A Christian Artist Who Isn’t

I’d like to introduce you to a lovely young woman from New Zealand.

Brooke Fraser.

You may not be familiar with her. She’s a singer/songwriter who is gaining an international reputation for her thoughtful, creative music. Hopefully you will become acquainted with her, because her songs are quite beautiful, with a unique sound and a touch of whimsy.

So why am I talking about a kiwi musician on a writing blog?

I follow the publishing industry in general, but the Christian fiction (CBA) arm specifically. The discussion of what is a Christian artist/writer/book is a never ending cycle of back and forth.

As for Brooke, she seems to have two distinct careers. She has released three albums for the mainstream, each progressively doing better first in New Zealand, then internationally. However, you may have heard her music on Sunday mornings as well. Her songs “Hosanna” and “Desert Song” are known worldwide in contemporary worship services, and she has done worship with Hillsongs United in Australia (sometimes as Brooke Ligertwood, her married name).

The interesting part is this dichotomy, where she is a successful artist to a mainstream audience, and can write and sing for a Christian audience without losing her other identity. When asked about “tension” with these two different worlds, she replies in an interview on an Australian website for Christian music:

You can’t put what God is doing on this earth into a box… it can’t be summarised into tidy categories. Whatever God is doing through my life, it’s not just about me. There’s a stirring happening in God’s Church, through the creative arts, creative ministries and other things too… and as time moves on we get closer and closer to Jesus coming back. God has a plan for the whole earth and it involves everyone one of us doing our part — it’s not necessarily going to look like something we can easily understand on the natural. I write worship songs that are for the building up of God’s people in the Church, and I love that because I’m able to express really clearly, and declare uncompromisingly my love for Jesus. But at the same time I recognise the importance of my other songs as being like parables… taking Church to people who would never walk into a church…

She says in the article that she doesn’t consider herself a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artist and actually resists it strongly because of concerns about “merchandising the gospel.” I know other artists won’t identify with CCM because of concerns of being pigeonholed and possibly reducing their audience, but I’ve never found a major artist who refuses identification with CCM due to such a conviction.

I like the part where she recognizes some of her songs can be directly worshipful, and others are like parables. One of my favorite bands is Switchfoot, and I think many of their songs work in this way.

Songwriting is a different skill than writing fiction, but I believe the ideas brought out by Brooke in her interview and career offer insight to those pursuing writing fiction and wondering where their work fits. I think a fiction example would be Ted Dekker, who is writing best-sellers in the thriller market, while still pursuing stories that speak more directly to a Christian aspect. His books certainly fit a parable.

I know there is a lot to discuss as far as marketing, reaching audiences, and message, but I think having the concept of parable versus being a direct expression of faith in fiction is one to consider.

For my writer friends – where do your stories fit? Parable or more directly speaking to issues of God and faith? What are books that have done both well?

Oh, and go check out Brooke’s website for some refreshing music!

A Christian Artist Who Isn’t

I’d like to introduce you to a lovely young woman from New Zealand.

Brooke Fraser.

You may not be familiar with her. She’s a singer/songwriter who is gaining an international reputation for her thoughtful, creative music. Hopefully you will become acquainted with her, because her songs are quite beautiful, with a unique sound and a touch of whimsy.

So why am I talking about a kiwi musician on a writing blog?

I follow the publishing industry in general, but the Christian fiction (CBA) arm specifically. The discussion of what is a Christian artist/writer/book is a never ending cycle of back and forth.

As for Brooke, she seems to have two distinct careers. She has released three albums for the mainstream, each progressively doing better first in New Zealand, then internationally. However, you may have heard her music on Sunday mornings as well. Her songs “Hosanna” and “Desert Song” are known worldwide in contemporary worship services, and she has done worship with Hillsongs United in Australia (sometimes as Brooke Ligertwood, her married name).

The interesting part is this dichotomy, where she is a successful artist to a mainstream audience, and can write and sing for a Christian audience without losing her other identity. When asked about “tension” with these two different worlds, she replies in an interview on an Australian website for Christian music:

You can’t put what God is doing on this earth into a box… it can’t be summarised into tidy categories. Whatever God is doing through my life, it’s not just about me. There’s a stirring happening in God’s Church, through the creative arts, creative ministries and other things too… and as time moves on we get closer and closer to Jesus coming back. God has a plan for the whole earth and it involves everyone one of us doing our part — it’s not necessarily going to look like something we can easily understand on the natural. I write worship songs that are for the building up of God’s people in the Church, and I love that because I’m able to express really clearly, and declare uncompromisingly my love for Jesus. But at the same time I recognise the importance of my other songs as being like parables… taking Church to people who would never walk into a church…

She says in the article that she doesn’t consider herself a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artist and actually resists it strongly because of concerns about “merchandising the gospel.” I know other artists won’t identify with CCM because of concerns of being pigeonholed and possibly reducing their audience, but I’ve never found a major artist who refuses identification with CCM due to such a conviction.

