Recently I was sitting with a friend and the subject of music came up. I asked him what type of music he listened to and he told me he loved “Christian music.”
I hadn’t realized that was a genre.
Christians can and do make music all the way across the spectrum of musical genres, and many of my favorite metal bands are Christians. However, I love what Jon Foreman once pointed out about that phrase:
People are saved. People are Christians. Music is not Christian. Jesus did not die so music could go to heaven; He died for people.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the topic of Christian art and how we interact with the creative endeavors of the world.
Michael Gungor said that he and his friends could tell, without fail, which songs were ‘Christian’ after only hearing the first five seconds of them because they sounded more fake and plastic.
Bono said that Christian art ironically lacks the honesty which is so evident in the Bible’s own songbook, the Psalms.
I think the Christian media scene has carved out for itself a unique niche. Speaking generally, it doesn’t create the best films, the most original music, or the most unique books. There tend to be boundaries within which it works, and these boundaries give a lot of people comfort.
In other words, people perpetually subscribe to Christian media because it’s safe.
We can be sure that by shopping at Hobby Lobby, we may be buying some mass-produced original-seeming kitsch piece of art or a quote painted on ‘vintage’ wood, but at least it won’t have any cuss words or nudity.
Many American Christians have become attached to this universe in which safety and shelter is prized above honesty, authenticity and risk.
We would rather something be safe than good.
Ironically, this is the exact opposite of C.S. Lewis’ description of God via the character of Aslan in his Chronicles of Narnia:
“Aslan is a lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he…quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
This is one of my favorite ways to think of God. He isn’t safe…but He’s good. Like the beautiful power of a tsunami or the destructive slithering body of a tornado, God isn’t safe. Not at all. But He is good. He is beautiful.
American Christianity has created a space where certain things are allowed, others are questionable, and others are completely forbidden. I laughed when I saw the film Blue Like Jazz, which sought to be a more ‘edgy’ movie…for being a Christian movie, because they allowed a few uses of damn throughout the film, but nothing worse.
I walked out of the theater and was asked what I thought of the film. My answer, as with all Christian media, had to be caveated: “It was pretty good…for a Christian film.”
Why can’t Christians just make all-around good films? Or music?
I am encouraged, however, to find out about more Christians working in secular creative spheres. For instance, the creators of The Conjuring films are strong Christians who wanted to awaken sterilized Americans to the reality of the spiritual world. The creator of Marvel’s Doctor Strange had a similar mission by using magic as a symbol of invisible forces at work around us constantly.
For quite a while now, many of the leading metal bands have been made up of Christians, such as August Burns Red, The Chariot (long live), and The Devil Wears Prada. I’ve often wondered why this genre specifically has thrived in Christian circles, while others have not seemed to be able to keep up with mainstream media. (I wonder if this is because hardcore is a genre in which openness about struggles and anger is encouraged?)
However, as it stands now, these creatives seem to be more of the exception than the rule. Christians seem to seek shelter within walls and boundaries for fear of judgment from other Christians.
“Am I allowed to say that? But what will people think of me?“
I wonder if Christians think those thoughts more than the rest of the world, and this is exactly what hampers our work, and in turn, our witness to the world for Christ.
By establishing walls to work within, we may effectively cater to a handful of Christians, but fail to reach the rest of the world. In Jesus’ words, we have the ‘innocent as doves’ bit down, now we just need to work on getting more clever and original.
Earlier this year, Christian rapper Lecrae took a lot of heat when he began to speak up against racial injustice in America. The pushback changed him and how he went about creating his craft. It seemed like people wanted him to be this picture of a ‘good, Christian rapper who raps about Christian things,’ but when he began to speak up about real issues he was facing and struggles he was having, many Christians took up arms.
When Lecrae began to wander outside the bounds of what Christian artists are allowed to speak about, others got nervous.
There have been many times I’ve hit ‘Publish’ on this blog and been nervous about what I was revealing to the world. Was that too much? I’d often ask myself. Did I share too much this time?
Yet every time I’ve taken a step in the direction of honesty and vulnerability, the feedback has always been positive. I think Christians are wearying of pseudo-niceties and polite conversation and we are ready to address the more warped things in this world, in our own souls.
For too long, most of us have pretended that being a Christian means living in a nice, easy world in which there is no pain, anger, grief or conflict. The more we wake up to these realities, the stronger our art, our voices, and our witness will be.
So no longer will I pretend I have it all together. No longer will I mask my anger, my loneliness, or my brokenness before a world that needs more Christians who are honest.
And I hope you won’t either.
May we be Christians who reach out and touch the broken and hurting place in the world with our vulnerability. May we be people who share our stories as testimonies of what Jesus has done in us, using honesty rather than plasticity. May our art penetrate the bubble which so often retains Christian art from reaching anyone outside our comfortable communities.