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mrmando

Take THAT, Kebbie

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mrmando   

I'm officially outing Kebbie to let you know about her excellent article at CT Online last week.

Ultimately, this movement among Christian artists like [sufjan] Stevens is a theological one, linked to the same factors that brought about [sarah] Masen and [bill] Mallonee's forays into the wild of independent music: a refusal to separate one's faith from one's involvement in the world at large, and a recognition that although the entire creation is broken, God's grace and truth continue to permeate all spheres of life.

Apparently she's too modest to mention it herself.

Everyone seems to be writing for CT but me. Anywho, this week Kebbie won herself a new nemesis.

The commentary "Secular, Sacred, or Both" perpetuates the sort of self-justifying tripe which has been spewing out of contemporary Christian music (CCM) for the past decade: That we can love the things of the world and Christ at the same time. That we can enjoy the all the benefits of being a "star" and still demand the approval of God which He bestows on his humble servants.

Where is the sound doctrine and biblical basis for this argument? Why is it that you always find lots of rhetoric but little (if any) Scripture quoted in support of their position (other than a complete misunderstanding of Paul's "being all things to all people" and Christ eating with the sinners)?

It's all just an attempt to justify their attempt to have the world and Christ, too. And the problem is not what they're doing but who they are. Their passion is for themselves and their self-expression because that's who and what they love. You can't expect their music to reflect the depth of their commitment to God and their understanding of the world's fate, because their commitment is compromised. They're more concerned with winning the accolades of the world than saving them from hell.

Whew. On second thought, maybe the fact that everyone writes for CT Online isn't such a great thing (sorry, Kebbie). If you can't get in with well-reasoned insight, it seems that rage and innuendo will also do the trick.

So sharpen those pencils, and then use the erasers to tap out a message to Music@ChristianityToday.com in support of Kebbie.

Edited by mrmando

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kebbie   

Wow! That's the first time anything I've written has been called "tripe" (well, to my face, anyway). It's kind of an honor.

Thanks for linking to it, mrmando. I'll probably have more to say later, but I can't bring myself to read that guy's whole diatribe right now.

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Good article. Sadly, I can't find a link to the responses, though.

kebbie: not to worry, I was taught a lot worse while growing up.

Somebody around here had a great Scheaffer sig about christian artists not necessarily feeling called to do explicitly christian art. Such an idea from him reminds me of an interview that he patiently consented to in the old Christian Herald, I believe. It was 30 years ago. First question was something like, "Do you feel that your overly intellectual approach is a stumbling block to leading people to Christ?" (I'm not making this up). He patiently answered to the effect of "On the contrary!" and patiently answered many more similar questions.

There always has been and always will be resistance to doing good work in the name of Christ that does not explicitely call on Him, or reference Him.

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mrmando   

Rich, the feedback page for Kebbie's piece is here.

And that was LoneTomato's sig you're thinking of.

Edited by mrmando

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opus   

Simply put, you rock Kebbie.

Everyone seems to be writing for CT but me. Anywho, this week Kebbie won herself a new nemesis.

Wow, I just read the guy's diatribe, and I'm a little shaken.

They are "men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:5). Dense enough to believe that we will change the world by becoming more like them. Dense enough to think that by "crossing over" from Christian to secular and downplaying the message of Christ that they will somehow convert the secular world to Christian. Dense enough to think that this is some kind of new ministry concept. Dense enough to think that they can have all the trappings of being a rock star and all of the approval that God bestows upon those who commit their lives to ministry.

Interesting. To be quite honest, I rarely see anything resembling the desire to be a "star" in any of the artists mentioned in the article. Maybe his definition of "star" is different than mine, but Sufjan Stevens and Bill Mallonee are about as far from "star" as you can get.

When in the course of human history has real Christianity (as opposed to religious Christian culture) overtaken and consumed popular secular culture?

Okay, I realize that this might border on semantics, but are we really called to "overtake" and "consume" popular secular culture? Perhaps I'm one of those "dense" folks he refers to, but there are other ways to transform culture than merely consume it. It's that sort of antagonistic, "us vs. them" argument that has resulted in CCM becoming as marginalized and insular as it is right now. The charge to "consume" culture is the easy way out, IMHO. It's harder to work in something and redeem it from the inside out.

Unless CCM as a whole repents, I estimate it will take 10 years at the outside before CCM no longer exists.

That long? Darn, I was hoping it would be a lot sooner.

Edited by opus

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mrmando   
When in the course of human history has real Christianity (as opposed to religious Christian culture) overtaken and consumed popular secular culture?

Well, it began in AD 312 and lasted up through the Enlightenment, at least...

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Kebbie... to borrow a term from Steve Beard... I'm thunderstruck.

