When I was eleven, I wrote a daily devotional I imaginatively titled “Daily Devotions.” I started at Proverbs 11, because of my age (of course). I made it as far as Proverbs 11:7—a whopping week long. Surprisingly, it never got picked up by any publishers, but my parents asked for a copy.
The unreasonable self-assurance I had then is a little embarrassing to me now, but I am proud of myself for being so dedicated, early on, to one goal: revival. Years before I could vote, I would often respond to the classic question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “Either a pastor or a politician.” This was met with mixed responses, which I have come to understand.
With fire pumping in my young veins, I volunteered for countless political campaigns of upstanding, dedicated, righteous individuals. This turned into full-time summer work.
In Part 1 of this two-parter (you can read it here), I talked about how the overwhelming majority of the pages in the Bible are devoted to showing the truth through narrative and poetry, over against telling the truth in expository teaching. There are two questions that arise from this—is it possible that God endorses different kinds of preachers and preaching than what we have become accustomed to in the contemporary church? And if so, what does that mean for the importance of the arts in, for, and from the church?
How Will They Hear Without a Preacher?
What does it mean to preach? Our first thought when we hear “preacher” is of someone behind a pulpit explaining some biblical truth. But is that the only way to preach? Again, going back to the Bible, it becomes clear that the biblical prophets and preachers employed a variety of methods in a variety of venues to deliver God’s message. Some of these methods seem quite unorthodox to the contemporary Christian: marrying a prostitute (Hosea 1:2), preaching naked (Isaiah 20:2), naming children (Isa. 7:3; 8:1–3), building a 450 ft. boat (Gen. 6:13ff; 2 Pet. 2:5), eating bread cooked over dung (Ezek. 4:12f), and various other acts of sacramental symbolism and prophetic theater.
“Why should I give money to support the arts? Why not give money to preachers or missionaries instead? After all, the most important Gospel work is preaching, isn’t it? As Paul says in Romans 10:14, ‘How will they hear without a preacher? It never says, ‘How will they hear without an artist?’ does it?”
During the Nehemiah Foundation’s nearly decade-long effort to renew the arts within the church, I have regularly heard some version of this objection. At first blush, it seems true and obvious, doesn’t it? If the Word of God is primary and fundamental to the work of the Gospel, then preaching the Word of God and explaining it in sermons must be fundamental and primary to the work of the church. Most people in the church believe that it’s okay to have the arts as an adornment for a Gospel message or as a harmless amusement, but they believe the real bulk of the church’s emphasis and resources should go to spreading Gospel sermons far and wide. They think explaining the Gospel in sermons is the most effective way to evangelize the world and edify the church, and “preaching” is therefore the most important and primary work of God’s people.
These days, calling someone amateur is an insult. If you’re an amateur, you don’t have the “skillz to pay the billz.” By amateur, we generally mean an inept know-nothing with no expertise—a hack.
But I want to rescue the label amateur from its current dishonor. It’s my opinion that the greatest potential in the arts today comes from amateurs. We need more of the amateur spirit, not less. What do I mean?
The Maraqopa trilogy, by Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado, brims over with the uncanny prescience of genuine hope and the bittersweetness of sincere nostalgia. A delicate suspension incorporating choice morsels from at least five decades worth of music, it manages to be both behind and ahead of its time in all the right ways. It is, ironically, the ideal tonic for an age that refuses to live at peace with the present.
Beginning with Maraqopa in 2012 and going further down the rabbit hole with Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son in 2014, Damien Jurado has finally (for now) completed his Maraqopa concept trilogy with Visions of Us on the Land, released March 18.
My friend Jimmy used to play guitar for the musical worship team at his church. One Sunday, after the service was over, a man approached Jimmy and said, “I don’t think you should put distortion on your guitar. It’s evil. It’s Satanic.”
Jimmy, being a well-humored and quick-thinking guy, turned the distortion down to 0% and strummed a few chords. “So this is okay? This is not evil?” he asked. The man replied, “Yeah. That sounds good.” Jimmy proceeded to incrementally increase the degree of distortion, play a few notes, and ask again at intervals, “So what about this? Is this evil?”
“How long will you turn your face away?”
Lamentations, the latest release from forward-thinking music collective Bifrost Arts, encourages Christians to make room in their worship for lament and sadness, and it gives what it encourages. Few things could be a better balm for the modern church.
Wistful and fierce, Deep Sea Diver’s SECRETS submits the strength of craft to the demands of feeling to yield an exquisitely well-balanced and self-controlled musical recollection of the (sometimes broken) promises of intimacy.
In an interview with the Stranger, lead singer and guitarist Jessica Dobson expressed how she wanted to push her boundaries on SECRETS:
Some musicians have an unmistakable sound. It only takes a few seconds to audibly recognize Billie Holiday in her penetrating rendition of “Love for Sale,” Glenn Gould and his emotive interpretation of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, or even the Punch Brothers in their progressively intricate compositions for bluegrass ensemble. What makes these artists so distinct? This question lies at the center of every musician’s creative journey. As an artist, one is always seeking a more unique self-expression through his or her medium. Unfortunately, this search is so ambiguous and esoteric, it drives many to give up before that desire can be fulfilled. No musician is born fully realized—creative self-discovery is a rite of passage for all artists. However, by examining the elements of creativity, it is possible to demystify the process and practically cultivate one’s own distinct musical identity.
Those elements can be condensed to two broad categories: tradition and originality. Every creative output inevitably traces back to some combination of these two aspects. The specific utilization and appropriation of each strongly influences the formation of one’s musical identity. One without the other leads to stagnation and artificiality. In contrast, the artists who experience the most distinct creative success are the ones who stand firmly on the experience of past tradition in order to step forward into new original territory. Let’s unpack this a little.
According to one study, 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women look at porn at least once a month. Those numbers aren’t all that different from the statistics of non-Christians. Is it at all strange to you that pornography is so popular? It’s singularly one of the most tacky things on the planet. It’s garish, badly acted, badly shot, badly directed, badly “written,” completely unbelievable, contrived, mindless, and absurd.
How do we normally condemn pornography? By calling it immoral, abusive, socially destructive, and shameful (all of which are certainly true). But shouldn’t it be enough that pornography is mind-numbingly tasteless? Somehow that isn’t enough. Which makes me think sin is very much connected to horribly bad taste. Let me explain.