“God have mercy on the man who doubts what he's sure of.”
― Bruce Springsteen
I grew up in the Pentecostal thrum of The Nineties. I must have purged my CD collection a thousand times for fear of poisoning myself with “non-Christian” music. Ten years later, I have yet to find a better picture of God than the one Bruce Springsteen painted in ‘My Father’s House’:
“My father’s house shines hard and bright it stands like a beacon calling me in the night Calling and calling so cold and alone Shining’ cross this dark highway where our sins lie unatoned.”
Have I lost my way? Is it so scandalous to find the gospel in a Springsteen tune?
The jarring truth of it is, there are some artists out there who do a better job of articulating spiritual things than us Christians do – and it’s because they didn’t learn the jargon of “Christian music”. Their search for truth is kind of unadulterated – in their struggle to describe the unseen world, they turn to poetry, the whole gamut of language and metaphor. Without even knowing God, they end up creating a full and colourful picture of Him, even if they aren’t using the approved lexicon.
It was only a few short years ago that the chasm between “Christian Music” and “Secular Music” was as rigid and grey as the Berlin wall. We divined Christian music by quantifying its JPM – Jesus Per Minute – that was an actual term. It’s only recently that we have realized that this wall was only being held up by one of the divided parties.
Art is art. Conviction is conviction. Truth is truth. And if we believe that God is the embodiment of truth, the very definition of it, then we needn’t be so precious about how it is communicated.
Bono still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. He’s telling the parable of the prodigal. He’s telling the tale of the pilgrim. And just because he isn’t overt about the treasure he seeks, or the road he’s on, it doesn’t mean that he hasn’t painted a beautiful picture of a faith journey.
It’s not like we’re slipping into a dangerous universality here – the fact is, whether we are searching for the truth, or whether we have found it, we’re still talking about God, right?
“Who are the ones that we kept in charge? Killers, thieves, and lawyers! God's away, God's away God's away on Business”
― Tom Waits
What’s so scandalous about Tom Waits bemoaning the crooked state of the Western world? “God’s away on business!” - we’ve all heard the psalmist utter a similar grievance in the Bible, as the poet struggles to find God in the midst of a broken world.
The secular world is comfortable with articulating spirituality, and they expect the same from Christian artists. There’s an expected reciprocation. The arts do not expect Christian artist to veil their beliefs, to be ashamed of them, or to hide them within the walls of a genre. As much as their curiosity and criticism of spirituality is a public discussion, so must our championing of it be.
The concept of spirituality is more widely accepted in the arts than it has been in decades. Artists lean on spiritual concepts as if they were mythology, regardless of their understanding or investment in these concepts. Perhaps it’s only the Christians who are tiptoeing, when we’ve been given license, nay, we’re being expected to put a stake in the ground when it comes to our faith
September of 2012 marked the first time in 15 years that a Christian artist topped the Billboard charts in America. This particular honour belonged to Christian hip-hop pioneer Toby Mac. Christian Atlanta MC Lecrae was right behind him at third place. Time magazine ran a piece on the achievement. “Christian Music’s Moment”, they called it. In the piece, Geffen Manager Al Branch credited their success to “artistic genuineness and dependability”. Branch said of Lecrae “He has been at places that most Christian rappers don’t go…he’s not afraid to get out there and let his light shine.”
“The message is about love and hope, which is universal,” added Warner Music’s Rod Riley.
Everybody’s got a hungry heart. There’s Springsteen again. Perhaps it’s time to realize we’re all searching for something. For truth, for beauty, for a balm for brokenness. These things are universal. Some artists are drawing up the roadmap. Some are documenting the dark shadows of their horizon. Some of us have been lucky enough to stumble across truth, grace, a saviour. The important thing is that our art reflects our path as truly as possible.
Let the record stores decide which bin to put it in.