What are we aiming for, anyway?

This is not so much a follow up to my own last post, but a continuation on the themes that James brought up on his “Cutting edge creativity” post ( http://www.artistsforchrist.net/2008/11/cutting-edge-creativity/).

I’d like to pose this suggestion – perhaps people exist who are managing to bridge the secular-spiritual divide. I’m going to throw two names out there to get us thinking about this: Bob Dylan and Lauryn Hill. Having briefly looked at where their music fits into this discussion, I will then turn to asking what form of witness we are looking for from musicians in particular (although this could easily be applied to artists too).

Bob Dylan

A youthful Bob Dylan

A youthful Bob Dylan

I didn’t know a great deal about Bob Dylan until the last couple of years when friends at university started singing his praises, in particular one of my housemates who loved to sing “Blowing in the wind”, a Dylan classic. Dylan is an interesting man to consider in terms of his relationship with Christianity: he was raised up in a Jewish family, and underwent a high-profile conversion to Christianity in the late 70’s. For a few years following his conversion, he performed only Christian material, and was vocal in speaking about his new found faith. The Christian community loved it.

However, it was not to last long: Dylan’s music became more subtle in its material, he became far more cryptic in expressing his beliefs, and many suggested he may have turned away from Christianity. But it is interesting to note that a huge amount of Jesus-inspired imagery and sentiment still comes through Dylan’s music, take for example “”You saw my picture in the Corpus Christi Tribune/ Underneath it, it said, ‘A man with no alibi’/ You went out on a limb to testify for me, you said I was with you/ Then when I saw you break down in front of the judge and cry real tears/ It was the best acting I saw anybody do.”, and think on its significance in terms of justification from sin.

For a more in depth look at Bob Dylan’s faith, check out this article at crossrhythms –http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/music/Bob_Dylan/7795/p1/

Lauryn Hill

I’ve loved Lauryn’s music from the Fugees, through The Miseducation, and have been very excited from the small amount that has been heard from her more recently. The main reason I refer to her here is because of her “MTV Unplugged 2” appearance, in which she clearly spoke of her love for Jesus, although again much of it was wrapped up in picture langauge. Check out an example below:

This is not a lady who “has it together”. You’re not going to find her leading worship at Soul Survivor any time soon. In fact, if most recent reports from her gigs are anything to go by, then she seems to be going through something of a breakdown. But we must ask ourselves whether or not this writes her off from being used by God in the public sphere to make powerful music that takes people “out of themselves”, and gets them thinking about spiritual things.


So what is it about these three that we would change to fit into our expectations of what a follower of Jesus should say or sing? Would we prefer that Dylan only sang the material of his outright preaching days? Do we want Lauryn Hill to be all “together” before she starts singing songs about God?

I think a core issue here is that often we are looking for a “creedal” affirmation of faith – for musicians to sign a doctrinal basis, or spell out clearly what they do and don’t believe. This may be because it then makes us more confident in our own beliefs – the idea of “if that famous person believes what I believe, I feel more confident in it too”. I don’t propose that this is entirely wrong (although is not a very good foundation for belief), but it is more selfish – the real purpose we have to address is what will help those who are not yet in a relationship with God to come closer to Him. Remember that there are many people who really would like to believe in many ways, but often have misconceptions about God that are holding them back. Are Tim Hughes/Delirious/Kirk Franklin/Da Truth/Shai Linne-esque vessels the only ones that God can use?

These are important questions as we consider what cutting edge Christian creativity should look like. If you want more food for thought, think on people like Johnny Cash or Bono (from U2). Now I throw it open to your reading this: what is it that God wants to do through us? Is He glorified simply through us mentioning His name? If not, how do we distinguish what is to His glory?