My post yesterday got a couple of thousand people pretty disgusted and some decided to buy my album. Maybe because they listened to it on iTunes. There were posts about how, if I’m really serious about loving the church, I need to give it all up and make a vow of poverty. Well, I’m an international PhD student… but don’t worry I won’t bore you with all that now. I’d love to have coffee with you sometime and share stories of our journeys of joyful sacrifice in faith and following God’s footsteps – not for me to brag but because I think it’s important to tell what Christ means to us and how reliant we all are upon God’s provision, whether we recognize it or not.
The nine subscribers I thought I was sending the post to all knew that my first solo album was a venture to support my time in the US at seminary. I could do a prayer letter with pictures, but I’d prefer not to. It’s not like I’m an artist on the touring circuit, or trying to be. I’m becoming an academic and have a pastors’ heart – I love the zealous guys and girls who rock up to church with guitars at 7:30am in the morning. I think my greatest contribution may be researching what is happening with Christian liturgy and music, and trying to make sense of these voices for other artists. For my own album I decided to write some congregational songs for people with a disability, or who have a child with a disability. That’s not a simple task, and I knew it might not have an audience- art is not simply programming a code into a machine to produce a product – but I’m proud of what we did. I co-wrote with five independent, brilliant songwriters who are all living from suitcases (except one, he’s a lawyer). I’d love to help support them further in some way.
The post was written to challenge the prevailing attitude within one North American seminary that it’s OK to blanket Christian artists on campus with a label, and say ‘contemporary music sucks’. (Also the reviewer in question had been given a free CD).
Stats show us that the Global South is now the heartland of the faith where such music is flourishing. My seminary is intentional about being great at music – and I’m here to learn. But, as The Church, there’s something whacked about exporting a genre and then criticizing the people you’ve sold it to for liking it. I can’t imagine this criticism from the Global North is going to recede any time soon. I’ve read a lot of Ethnomusicology, and I’ve found many urban youth innovating their own popular musics for the purposes of worship. My point was, a seminary hating a genre that perpetuates the name of Christ, and excluding the musicians and the people who do love to listen to it seems crazy.
Well, but as I said in my post, the constituency that buys a genre’s music is the determiner of what is a ‘better song’. And the buying public articulate they are desperate for songs “with more Holy Spirit in them”, songs that create sacred moments where they can pray the Bible, and where their prayers are louder than the ego up the front. That is a better song to them. And I think that’s an amazing artistic challenge for any writer.
As I said to Tim last night, I’m not really looking for the controversy, I just want to get back into a place of worship. Which is what I’ll be doing this morning. Maybe you can do it with me – in your preferred style. Also, please pray for the musicians and singers who lead worship in your church every week, that they would be inspired and prophetic, and also keep their eyes upon Christ when the eddies of popular opinion and criticism or, even worse, the adulation and promotion of the Christian community swirl around them.
Psalm 42: 8
By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.