Yesterday in my post about the Purple Door Art & Music festival, I not only tried to give you a glimpse of the mayhem and dirt and crowds of these kinds of outdoor music events, but a bigger picture of the ministry opportunities, the celebration of a Kingdom vision of music and art, and how we play a role by offering thoughtful books that can serve as a foundation—a badly needed apologetic and strategic vision for this kind of counter-cultural music work, which should be rooted in solid theology and spiritual depth and aesthetic maturity. We celebrated the work of the sponsors, affirmed some of the undergound ministries that coalesce around these kinds of events, and gave a shout out to our space-mates and patron saints of the art gallery, Burnt Toast Vinyl, and explained how great it is that the founders of Purple Door include stuff like a lit magazine (The Hinge) and a juried art show. The kids have a great time who go there, we get to hang out and sell books, and, this year, I was asked to speak. I’ve done talks from one of the stages some years, but this time I did a full workshop on the arts, where I feverishly shared a whole bunch of theological and Biblical guidelines for thinking about cultural engagement, and ways to maintain a transforming “in the world but not of it” hope for impacting in normative ways the artistic subcultures we find ourselves in. Or don’t find ourselves in as the case may be. Messiah College friend and art major Ali Wunder did a great job bringing her practical experience to bear in our workshop (and she quoted the marvelous and rich Walking on Water, the sweet book on faith and art written by Madeline L’Engle.) Thanks Ali!
As we pondered this together, including in long, loud conversations afterwards, shouting over the bands in the mid-day heat, a few of us at least agreed that God’s people should be active and excellent in their artistic endeavors, that all sorts of art forms should be explored for God’s sake (and in service to our neighbors, as Cal Seerveld reminds us, offering the good hope of a faithful God, like after Noah, where the bird came “bearing fresh olives leaves.”) And, we mostly agreed, that way too often, the Christian community—especially those of the evangelical CCM music sub-culture—merely mimics the world around us. Such practices end up standing Jesus’s holy mandate from John 17 on its head; we end up “of the world but not in it.” Indeed, some of the most popular bands in the festival circuit tangibly breath the Spirit of the world, copy-catting whatever is popular (but just a bit safer than the real thing, with just a spiritual gloss.) Consequentially, we have sequestered ourselves in our own bubble, performing for our own, pretending to be hip. Very much of the spirit of the world, very much not engaged in it or significantly contributing. What a shame, what a sham.
My friend Ken Heffner, whose very cool job it is to book bands at Calvin College, in Michigan, tells of an evangelical CCM booking agent calling him saying some two-bit band of youngsters “sounds just like Hootie and the Blowfish.” Ken surprised the guy by saying that, well, Calvin just had had Hootie (who is, anyway, a Christian man himself) and didn’t need a cheap imitation. Then said agent said he had a nifty and Godly duo that sounded just like the Indigo Girls that Ken might hire. Well, Ken had the Indigo Girls booked, and good converstions planned around their socially active and artfully delievered songs. Again, the agent couldn’t believe it. Ken may have gently scolded him, calling him to promote Christian acts who can be allusive, nuanced, creatively orginial, and deeply informed by faith, not just cheaply aping the best, and adding a bit of perfunctory faith-based icing on the cake.
Well, it comes as no surprise that this whole crazy business has finally been explored signifcantly, and Heffner’s lectures about wise Christian engagement in the culture are part of the book. Yes, rock critic Andrew Beaujon’s new Body Piercing Saved My Life: Exploring the Phenomenon of Christian Rock (De Capo Press; $16.95—see his great blogsite about the book, here) has a good chapter about Ken and his work at Calvin, informed as it is by Seerveld’s aesthetic theory and a Reformational worldview’s social thinking, nurtured by years of studying the best thinkers about U2, and other important cultural creatives. Mr. Beaujon seemed truly intrigued, as many are, that a conservative Christian college would be found most comfortable hosting everyone from Bruce Cockburn to Sufjian Stevens, from Rosie Thomas to Anathello, from T-Bone Burnett to LA Symphony, from Pierce Pettis to Pedro the Lion, from Jan Krist to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Denison Witmer to 16 Horsepower, Brooks Williams to Ballydose. It goes without saying that he notes The Much-Discussed Dylan Gig at Messiah last year (the tamberine man’s first at a Christian college.) Etc.
