It will surprise no one that I have a slight distaste for Christian Contemporary music as an exclusive way of life. The only artists to sneak into my Spotify are some Newsboys and Jars of Clay, to pay homage to much of my coming of age. In college, and especially after a Media & Aesthetics class discussing Mako Fujimura and his work with the artist community in NYC, and a detailed deconstructive rant on Thomas Kinkade’s fake worlds from my one art professor, my view of the Christian as artist shifted dramatically. That, and picking up a copy of The Shack, flipping to a random page, catching a grammatical error, and setting it down again disappointed but not surprised at the Christian publishing world for generally sucking. WWJE – What Would Jesus Edit. Your book, that’s what.
So tonight, at a free Tenth Avenue North concert (in fact, I have never heard of a Tenth Avenue North concert that was not sponsored by local radio stations) with some Cru students, I was reminded of being an awkward 13-year-old who was only allowed to listen to ZoeGirl and BarlowGirl and JesusGirl. [I only made one of those group names up. The other two are real.]
Today, I began thinking about the story I had been shown as an impressionable teenager — a very narrow faith expression, a very narrow way to live artistically (and not in a “worldly” way), and a very tiny subculture. This narrowness is dangerous. Thankfully, it’s going out of style. But being in that concert crowd took me back to those days, man, and the bogus world of CCM as a marketing $$$ powerhouse which I contributed to.
Here are some soundbites to get you thinking about this too.
It is important that Christians recognize that CCM artists are selling them a product. That doesn’t mean that all CCM is devoid of honesty, but it does, at the very least, present CCM artists with particular temptation to sell a certain type of spirituality.
From Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which has also contributed to my rehabilitation out of Christian subculture and into just following Jesus:
The Universe responds to my dreams and needs. There is a unity flowing through all things. This unity is responsive to our needs. Unity responds and reacts to our positive spoken word. We are co-creative beings, working with and within a larger whole. We embrace and contain this source, which embraces and contains us. Drawing upon this inner source, we have an unlimited supply.
Another quote from her:
You do not need to work to become spiritual. You are spiritual; you need only to remember that fact. Spirit is within you. God is within you.
We don’t call ourselves a Christian band. Because when you get into marketing, ‘Christian’ means that you have everything together, and you’re always happy, and you want everybody to start going to your church. The common denominators in the music I’ve liked is the honesty of not having answers and the passion to find them. I think that’s what spiritual music has, whether it’s Christian or pop or new age. If we have an agenda, it’s to make art that is honest and represents what we believe in.
Isn’t it all sort of mind-numbingly dumb? And I think many Christian music listeners (meaning, Christians who listen to music) have figured this out, even as the industry tries to find itself. Marketing folks love categorization because it means targeting your ads, pigeon-holing your constituency. … Let’s put Christian music to rest, burn the genre, have a bonfire, cook up some brats and have a good laugh about it. I think Michael W. (who is now a worship leader) would be right there with his poker stick, laughing along.
What do you want to make today? (Makoto Fujimura)
We serve a Creator God, and this Creator created us to also be creative. In the same way that God gave Adam the authority to name the animals in Genesis 2, God invites his children to co-create within God’s parameters. We cannot create ex nihilo, but we are all artists with a small “a,” and we are asked to work through our brokenness and fears. We are created for love; and love is creative. So what would happen if every single person who follows this Creator asked the same question “What do I want to create?” And further, if we became an ambassador to the world to help ask, “What do you want to create, and how can I help you?” What if we answered this question filled with the Creative, Holy Spirit of God every moment that we are awake, and helped others to do the same?
Artists are more concerned with “being in the right circles” to be recognized, rather focusing on creating art that only they can do. By the way, if anyone, institution, ideology or an art school crit tells you that you cannot use the word “creative,” transgress. But if you must transgress to make a point, do transgress in love.
Added later: this great interview with Chad Johnson of Come&Live (formerly of Tooth and Nail, a Christian record label. Come&Live is a community that encourages musicians spiritually and offers all of its music for free). I’d highly recommend reading the entire interview.
Music is a powerful tool in connecting others to a loving God. Digital delivery allows people all around the world to discover artists serious about encouraging their faith journeys. My heart has been to see artists walk in a place of desiring God over anything else they could pursue in life.