Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Christianity and Culture, pt. 3

(for parts one and two, see my blogger site -- http://postcardsfromlife.blogspot.com/)

This is from an interview with Derek Webb, formerly of the band Caedmon's Call. This was posted on www.relevantmagazine.com.

The italics are mostly my emphasis, and the stuff in brackets is my reaction.

RM: What does it mean on your new album when it says dont label my music?

DW: Its more of a personal liberty type comment, more than put a label on my music that I listen to so that I can discern between what is safe and right and what is dangerous and wrong. The whole secular/Christian thing, which is a total fiction, rather than just teaching me to listen to the Spirit and have the Spirit guide me into the truth and learn how to discern truth and beauty and find it in all kinds of places, which is more of the Francis Schaeffer model. Discern truth and beauty and dont put your faith in categories.

Don't let your local Christian bookstore do your thinking for you and believe that everything they have there for sale is good and spiritually beneficial to you. If anything, we have proven that the Church unfortunately is identified with really poor art. The Church certainly does not have the market cornered on beauty. A lot of what we do is not very beautiful. The art we make is not very good. A lot of the songs I have heard on Christian radio are just outright misrepresentations of the character of God.

[I totally agree with this. Christianity's subculture does not fit with today's American culture. There's a lot of tacky stuff out there, that's just been remade to say "Jesus" instead of "Reese's". Is that really what is going to bring people to Christ? A sterilized version of what the world has to offer?]

I think you have to learn to discern and look elsewhere and say, I need to learn how to engage with a God everywhere I can find truth and beauty, regardless of the intention of the maker of that art. I really believe that is a more biblical worldview. It also keeps us from being people who live in fear. There is no room for living in fear. There is no reason to be afraid. There is no reason to be fearful of secular music. We should learn how to chew on the meat, spit out the bones, to discern the truth and beauty, to commend that rather than to be just completely fearful and put all our security in these categories that dont mean anything. Its a dangerous way to live.

[Before this, my first year of college, and even a few years before that, my music collection was predominantly from the Christian music industry. Industry--just that. Pressed out to sound like tacky 80's music, all alike. I was wary of any mainstream groups, because I knew a lot of them used bad language, talked about sex, etc. I wanted to keep my ears pure. Yeah. Since going to (yes, a Christian one) college, and listening to my friends' music, I've broadened my interests. Actually that started beforehand I suppose. If not on a regular basis, I now have some interest in Weezer and other scattered songs here and there from individual groups that aren't marketed by Christians. When I hear a song that I like (you should go study the philosophy of aesthetics), I will then check out the lyrics. Yes, I do like the song "You're Beautiful" by James Blunt, however that one stinkin word has to mess it up for me, and therefore I prefer the censored version.]

[I would like to tell people to listen to Christian music because I know it's "safe for the whole family", but yet, a lot of it is tacky. There's good stuff out there that doesn't necessarily mention Jesus in every verse. I am learning a lot about how Christianity requires personal service--as in to the poor and broken, and not just evangelism.]

The Christian industry, ridiculous as its existence I believe is, is an industry that literally markets records based on the worldview of the artists, which no other industry does. The one thing they do really well is get resources to Christians. I thought this is something I want in the hands of fellow believers. I think that is the audience that this content would be relevant to and so that is the avenue that I took. Providentially, I landed with a label that I had no idea was really given the freedom to go beyond that. That is what Im trying to do now. Im not making records specifically and exclusively for the Church anymore.

[If I want worship tunes, I'll go to the Christian music industry. There's edgier stuff out there (i.e., Flyleaf, Plumb, Underoath, etc) that wouldn't be played on a "contemporary Christian" station (as far as contemporary goes, that's another story for another day). So it's still me, checking out the lyrics, and not necessarily the motives of the "artists".]

Like I said, Mockingbird, I believe, deals with much broader issues. There are many more points of connection with even our neighbors that dont believe what we believe about Jesus but do believe it is right to care for the poor. Maybe that is our connection point. Regardless, the label allows me the freedom to do that. That is a great provision for me, but I do think it is strange that I am in Christian music.

[I am finding that my views are becoming a lot less "traditional" and conservative than they once were....I want to do some more research into this whole "postmodern Christianity" or "postmodern Church" thing, and figure out how postmodernism and Christianity fit together.]


RM: When this comes to fruition, what happens to American Christianity?

DW: Christian artists dont seem to be focused anymore on making great art. Thats our main problem, not what our message is, not what we are trying to communicate, not how we are breaking down these barriers, but the fact that we are failing to make good engaging art is our main problem. It doesnt matter what we are talking about if our art is no good. It does not make any difference. We could be talking about all the cool stuff in the world, how to help everyone and their dogs, but if we are not making great art as artists, then we are really letting the Church down.

We are taking our eye off the ball. Our industry, the way it is set up, who the gatekeepers are, it doesnt encourage making unique art, being who you are as an artist, being unique and not worrying about how it sells, letting the record companies do their job in order that you can do yours.

Thats not happening a lot in the Christian industry. We have a radio genre that is on the whole pretty uninteresting, and its pretty bland artistically. Either way, its kind of all one style. Christian is not a style of music. It is a worldview that represents a group of people, but its not a stylebut it is becoming a style. Thats the problem. What happens is you have people that make really cool music, and they are encouraged by their record label to make it more like this homogenous style that is happening on the radio.

[Bland and all one flavor, yes. I could go through the radio stations and, aside from recognizing songs that they're playing for 5 years in a row, I could recognize which one was playing Christian music.]


RM: When you were with Caedmons and you wrote a song, it was usually about love or the girl you couldnt get, and now you are the voice in the wilderness triumphing a new cause. How did you get from there to here?

DW: Marriage. Its unbelievable how totally central my marriage is to everything that has happened to me in the last six or seven years. Because I got married and all of a sudden its like you trade one set of complications for another. Its not like suddenly you stop longing and you stop being lonely, and it doesnt complete you or whatever, but it changes all the details. It changes the story.

...All of a sudden, Im like wait, the Church. Thats been the missing picture for me. That community, that lifestyle had never made sense to me before. Suddenly I was like, What is my role in that then? I have never fit easily into church community or whatever. I dont fit easily. A lot of us dont. Where do I fit? How do I get into a local church community? What is my role? What are my gifts really for? I think they are for the concepts of that local body to encourage and build that up.

[I'm trying to figure out where I fit...Having gone away to South Weymouth, I'm not around all that much in C-town. So where do I volunteer? Where can my input go?]

The bigger question is, what is the role of the Church in culture? I wanted to find these things out, so I started studying all this stuff. Next thing you know I have written a whole bunch of songs about it. Thats just what happens to me. Whatever I am thinking about, whatever Im reading, whatever Im interested in, thats just what I write about. I was really interested in women for a lot of years, trying to sort out relationships with Caedmons. I wrote a ton about it. Theology and women was what I was very interested in for many years.

[I need to buy this CD that he's talking about...But, as I have accumulated about 10 CDs this past year alone--free or not--I need to go on a "CD-buying" fast of sorts.]

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