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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Demise of the Christian Artist

I was braving the traffic in my trusty steed of a Cefiro, almost upon my destination. Work. That industrial vampire that sucks the life right out of my veins with daily regularity and only my salary as recompense. Not like those “real” vampires that seem to offer perpetual life without end with the slight side effects of needing a coffin for a bed and the eternal misplacement of one’s soul. The Vampire known as “work” rather makes you prefer a coffin and reminds you, for what feels like eternity, that you are destroying your very soul just by being there.

So that’s the mood I was already in, which should have been reason enough NOT to be listening to my least favourite talk show. While the choice was mine not to turn the radio on in the first place I didn't have the option to change the station. For some strange reasons the radio in my car hates me enough to allow for a dusting of a few minor AM stations that are either boring or in another language that also happens to be boring – not like those other alternate language stations that have the high pitched middle eastern wailing and sound like someone has been trying to teach their cats how to sing in multiple ranges. So I settle on the Christian Radio station we have over here known as Radio Rhema.

Now don’t take me the incorrect way, I actually rather like this station for its various shows; the odd Chuck Missler spot, he’s always fun with his extreme interestingness and late night on Sunday with Ravi Zacharias who is a weekly reminder that being a Christian and throwing your intellect down a drain are two completely different notions. They also have the daily News Run between 4 and 7pm every week day which is actually brilliant, because they focus on the news and not the mews like secular media tend to do. I’ll actually hear the stuff the secular media won’t talk about because they want to protect their sacred leftardiness to the extent of telling the half truth and nothing like the truth.

The problem however, about Radio Rhema, is that the music is cringeful. If I’m listening to the station at work and some poor fellow wanders into my department I will run to the radio, even if its 50 meters away, just to dive bomb the volume control. Not because I’m ashamed to be listening to the Christian radio network, not at all, it’s because most of the music is cruelly awkward. How do you explain it? It’s like when you’re 15 and you bring home a girl you are desperately in love with but she has no idea (or at least you think she doesn’t) but somehow, and you don’t know how, your mother has figured out that you feel this way and she does everything found in the Book of Total and Utter Humiliating Things You Can Do To Destroy Your Teenage Son’s Life, except she thinks the book was called, How To Be Totally Awesome When Your Son Brings A Girl Home. If you can imagine that feeling then you might be able to understand how I feel about the Christian Music Scene.

Man when I sat down to write this Blog I was going in a totally different direction, but I’ve taken the fork down a one way street and I’ll have to keep going until those roads of thought re-meet!

Maybe the reasons can’t be helped? I get that as Christians we have the message of God’s Love for a disassembled World and his sending Jesus as the only viable method of reassemblage. So the Christian Artist feels that he HAS to communicate that. However the result is that in the end only Christians will listen to your music and non-Christians – won’t. On the other hand you get the artist who, acutely aware of the above problem, thinks our message needs a rebranding so forces his songs into the mould of whatever the secular music scene is pumping into the populace… and the effect is like when you’re 45 year old dad tries to sing hip hop in front of your bros, either that or Abba’s Dancing Queen. Personally I’m not sure which mental picture is worse. Maybe my finger still isn’t on IT. Of course there is music and song written for the lone purpose of praising, worshipping and just plain adoring the Lord, and I think that’s lovely and enriching, but I’m talking specifically about Christian Entertainment – there’s something unbearably wrong with it, it’s as entertaining as the emperor with no clothes. It has no teeth, its delinquent somehow its… it’s... FORCED! That’s the word I’m looking for, forced!

Now I’m a creative chap as you can probably tell by this bucket I’m wearing on my head with holes in it for eyes. You can’t see it? Oh well, I did however successfully create an image in your head that you found either funny or disturbing, but that’s what I’m good it, creating images with words and employing your brain to do half the work for me. That little spark from my creative lighter was as easy as a sneeze on my part and is still keeping you guessing as to my point. Well let’s say in that one sentence I needed to impart to you a grand spiritual reality, actually I believed that I absolutely HAD to and it would be a megalithic peccadillo were I to just randomly throw out a line about holy buckets; suddenly the creative process has been perverted in some way, suddenly I’m not an artist but a salesman and the whole act of creating now has regulations that go against the hair follicles of spontaneity. The result is you will get a message like this:

"Now I’m a creative chap, made in the image of God, that’s why I’m creative because God creates and so do I, just like God. You can tell this by the bucket on my head that is red, symbolizing the precious blood of the lamb spilt to cover my sins. So in the way that this bucket covers my head, so does God’s love."