I like the part where she recognizes some of her songs can be directly worshipful, and others are like parables. One of my favorite bands is Switchfoot, and I think many of their songs work in this way.

Songwriting is a different skill than writing fiction, but I believe the ideas brought out by Brooke in her interview and career offer insight to those pursuing writing fiction and wondering where their work fits. I think a fiction example would be Ted Dekker, who is writing best-sellers in the thriller market, while still pursuing stories that speak more directly to a Christian aspect. His books certainly fit a parable.

I know there is a lot to discuss as far as marketing, reaching audiences, and message, but I think having the concept of parable versus being a direct expression of faith in fiction is one to consider.

For my writer friends – where do your stories fit? Parable or more directly speaking to issues of God and faith? What are books that have done both well?

Oh, and go check out Brooke’s website for some refreshing music!

An Image in My Head

Most people don’t wonder about a body floating in the water.

Unless you are a writer.


The body is just to the left



That’s the image that came to me many moons ago. I saw in my mind a body floating in the water, in the ocean to be specific. Then I saw a boat run into the body, and the shocked fisherman frightened by his find.
Did I mention the man was from Thailand?

This is how my work in progress started. An image in my head. I started asking questions. Who is this person? Why are they dead? How did they end up here?

I learned that it was Travis Dawson, and that he was a missionary in Thailand. I discovered he had a sister named Jenna who was in medical school. She was a spunky younger sister type, and she didn’t take too well to the news of her brother’s death. She was impulsive enough to jet off to Asia to try and figure out what happened. Oh, and her slacker friend Derek Stephens, who had done a backpacking trip in Thailand previously, decided to tag along.

I don’t know how other authors come up with their story ideas, but I usually have images that beg to be explored. Yesterday for the end of the CSFF Tour I talked about whether a writer has their basic thrust as message-first vs. art-first. The responses from Dona, Becky, and Morgan made me think about my own process.

You have the set-up for my novel above. I thought for a time that there would be an aspect of spiritual warfare between the Christian missionaries and the strongholds in SE Asia. That didn’t fit the story though. Then I saw how Jenna had been estranged from her faith due to family trials when younger, and she would be challenged in them while dealing with something bigger than she could handle in Thailand. Travis uncovered a human trafficking ring, and this lead to his death and would be a major challenge to Jenna.

It seems that I had the story kernel that wanted told at first, and the themes of faith and human trafficking came out from there. I believe there’s always a theme when we write – otherwise what is the point of writing? Even if a writer says there’s not, there is something of their worldview getting in there.

Both the message and art pathways are valid ways to begin, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Like I said in yesterday’s post, a message driven book must have a strong story and sparkling writing to not be bogged down by the message. It may not appear organic. But the “let’s see where the muse takes us” approach can end up with a wishy-washy theme that doesn’t give a work of fiction the power only a story can bring.

What say my writing buddies? What is your approach, and why do you do it that way?

An Image in My Head

Most people don’t wonder about a body floating in the water.

Unless you are a writer.


The body is just to the left



That’s the image that came to me many moons ago. I saw in my mind a body floating in the water, in the ocean to be specific. Then I saw a boat run into the body, and the shocked fisherman frightened by his find.
Did I mention the man was from Thailand?

This is how my work in progress started. An image in my head. I started asking questions. Who is this person? Why are they dead? How did they end up here?

I learned that it was Travis Dawson, and that he was a missionary in Thailand. I discovered he had a sister named Jenna who was in medical school. She was a spunky younger sister type, and she didn’t take too well to the news of her brother’s death. She was impulsive enough to jet off to Asia to try and figure out what happened. Oh, and her slacker friend Derek Stephens, who had done a backpacking trip in Thailand previously, decided to tag along.

I don’t know how other authors come up with their story ideas, but I usually have images that beg to be explored. Yesterday for the end of the CSFF Tour I talked about whether a writer has their basic thrust as message-first vs. art-first. The responses from Dona, Becky, and Morgan made me think about my own process.

