Thursday, August 17, 2017

What Have We Become?

With all that is going on in the world, this DC Talk song came to my mind. It seems that there is a lot of hate and selfishness in our world today. Each of us needs to examine our hearts to see what darkness lies inside.

What Have We Become?
(performed by DC Talk)

A preacher shuns his brother
Cause his bride's a different color
And this is not acceptable
His papa taught him so
It was love that he'd been preaching
But this was overreaching
The boundaries stretchin' further
Than his heart would choose to go

Like an angel with no wings
Like a kingdom with no king

What have we become?
A self-indulgent people
What have we become?
Tell me where are the righteous ones?
What have we become?
In a world degenerating
What have we become?

Speak your mind, look out for yourself
The answer to it all is a life of wealth
Grab all you can cause you live just once
You got the right to do whatever you want
Don't worry about others or where you came from
It ain't what you were, it's what you have become

Mom and Dad are fightin'
As Rosie lies there crying
For once again she's overheard
Regrets of their mistake
With Christmas bells a-ringing
Little Rosie'd leave them grieving
The gift she'd give her family
Would be the pills she'd take

An inconvenient child
She wasn't worth their while

What about love?
What about God?
What about holiness?
What about mercy, compassion and selflessness?

You know it's true
He is there for me and you
Doesn't matter what you do

What have we become?
Have we come undone?
What have we become?
Have we come undone?
What have we become?

With selfish...
Selfish people
When you gonna learn?
Everyone of us
Gathered 'round in trust
What have we become?

Written by Adam Bradley Smith, Brooke Barrettsmith • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Unmerited Grace

The last ten minutes of a Steve Taylor interview on the Cultivated podcast  from April 15, 2017, describes the tension felt by Steve Taylor and a great many other artists.

Interviewer: “I want to talk about the impulse to be an artist, the impulse to make these things and send them out into the world. How would you describe that for yourself? … It takes a certain audacity to say, ‘I’m going to play music … or here is all this money, go make a film.’ Where does that audacity come from for you?” …

Steve: “If you were a totally well-rounded individual you wouldn’t feel the need to get on stage in the first place.” …

Interviewer: “Richard Pryor’s quote, ‘Happy well-adjusted people don’t get into this business.’”

Steve: “What makes me want to make things and show them to people? It is there and it is probably not a good thing.… Where you wake up every day and think ‘what am I going to do to get people to work for me and what am I going to do to get people to like me’ and it is all about self-promotion? It is part of the job and you can’t not do it. But it doesn’t square well with our Christian faith.… Making stuff is good, it is a high calling and we need more followers of Jesus to be doing it as well, but it has a dark side…. It will never be enough.”

I do not have definitive answers to the questions Steve Taylor is raising, but I do think there must be more to this. Taylor says that the self-promotion necessary to be successful as an artist “doesn’t square well with our Christian faith.” He may be right there. Jesus never promoted himself, he promoted a message. Perhaps that is part of the difference. The message can be something as simple as wanting to entertain the masses with movies or songs or it may be something more profound. Taylor has important messages for the world. Sometimes his message is, “Christian, give your head a shake, do you really think it would be alright for a person to blow-up an abortion clinic?” Sometimes it is much subtler like the messages in the song, “A Life Preserved.” One of my favourite lines from that song is “Gratitude’s too cheap a word for all you’ve reassembled, from a spirit broken and unnerved, a life preserved.” The message of this song is worthy of promotion.

Perhaps the artist could leave the promotion to others. Agents and producers can promote an artist without some of the difficulties (of course, they will have their own difficulties because they make their living from the success of the individual). Fans can be the greatest promoters of the artist; but how does one get the word out to the fan without a certain degree of self-promotion? Steve Taylor has created a great description of this with a video produced by Splint Entertainment called “The Future of the Music Industry.” The video reminds me of the many brilliant songs that toil in obscurity because they never got radio play or fan support or any kind of promotion. The song, movie, painting, poem, book, or other work of art may be a phenomenal work, but if no one knows about it, it will not be recognized for what it is. How does one get the message out? How does one make a living and continue to do art?

Annie Dillard, a writer who has achieved a degree of success, would likely be known to a great many more people and be considered a bigger success if she had done more self-promotion. Madeline L’Engle nearly gave up writing completely. The Wikipedia article about L'Engle quotes her as saying, “‘With all the hours I spent writing, I was still not pulling my own weight financially.’ Soon she discovered both that she could not give it up and that she had continued to work on fiction subconsciously.”[1]

As I reach the end of this commentary, I am left with many more questions than answers. I struggle to find a brilliant conclusion that will sum it all up and put a bow on the gift I wish to leave for the artists of the world. Maybe one day I will return and add a post-script that solves the problem and answers the questions. For now, I leave us with 123 words from Annie Dillard, which, at the pace with which Dillard claims,[2] likely took her the better part of a day to write. In this paragraph, she describes the beauty of writing and one almost hears her say that the emotion is all the reward an author needs.

At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then - and only then - it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way. It is a parcel bound in ribbons and bows; it has two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you would hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk's.[3]

I hear Steve Taylor's voice say, “Yeah, but my family’s gotta eat!”

Works Cited:

Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.

[1] "Madeleine L'Engle". Awards & Honors: 2004 National Humanities Medalist. National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
[2] See her book, The Writing Life.
[3] (Dillard 1990, 75)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Common Sense

I am not sure who it was that first said, “Common sense is not all that common.” Many have said the same thing in a variety of ways and Mac McAnally has a song that expresses this. “Take It Easy,” from the 1994 album Knots, pokes fun at the TV talk show hosts who earnestly dispense common sense. It is simply one more reminder to listen to advice with discernment.

Take It Easy
(Words and Music by Mac McAnally)

A little boy walks in a diner,
Where his Momma cleans up at night
As she walked out from the kitchen,
She could see something wasn't right
He said Momma I got a problem,
And I really need to talk to you.
I love this girl but were fighting all the time
And I wanna know what to do
Momma said

Take it easy, when it gets too hard
Make it hard, if it don't seem hard enough
Don't you worry child, unless it makes you feel better
That's all I know about love

Now the man the next booth over,
A psychoanalyst by trade
He took and wrote down on a napkin,
What the cleaning lady said.
Now he's up on all the talk shows,
He's got the books and video tapes
He says for much more money,
Than a cleaning lady makes
He says,

Take it easy, when it gets too hard
Make it hard, if it don't seem hard enough
Don't you worry child, unless it makes you feel better
That's all I know about love

Some people go to a great expense,
To see who they want to be
I believe a little common sense,
Is gonna trickle down eventually
If you

Take it easy, when it gets too hard
Make it hard, if it don't seem hard enough
Don't you worry child, unless it makes you feel better
That's all I know about love

Take it easy, when it gets too hard
Make it hard, if it don't seem hard enough
Don't you worry child, unless it makes you feel better
That's all I know about love

Take it easy
Make it hard
Don’t you worry child, unless it makes you feel better
That's all I know about love

Take it
Make it
Don’t you
That’s all I know about
That’s all I know
That’s all I know about love