The message is now convoluted, strained and nearly unpalatable. I don’t think this is how God ever really intended the Artist to live, not equipped as we are with brains that flit about like fantails after a myriad of sand flies. My mind is like a hyper-epileptic massage chair, it can’t sit still. It’s like living in one of those lottery spheres, the ones with colorful numbered balls bouncing around and there I am standing in the middle trying to catch one that I can work with. I can’t force a ball to appear, I can’t turn off the vibrating chair, I have to roll with it.

The best things I ever made, the best songs, the best bits of prose, the best twinkly moments on the piano, they were all things that just came to me. But when I sat down and said, “Right, I’m going to write a worship song now.” You could almost hear the crickets chirping as nothing would come and anything that did was not worth the carbon emitting from my frustrated ears. The depressing thing is, I am convinced, that this is what a lot of Christians do, they spew out the stuff they feel they HAVE to make which is concocted and second rate and ignore the greater masterpieces that are just shoved on the sidelines because “they don’t glorify God” but somehow the crumbs that fall from their table do?

It has taken me years to learn this lesson. There have been times in my life when I have ran with the whim of whatever idea came to my mind and I made things that even now I marvel over how little old me could have made something so remarkable. But then there were other times when I married the idea that God wanted me to serve in the Church so I lined up all my greater works and sacrificed them on the alter for “the glory of God” when in actuality I was just scared of what my brothers and sisters would say if they knew about the Zombie movie half written in my brain or the witty tome I had jotted down about my personal history of nose picking.

Apart from the fear of man was this idea that I had to please God. A religious attitude forced the Willy Wonka like factory line of my head to change its impulsive approach to creativeness and demanded that the Umpa Lumpas take a more ordered and self-righteous approach to my talents. And as a result only a few things fumbled their way through the creative loading-bay of my brain. The Loading bay that was supposed to be shipping truckloads of my own original morsels throughout the world was instead collecting dead spiders and dusty dead skin cells.

I’ll try to get to the point, if my brain will let me. The world is not the same… duh! The once great Christian West has become the not so great “just West”. The Christian West produced Shakespeare, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, Milton, Dickens, The Renaissance driven Rermbrant and Michael Angelo. More recently we can thank Christian minds for Middle Earth and the Chronicles of Narnia. This is just a cursory glance of the illustrious and prolific personalities that came from the Christian World. Back in the day men and women with a Biblical mindset dominated the arts and their works are still with us and almost immortalized! I don’t think they necessarily tried to be Christian about it either; they just gave us what was already inside them to give.

Why can’t we do the same?

Somewhere along the line the artists living in the Christian Bubble turned inside and started producing works for only us to see, and the world just kept on going, and forgot Christian artists even existed... We have lost our influence.

If I could write one brilliant book, not a Christian story necessarily, just a tale that somehow captured the imaginations of a million men, and it be known that I, a Christian, wrote that book – I would rather that than write a mindless piece of Christian Propaganda heard by only a few and soon after forgotten. If something I write influences no one for Christ then praise the Lord! Because the money I make from it will succeed in its stead, not to mention, as Solomon put it, my good name will be sweeter than a fine perfume! Let the World know that Christians smell fantastic! Make something amazing and make them notice!

Jesus said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” I say we store up the good. Store it up until the walls of your brain are straining to the point of bursting, and when the inspiration comes - run with it, and let the good naturally flow into the thing that you’re already making. Within moral limits create whatever is on your heart to create. Make something marvelous, not something cheap; don’t cheapen the gospel by forcing it into a trinket. It is enough that you are a Christian and that you acknowledge him when the world acknowledges you.

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