Fantastic work. Thanks for the time you spent on it!!

And thanks, MM, for linking to it! Somehow, I'd missed it.

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zalm   

One of the reasons I love this place is because I regularly come across pieces that y'all write that challenge, instruct and inspire me. Kebbie, your commentary did all of those. Thanks. I look forward to reading it a few more times.

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stu   

Good article. I have some meandering thoughts about it.

I have been thinking about the idea of the 'sacred/secular' divide again lately. The church I'm part of went through a phase a while back of stressing the importance of this kind of approach to culture - involvement, being there, 'church' as both a gathered meeting and a dispersed and everyday reality, and in general an emphasis on the idea of the Kingdom of God as an invisible, salt and light kind of thing, which occcurred primarily 'out there'. There was a real encouragement of people like musicians, artists, designers (which my church, largely comprising of students/graduates, is full of) to do their stuff as well as they can in the world, and not in some Christian huddle, and to express through these things a christian view of all of life, not just the churchy bits of it. Which I am all for, and I'm in a band which is trying to do something like that.

I think there was/is a bit of a problem though - in the rush to sacralise all of life, I think we lost a bit of what the word 'sacred' means, and we were left with not enough distinctions between one aspect of life - say, the desire to express oneself poetically and artistically in a song, and other - say, the need to corporately worship Jesus as Lord. Or, to choose an example particularly pertinant to my church, the distinction between a group of fellow christians having a meal together, having a laugh, enjoying each others company, and a group of christians taking communion and worshipping together together. What I wonder now is, do we in fact need to re-introduce, if not a divide exactly, then a distinction between the sacred and the very sacred. I wonder if after showing that everything is sacred, that no work of art should be seen as cut off and removed from the concern of God in and for the world, we need to then go back and make some things even more sacred.

In other words, out with the 'sacred/secular' divide, and in with a 'sacred/very sacred ' order.

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DanBuck   

It's an interesting question stu. As I've been calling for the end to CCM as a genre and market, I've had in the back of my head the idea that perhaps worship music requires a special place.

Although, perhaps the problem comes not in the fact that our (christians') music was sacred (directly about faith issues) but that that's ALL it was about. The great artisans of practically every other century but ours made their best stuff with sacred CONTENT. It was their worship, unapologetically. But it was so outstanding, it was critically heralded by sacred and secular thinkers alike.

I think the destruction of CCM and christian movies as genres will come not from the changing of our content (although there's nothing wrong with art that's about the human experience and not another song about bible studies) but from our withdrawl of overtly sacred pieces from the free market of ideas.

We've taken our ball and gone home. This had two effects, we became less appealing to the kids we were playing with before, and we've largely lost our ability to play with the ball well. The answer to both of these is to go back to those neighborhood kids and learn to play with them again. It doesn't mean we need to be just like them, but its the only way to move them and us to a greater understanding of the Big Ball Player in the sky.

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I almost hesitate to say anything, as I have not read kebbie's article and I kind of don't want to -- the whole secular-sacred debate is sooooo 15 years ago, for me -- but I have to say that, as one who has been attending an Orthodox church for the past two years, I really do appreciate the notion that there are some things (and people) that ARE "sacred" and/or "set apart", whether it is the centuries-old liturgical music that we sing, or the sacred space behind the iconostasis (where no one can go unless they have a reason to be there, such as priests, deacons, and readers who are fulfilling some sort of function), or the monastics who have committed themselves to a higher level of fasting than the rest of us, etc. But at the same time, I don't sense any "divide" between the Church and the rest of the world; rather, there is a sense in which these things FOCUS our attention on what is divine and spiritual and of higher value, and they become sacramental vessels through which the rest of the world is blessed.

So, I'm quite happy to have no instruments at all in church, much less rock bands playing forms of music that are a decade or two out of date in order to appear "relevant". I'm quite happy to say that there is something more "holy" about the music we sing in church -- and indeed, I think there should be. But this is not to denigrate the less sacred music outside the sanctuary. It's kind of like how couples should get married in church but save the sex for some place outside the building.

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stu   
It's kind of like how couples should get married in church but save the sex for some place outside the building.

...and preferably off the premises completely.

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kebbie   

Thanks for the good comments, stu and Peter. I just want to clarify that when I'm speaking of the "non-existant" sacred/secular divide, I'm speaking of that in terms of what it means for music in particular. I actually don't believe that any part of life is devoid of God's goodness--but to leave it at that would be irresponsible and non entirely true, since all parts of life are also shot through with sin and destruction. I apologize if my article came across as "baptising everything" or "rushing to sacramentalize," because that was certainly not my intention.

