BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLOG…
There is a kind of doctrinaire aspect sometimes to being a Christian that the message is more important than the ways you go about doing it. And you always suspect that there’s not the same level of art as in people who actually are people of faith who also practice fiction. I think Jesus would have wanted us to be good writers as well and pay attention to our craft as well as tell a meaningful story. Ron Hansen, on problem with ‘Christian’ fiction, DSS Interview February 7th, 2003
I have pondered this quote for a few days. It struck a chord in me. One of the reasons I backed off from working in the Christian music industry (now don’t flood me with “you’re a blasphemer” comments… hear me out), was the lack of anything original being produced. In the early 90’s, besides Jars of Clay and DC Talk, most Christian music was a copy of something that had already been produced outside of the Christian subculture. I suppose only diehard musicians/music lovers, poets and painters really pay attention to originality or quality of the music and art that surrounds them. Many people accept a quality of art that is way, way subpar. Christ was not a copy, he was the original. He was fresh, new, controversial, anti-legalistic, and (gasp) cutting edge. I think that should be the model we follow as Christians when we create.
Sometimes, this means leaving the Christian “label” behind. Did Christ label everything in his parables as Christian? Did he talk about the Christian sower who sowed his Christian seed in the secular thorn bushes? No. He spoke of everyday things, even things we would not consider holy. He did not distinguish between sacred or secular because to him, everything was sacred, because he made it. It’s his creation that has corrupted the rest of his creation. Think about it this way: When you have leaky plumbing in your house, do you search for a Christian plumber? No, you want the best plumber – the one that is going to get the leak stopped once and for all. When you want the best steak in town, do you look for a Christian steak house? No, you go to the place that has the best reputation for making the best steak.
I know many kids (and adults) that love music, art and literature, who do not turn down the Christian music aisle to get the best, most creative, freshest, cutting-edge music. They do not turn to the Christian fiction section when they want something exciting and challenging to read and they do not shop in the T-shirt section at the local Christian Book Store to buy the latest fashions (after all, most Christian T-shirts are Christianized copies of T-shirts already produced elsewhere). I know many Christians who see this as a huge problem, as well they should. They, however, see the problem as these kids wandered outside their Christian subculture and have been tainted. I see it as these kids wandered outside their Christian subculture and were freed.
These kids will grow up, eager to make their art, music, literature, and even clothes and plumbing cutting edge. They will make art relevant to those Christians are supposed to be trying to reach, instead of creating art, music and literature to discuss amongst themselves. Unfortunately, many Christians will try to label them as secular, blasphemers, backsliders, and heretics and totally miss the point.
Don’t get me wrong. I do listen to Christian music sometimes. Much of it over the years has encouraged me, uplifted me, brought me closer to God and made me feel better. Very little of it, however, has satisfied the musician in me, the artist in me, or the poet in me. Very little of it has challenged me, either. That is why so many people find it boring and turn elsewhere to be challenged and satisfied. It’s also hard to relate to those outside the Christian subculture if your creative diet is labeled 100% Christian.
Think of it… how many times have you been talking to a non-Christian, trying to tell him what your music sounds like and you always have to compare it to a group or artist outside the Christian subculture anyway so it’s relevant to them? “Well, this group is really cool. They sound like the Backstreet Boys.” Exactly. The group you are speaking of were made as an “alternative” to and in the image of the Backstreet Boys, which isn’t necessarily bad in itself, it’s just not fresh. Fresh lasts longer. Something that is a copy is already going stale and the original will last much longer than the copy. Something — anything — that is labeled Christian should not leave you wanting, longing, unsatisfied. The thing that bugs me is that most things labeled Christian leave me wanting, longing and unsatisfied.
I know many Christians who do excellent work. David is an auto mechanic and he is one of the best around. I do not recommend him, however, because David happens to be a Christian. I recommend him because he is a great mechanic (and because he’s a Christian, I know he will treat them honestly and with respect). My friend Angie is a great photographer. I would recommend her to anybody if they wanted creative, meaningful pictures. Angie is very creative and gifted and I would recommend her over and over again. The fact that Angie is also a Christian is just the icing on the cake and I know someday her art and her creativity will open up doors for her to share her faith with others. My friend Jene’ is a great designer and I would also recommend her in a heartbeat. She is also a Christian. My friend Jamie is an artist and has had her work displayed on the cover of published work. I would also recommend her. She is also a Christian. I would not, however, recommend any of these people because they are Christians. I would recommend them because they do excellent work. One too many times I have recommended a Christian friend to do a job and they did the job very, very poorly (and some under the excuse of, “but at least I’m a Christian”). They expected the Christian label to be enough. It isn’t. Personally, I know that when I meet someone as a writer, more doors open for me to share the gospel than if I meet someone as a Christian writer. Funny how that works.
My challenge today is this: Christians should be the model, the example, the template — not the copy. The art, music, plumbing, photography, whatever it is… should be so good that people want to study it, use it, discuss it, and copy it – regardless of it’s spiritual implications. To do this, I believe, Christians need to think, work, act, play, and fix pipes outside the Christian subculture so that someone who is not a Christian actually sees, hears, reads, and uses what Christians produce. If the art, (etc) is good enough, it will meet a need, whether it’s emotional, physical, mental or spiritual. I believe this is where the door opens for discussion — and this is where Christians have the opportunity to impact the world around them.
I think about this — all of this — as I write and create. I hope that my art will impact those around me and be relevant to those who wouldn’t necessarily shop at a Christian Bookstore. I don’t want to be on the Christian Fiction shelf at any bookstore. I want people besides Christians to read my book(s). I am not writing for those who already know Christ. I am writing more for those that don’t and if what I do or create is meaningful and challenging to a Christian, that’s definitely a bonus, but not my goal.
Ok… that’s my rant for the day. It’s been on my mind for a few days. It stems from a conversation with other Christians who don’t understand why I went back and re-wrote my book to be more raw and edgy and real. I tried to explain that life is, even for the Christian, raw and edgy and real. They were offended. I was more determined than ever to be the original… the template. I may not get there on my first try, but I will eventually. I’m not afraid to try. I had a great Teacher.