburg-CT USSR.
Living Sound achieved many firsts, including organizing the first integrated concert tour in Apartheid South Africa with Andrea Crouch and the Disciples. They were also the first (and probably only) American Gospel group to perform on national Soviet TV during the height of the Cold War.
Saint Pope John Paul II and Michael McKibben
On the eve of Pope John Paul II’s canonization, we thought readers would appreciate knowing a bit more about Michael McKibben, the real inventor of social networking. It appears he has a saint in his camp—the man who helped bring down communism behind the Iron Curtain.
Living Sound was close to Polish Cardinal Karol Woytła. They collaborated during the decade of the 70’s when Cardinals Wyszynski and Woytła, and the People of Poland with them, were standing strong against communist ideological aggression.
In their youthful exuberance, Living Sound appears to have served the Polish Church as some sort of Fifth Column statement that Christians would not be cowed by persecution and abuse. Living Sound toured in Poland a dozen times. They even toured with Lech Walesa and Solidarity during Solidarity’s tense first year of existence. McKibben smiles, “My booking manager, Englishman Brian Kille, gave Lech his first Casio digital watch during a Living Sound concert tour planning meeting at Solidarity's new makeshift headquarters in Gdansk in late 1980.”
[Editor: I just noticed something quite interesting. Lech Walesa scaled the shipyard fence in Gdansk, Poland, on Aug. 14, 1980, the day after Living Sound's audience in Rome with Pope John Paul II. It was also during the time when the remarkable Living Sound events surrounding the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics and Soviet TV were unfolding.]
The Measure of the Man
We asked McKibben about his friendship with Pope John Paul II. He shared several photos (posted here) and several stories he thought helped give a measure of the man. He started the conversation by saying “In my experience, John Paul II is the real deal.”
McKibben said, “In the summer of 1975, I was the trombonist on our Team II. We had just finished concerts in Nova Huta at a very special venue. With the encouragement of Cardinal Woytła, the people of Nowa Huta (pronounced Nova in English) were building their cathedral one brick at a time. Nova Huta was to be a communist city untainted by religion. However, the faithful had other ideas. We sang in the midst of construction scaffolds in the partially built sanctuary of 'The Lord's Ark' church to packed congregations standing shoulder to shoulder. We sang the prohibited Polish national religious anthem "May God Bless Poland" at every concert. That always brought us singers and audiences alike to tears, and especially those nights.”
“The next day, we traveled to Krakow to meet with Cardinal Woytła at his residence. My wife, Nancy, had asked him for an interview for an article she was writing about our Polish tours. Back then, few Americans knew much about the plight of the Polish Church, so we wanted to tell them. We asked Cardinal Woytła for a letter of recommendation to the American Church. I will never forget his reaction. Nonplussed, he asked in slight amusement, “Who cares about the opinion of an out-of-the-way Polish cardinal?” He was not pretentious.
Cardinal Woytla the Person
Cardinal Woytła gave us the letter. It did open the doors of the American Catholic Church to us. Most of us were from other Christian denominations other than Roman Catholic, but our differences did not seem to matter to him. That’s when this 20-something decided not to let differences stand in the way of human kindness and brotherhood. That’s probably when Trinitarian faith dawned on me—that all men and women are made in the image and after the likeness of God, and deserving of my respect; not just those who think like me!”
Cardinal Woytla elected Pope on October 16, 1978
McKibben continued, “I’ll never forget hearing the BBC radio news of his election to Pope. The next day, I received a number of calls from the British press. They had no pictures of Cardinal Woytła. They’d heard from London-based Buzz Magazine that we might have some. I shared one of him clutching one of our albums. See Fig. 5 below. Our road manager, Joel Vesanen, had given it to him after our concert to almost 300,000 pilgrims in Częstochowa, Poland at Jasna Góra Monastery.” Recently, someone discovered a Galway, Ireland, article containing that very photo. It’s one of my favorites.“
John Paul II invited Living Sound to Rome
"In 1980, His Holiness invited us to Rome for an audience. On August 13, 1980 we sang to 60,000 in Vatican Square for an hour before the Pope’s regular Wednesday audience. We have a photo of him greeting Living Sound, and blessing our four-month old daughter, Carrie." See Fig. 1 above.
"The Vatican Curia said they’d never seen anything like it. We were a fully electrified jazz-rock/pop style group pumping out toe-tapping Gospel music through the Vatican public address system. The Pope let us park our bus at the steps of St. Peter’s. We ran a 1-inch power cord out the front door of St. Peter’s and down the long steps to our gear set up next to his podium."
"Several weeks earlier, I had traveled to Rome with Randy Innes (now a Superintendent of the United Methodist Church in North Carolina) to make the final arrangements with the Vatican. Our host was Monsignor Ivan Dias, who is now a cardinal in India. Monsignor Dias told us a humorous story about the tone John Paul II set quickly for his leadership."
"At the end of the Pope’s first press conference, he started to walk down the steps to greet the journalists. A Curia official stopped him and said it was not protocol for the Pope to mingle with the press after a speech. John Paul II turned to the official and asked, “Who’s Pope here, you or me?” He then walked down and greeted the gathered journalists and photographers. From my vantage point, he was a principled man for whom the stewardship of his life’s calling was his most important priority. He was intelligent, courageous, compassionate and big-hearted. You also knew he had your back and was no pushover. He knew how to stand firm and fight for what he thought was right.”
McKibben concluded, “With Cardinal Woytła’s election as Pope, a bright light from Poland had entered the world stage, and he was our friend and collaborator in matters of faith.”
Social Networks & The Prayers of a Saint
Turning to Leader’s battle with Facebook, we asked McKibben if he thought his association with Saint John Paul might make a difference in finding justice.
McKibben said, “We watched Cardinal Woytła and the Polish people fight injustice up close and personal. Despite the odds, they persevered. We saw that same determination from our friends in the former Soviet Union. That seems to be the lesson of faith for every generation. I spoke on this subject just recently by Estonia Daily. We had asked Cardinal Woytła, later Pope John Paul II, to pray for us numerous times. He blessed my daughter, and blessed our music groups many times. We will continue that relationship.“
“How Saint John Paul’s prayers will affect the unconscionable conduct of Facebook is in God’s hands. In the end, they'll answer to Him, just like us. Our job is to do what’s right, every day. We'll also ask Saint John Paul, and other saints who have faithfully run the race before us, for their prayers. Then, we'll leave the results to God."
"A great philanthropist Rose Totino (of frozen pizza fame) was once criticized for being too generous. She responded: 'I’ve never seen a U-Haul behind a hearse.' In the end, we all will stand before God with only our lives and conduct to answer for. My prayer is that my shareholders receive their just rewards, here and now. We already know what God thinks about what Facebook has done: Thou shalt not steal; Thou shalt not bear false witness. Our U.S. laws are based on these timeless commandments. Now we just need a government and legal system that protect them, here and now.” McKibben concluded.
Who cares about the opinion of an out-of-the-way Polish cardinal? Maybe no one, but what about the prayers of a saint?
Pray for us, Saint John Paul.
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For the Record:
More Michael McKibben Photos