On the other hand, I don't know what I think about certain things being "more sacred"--communion, for example. I certainly experience the eucharist that way at my church, but I also find a lot of value in breaking bread and drinking wine with friends in our homes, and so honoring God. I suppose I am reluctant to say that something is "more sacred" because it takes place in a church or an intentionally "Christian" environment--part of me wants to argue that the rending of the temple veil at the time of Jesus' death broke down the previously distinct barriers between the holy of holies and the world as we know it. Of course, I am no theologian, and on the other hand, I experience distinctly religious rituals, such as those Peter mentioned, as highly meaningful to my life and experience as a Christian.

But not necessarily as more significant than sitting in an auditorium listening to Sufjan Stevens' devasting lullabyes which, more than any church service I've attended in the past few years, allowed me to experience in a powerful way the presence and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this makes me slightly heretical, but I'm just being honest.

I still have not read Jim Pruitt's response to my article, so I can't comment on that. I did skim the beginning and the end, and was startled to notice that I agreed with a few things he said--I'm one of those weird amalgams of Reformed and Anabaptist theology, so I have to admit I sympathize with statements about the bizarre oxymoron of Christian-dominated cultures (ie, Constantinianism). Perhaps I'll get around to it eventually, but at the moment I don't particularly want to hear what he has to say. Not that I brush off my critics--if anything, the opposite. I take everything to heart and I don't want to take this man's words to heart at the moment.

By the way, I introduced my husband to a new word last night when telling him about this--he had never heard something described as "tripe." It's his new favorite and he uses it whenever possible. smile.gif

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DanBuck   

There's a great use of this word in my favorite Simpson's Episodes (Lisa the Vegitarian).

When Lisa questions the ethics of eating meat, the teacher shows an educational video starring Troy McLure, of course. It is idiotic meat-friendly propoganda and as the film ends, Lisa mutters, "They don't actually expect us to swallow that tripe." And as the lights come up Principal Skinner enters with a plate of cow internal organs proclaiming, "And now as a special treat from the National Board of Beef, please enjoy this tripe." Kids: Yay!!!

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stu   

kebbie, it certainly didn't come across as baptising everything, and my comments are only really relating it to stuff I'm thinking about in broader terms at the moment, which are more theological, and not solely about music. But then, music is not just about music, so I'm, leaving this here for the moment. I've read Steve Turner on this stuff (although the book I read was called 'Imagine', so not sure if it is the same material), and I like it a lot. One thing that struck me in particularly was him imagining a series of concentric circles (is that the right word? little circles inside gradually bigger circles?), representing different subject matters. The smallest circle at the centre is the cross, and he said that it is the most difficult to make good art about, or at least the most difficult to make good art directly about, as in fact it influences all the other circles. (I am increasingly getting the feeling that the actual circles thing may have been my interpretation of what he wrote, but never mind...). I think this is similiar to what I mean by 'sacred/very sacred', in that there are times and spaces which can become particularly sacred, which can mediate particular depth and intimacy (which is not necessarily the same as intense feeling), and there are times and spaces which are important, and special, but less distinct, and draw less attention to themselves. You get this anyway, in pop music. There is music which primarily involves the body, and is about energy, and is great to wash up to (in my mind anyway), and there is music which somehow is more about the spirit, and is good to pray to. It's all sacred in the sense that it is all a gift, but there are moments, phrases, notes and rhythms which are really sacred .

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kebbie wrote:

: On the other hand, I don't know what I think about certain things being "more

: sacred"--communion, for example. I certainly experience the eucharist that way at

: my church, but I also find a lot of value in breaking bread and drinking wine with

: friends in our homes, and so honoring God.

There is definitely value in that -- but the Eucharist is about communing with God HIMSELF and not simply honouring God by sharing food with other people.

FWIW, in Orthodox churches -- at least the ones I've attended -- only fully paid-up members of the church can take part in the Eucharist, which is taken from the middle portion of the loaf of bread (also called the "lamb"), but anybody can have the antidoron or "blessed bread", which is taken from the rest of the loaf. I think that's a powerful way of breaking bread, as it were, EXCLUSIVELY (as Jesus did at the Last Supper) and INCLUSIVELY (as Jesus did when he fed the 5,000, the only miracle reported in all four gospels) at the same time.

And as a former paid-up Mennonite who attends his wife's Orthodox church but has not (yet) converted, I have to say that eating the "blessed bread" in a context of psalms and prayers isn't all that different from taking it's-just-a-symbol communion at the Anabaptist churches in which I was raised. So if I never do convert to Orthodoxy, I still feel I'm getting what I've always had. The question is, will I ever want MORE. All I know is that I'd feel like I was "cheating on" my church if I ever took communion at a Protestant church again. But that's for another thread ...