Andrew B, interestingly–very interestingly—makes it clear that he is not a follower of Christ. He is not, therefore, a partisan of this whole social scene. Nor does he have an axe to grind, cynical and self-righteous. No, he just wanted to figure it out, fascinated as he was by the scene. He did a finely-written and widely-read article a year or so ago for Spin, a trendy secular alt rock magazine which propelled him further into the highly commercialized CCM world and its off-shoots. If you visit his blog (see above link) you’ll see the attention he is now getting. Good stuff!
Mr. Beaujon has done his work. He’s been to the cheesy shows, toured the right places, been to the big festivals, haunted the underground joints. He interviews everybody—from Tooth & Nail folks to some of the parallel universes of the emergent congregations, like Mars Hill Church in Seattle. And he makes fun of what needs mocking, scratches his head at nearly all the right places, and offers compelling stories where the interviews are, in fact, quite compelling. And there is that great Calvin College chapter. In one scene, after a conference organized by Heffner (The Calvin Festival of Faith & Music, a sister event to the famous Festival of Faith & Writing) the narrator tells of going out to a pub with guys like Steve Stockman, David Dark, Bill Mallonee, and a handful of others from the event. My teenage son was one of those, so, in this little way, he’s in the book. Ahhhh, Hearts & Minds again in the thick of it. Ha, ha! Actually, that conversation, as reported, is a very good one. I wish I could have been there, and I bet you do too!
Purple Door is even discussed in Body Piercing Saved My Life. Much of the stuff we have shared about in these last posts are in one manner or another described and evaluated. I think more often than not, Beaujon gets it nearly right. (I’m pretty sure he doesn’t fully understand the aformentioned Mr. Heffner and he seems confused by the ever-brillant and always jovial David Dark.) It is, without doubt, the most important book yet done on the CCM world, and the effort for a faithful and open evangelical engagement with popular entertainment. We’ve had fun carrying it these past months (hate to sound smug, you know, but why-o-why aren’t other Christian retailers pushing it?) Anybody who frequents this world, anybody who cares about it, anybody that is half-way interested in music or culture, faith or the arts, should pick up this book. That it unfolds almost as a travel memoir, with good journalistic reportage, written by a non-Christian, on a mainstream publishing house, just makes it all that much more interesting. If you aren’t into this whole scene (but still find yourself reading) why not get this for somebody you know—-somebody under 30, perhaps.
I’ll tell ya what: here comes a great, great deal. While supplies last (and I’ve got plenty) I will offer a free copy of the other great book on these themes, At the Crossroads: An Insider’s Look at the Past, Present and Future of Contemporary Christian Music written just a few years back, by Charlie Peacock, perhaps the most thoughtful guy working now within the industy. (Charlie, I might add, was nominated for a Grammy last year for his hip, and very exciting instrumental jazz recording, Love Press Ex-Curio.)
We’ve got some hardback copies of At the Crossroads that we will give away FREE if you buy Body Piercing Saved My Life. Charlie was at Purple Door two years ago, and I would guess that anyone who cares about music, the sorts of issues we try to raise here, who heard my PD talk on the high calling of the contemporary arts, or anybody who likes to think a bit about the relationship of Christianity and contemporary culture will benefit from Mr. Peacock’s wise insight. Read alongside the Body Piercing expose, and you’ve got quite a double-punch. Or as Dylan put it, a Shot O Love.
Just e-mail us at read@heartsandmindsbooks and tell us your address and how you want to pay. You know the drill from our website, we assume–you can pay with a cc (here or call it in) or we can just send along an invoice and you can pay later by check. Tell us that you heard of this special blog deal and get the free book.