Friday, September 16, 2011

The Duty of the Christian Musician

Recently I wrote a bunch of posts tackling the divisive issue of Christian Rock over at the ever-brilliant Basically I said - immaturely - that Christian Rock has become - thanks to the Almighty Need to Sell - a poor imitation of Pop music. That she often lacks Authenticity. That she conforms to a genre instead of attempting to write from the heart. Read all about it.

An interesting argument came up in defense of this unauthentic music - it was interesting in that it wasn't a defense, it was an evasion. It went something like this: "Yes, it's terrible that Christian music is imitating Pop Music. Yes, it's sad and yes, sometimes I cry when Casting Crowns releases a new single. But this isn't a problem of Christian Rock, this a problem of the Music Scene as a whole! Uninspired music is in; if Christian artists want to spread the message of the Gospel they have to dumb their music down. Otherwise no one will listen."

And thus we get good messages obfuscated by unoriginal songwriting.

To which the short answer is wrong, and the long answer is WROOOOOOOOOONG, and for more than a few reasons. The first bit of silliness is the idea that the world leads the Church. Wrong. The Church must lead the world. I'm Catholic, so I don't feel like finding where Paul says it, but I'll paraphrase: "The world sucks, don't be like it." We are supposed to be signs of contradiction. Sneak-attack Christianity - OMG YOU  TOTES THOUGHT YOU WERE LISTENING TO TRAIN BUT IT'S ACTUALLY ABOUT GOD - is ridiculous. It's the world leading the Church by a leash, and it needs to stop.

Cast your minds back a ways to the fall of the Roman Empire, when the learning, poetry and art of Europe took refuge in the monasteries, preserved and treasured by doddering and pious monks. What if these religious had said, stroking great beards of wisdom, "You know what, the world outside is really into drunken pillaging, the indulgence of the carnal passions and illiteracy. How are we going spread the message of the Gospel unless we meet them at their level?" An exaggerated analogy, I know, but you get the point.

If we held up real beauty like a lamp in the darkness, do we honestly doubt that the children of God would flock to it? If so, how does one explain the incredible success of Mumford and Sons? That band makes it difficult to argue that the world will only listen to banal lyrics, pop beats and generally uninspired sound. No, we are human. Our fads and fashions might run as rampant as the plague, but our underlying desires and thirsts for that which is eternal, that which elevates us, that which lasts even if it loses it's place on the Christian Radio Top 50, that desire always dwells in us.

The second problem with this follow-the-world business is that it insults humanity. For all of it's existence, humanity has been drawn to, inspired and challenged by, in admiration and awe of - if not entirely obsessed with - Beauty. It is Universal. Why are blatantly religious authors like Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy so admired on secular campuses? Why do people of every belief flock to see paintings of the Crucifixion, the Nativity, the Holy Family, or the Resurrection by artists like Botticelli, da Vinci, Caravaggio and Michelangelo? Why are recitals of Handel's Messiah packed at Christmas? I'll give you two hints: It's not because these artists conformed to the world. And it's not because people naturally like Christian art. It's because these artists created Beauty, and Beauty draws us universally. It's an experience with the Divine in and of itself. To say that the 21st century "just couldn't handle it" is a slap in humanity's face. We can handle it. Give it to us.

If the world writes pathetically, let us write in stark opposition to the world, pulling it with us in our ascent into Beauty. Let us lead the world. It is the duty of the Christian musician to write with total authenticity, to hone and practice his craft in an effort create Beauty, to lead the world out of darkness and into the marvelous light of the Sacred, of the True, Good and Beautiful, to convey poignantly the deepest reflection of his heart. Yes, absolutely; his duty. It's not easy. But as Christians we cannot settle for less, lest we continue to wallow in Pop.

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