: I suppose I am reluctant to say that something is "more sacred" because it takes

: place in a church or an intentionally "Christian" environment--part of me wants to

: argue that the rending of the temple veil at the time of Jesus' death broke down the

: previously distinct barriers between the holy of holies and the world as we know it.

I don't know that it's just a question of environment. Consider the traditional emphasis on relics -- the bones of the saints and others who were specially touched by God, for example -- which were often believed to have kept some form of this power; you find this in the Book of Acts when it talks about people being healed by the napkins Paul touched or, for that matter, in the gospels, when the one woman is healed by touching Jesus' robe. (Cf. also the dead body raised by contact with Elisha's bones in II Kings.) Again, this is all rather off-topic and we've probably discussed it in other threads; I just want to underscore that, for some Christians at least, the emphasis on things being "set apart" or "sacred" has a reality beyond mere architecture.

: By the way, I introduced my husband to a new word last night when telling him

: about this--he had never heard something described as "tripe."

I always associate this word with a line in Chicken Run (2000). smile.gif

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mrmando   
: By the way, I introduced my husband to a new word last night when telling him

: about this--he had never heard something described as "tripe."

I always associate this word with a line in Chicken Run (2000).  smile.gif

Me, I go back to that line in The Screwtape Letters about tripe and onions.

Full confession: This ain't the first time Jim Pruitt has gone after an A&Fer. Yours truly put in a few rounds with him, once.

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I

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kebbie   

BBB, I'm sorry my article and its concerns seem hopelessly irrelevant to you. Actually, scratch that--I'm glad they do; I'm glad you're no longer wrestling with what must seem to you (and many others) a fundamental issue.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there for whom these ideas are new and worldview-shaking. That is clearly the case at CT Music, where the kind of articles I write are in the distinct minority.

That's not to say that I'm somehow doing groundbreaking work here--I'm not. But there are people for whom the ground has not yet been broken, and these people may not read Francis Schaeffer yet. They read CT Music, and if I or someone like me end up pointing them to the meatier sources, so much the better.

I see this every day in my work with college students, which was inspired by the fact that my own worldview was turned upside when I went to college. Someone introduced these ideas about music, art, and faith into my consciousness, and I gobbled them up and synthesized them, along with all the other material I could get hold of.

Everyone has to start somewhere. And though I am still young now, it seems unfairly myopic to dismiss my efforts all together just because you got over them 20 years ago.

Also, I'll be honest: at this point, I don't really care what happens to CCM. It can stick around if it wants to. I'm just glad there are Christians/artists like Sufjan Stevens who chose to bypass it all together.

Peter and stu, your writing on sacred/secular/more sacred has given me a lot to consider. Good thoughts!

Edited by kebbie

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kebbie wrote:

: Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there for whom these ideas are new and

: worldview-shaking. That is clearly the case at CT Music, where the kind of articles I

: write are in the distinct minority.

This is so sad. Campus Life, CT's youth magazine, used to review secular albums all the time; I remember reading through the back issues from the 1970s when I was at Bible school and marvelling at how Elton John etc. would get four stars or whatever while DeGarmo & Key got only two. This was POSSIBLE, it was DONE.

In the mid-1980s, when I subscribed to Campus Life myself, there were still cover stories on U2 and significant write-ups on Los Lobos and the like. I DISCOVERED bands like these through that magazine.

Then I checked out the issues my younger siblings (my brother is 8 years younger than me, my sister 9 years younger) were reading in the mid-1990s. And all the music being reviewed was CCM. And most of the reviews were not really reviews, they were just gushing fan letters written by the magazine's readers.

This is why I keep saying I will be happy if there is never a "Christian film industry" to match our "Christian music industry". So long as we have failed to create a ghetto for ourselves, we are compelled to look at all art as art, period; this is the way it was with music in the 1970s, and this is the way it is with film now. But once that ghetto exists, we are compelled to live and move and breathe and have our being in that ghetto.

All to say, kebbie, what you're doing there is not breaking new ground so much as trying to restore CT and its readership to their roots, and I hope you can draw some strength from the knowledge that there is a tradition you can appeal to, there.

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mrmando   

Well, I'm not surprised that Kebbie's topic is "15 years ago" for many of us, as indeed it is for me. That topic is, after all, the raison d'etre of this board, if any topic can be so called.

The point of my starting this thread was not to rehash discussion of Kebbie's topic but to congratulate her on her piece and try to encourage some of us to respond to Pruitt's "counterpoint" piece. Not having had much success trying to reason with Pruitt myself, I was interested to see how some of y'all might make out.

That being said, there's nothing wrong with occasionally reviewing the process that led us to our current positions on the topic

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