You have the set-up for my novel above. I thought for a time that there would be an aspect of spiritual warfare between the Christian missionaries and the strongholds in SE Asia. That didn’t fit the story though. Then I saw how Jenna had been estranged from her faith due to family trials when younger, and she would be challenged in them while dealing with something bigger than she could handle in Thailand. Travis uncovered a human trafficking ring, and this lead to his death and would be a major challenge to Jenna.

It seems that I had the story kernel that wanted told at first, and the themes of faith and human trafficking came out from there. I believe there’s always a theme when we write – otherwise what is the point of writing? Even if a writer says there’s not, there is something of their worldview getting in there.

Both the message and art pathways are valid ways to begin, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Like I said in yesterday’s post, a message driven book must have a strong story and sparkling writing to not be bogged down by the message. It may not appear organic. But the “let’s see where the muse takes us” approach can end up with a wishy-washy theme that doesn’t give a work of fiction the power only a story can bring.

What say my writing buddies? What is your approach, and why do you do it that way?

Thoughts on Violence in Word and Deed

It seems in the blogosphere there has been new conversation on the topic of language use and violence in Christian art. Note that the ideas presented aren’t necessarily new, but a healthy conversation is brewing in a few different sectors. 

Mike Duran is always up to stirring up contention, discussion on his blog Decompose. He uses the example of the counting of different potentially offensive terms in the movie The Blind Side to springboard into a discussion of language in Christian fiction. His recent novel The Resurrection had a jaded construction worker, who couldn’t say damn or hell because it was produced for the CBA market.

In the recent issue of Relevant, Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay asks if “offensive art can be Christian.” He starts off talking about a secular band declaring their allegiance  to Jesus in a song that also drops an F-bomb. Does the fact that they used such a word demean their otherwise Christian content? For a little more food for thought, check out this quote from the article:

We have come so far from reflecting the rebel Jesus in our art and cultural engagement that we do not recognize Him when He surfaces. I still wrestle with the fact that Jesus hung out with prostitutes not simply to tell them what they were doing wrong, but to love them where they were. He was in the world, and His agenda was to love. He was not looking for reasons to be offended. He was not looking for reasons to stay home, safely out of harm’s way. We weren’t set apart in order to live apart. We were called God’s own so we could confidently go into the world. 

 In a contrary grain, another author writes in Relevant that “Christian artists should (not) use violence.” He uses the term “violence” to include gratuitous sex and language. His contention is that the world is so jaded that using rough violence or stark violence or sex doesn’t faze the world anymore. When our morals were on a similar level, works like Flannery O’Connor’s provided a shock that hit complacency. Now when modern art tries to find new levels to shock and awe, then perhaps the answer  for the Christian artist is to paint a picture of beauty to be the contrast.

Whatever should be done, it is clear the Christian artist faces a peculiar enemy today: the expanding boredom of the modern age, which has the power to wash out even the severest expressions, and violence is its latest casualty. It is the constant duty of the Christian artist to outwit this amoebic tendency to consume and excrete, to make retail of riches. She must forge new paths of expression and restore old ones. When the world builds for itself a Tower of Babel, then she must paint a pile of rubble, and then when it is knocked down and the peoples wander in the refuse, she must paint a glittering city with jasper walls and foundations of precious stone. 

 A very intriguing article, and if you have to pick one, I think this would be it.

Finally, the flavor du jour here has been The Civil Wars. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Joy Williams describes the freedom she now experiences being out of the Contemporary Christian Music realm.

“The process of being with John Paul  (White, her band partner) is this wonderful discovery of creative freedom that I didn’t know that I had,” she said. “I started in a very restrictive genre of music. But the reality is that I’m able to write a lot more about the world around me, if it’s about faith or about cigarettes, or about murder or adultery, or about a movie that I saw, or a book we’ve both read.”  Emphasis mine.

I like to put out interesting thoughts and articles for people to explore more. If you have thoughts on it, I’d enjoy your comments here as well.

Thoughts on Violence in Word and Deed

It seems in the blogosphere there has been new conversation on the topic of language use and violence in Christian art. Note that the ideas presented aren’t necessarily new, but a healthy conversation is brewing in a few different sectors. 

Mike Duran is always up to stirring up contention, discussion on his blog Decompose. He uses the example of the counting of different potentially offensive terms in the movie The Blind Side to springboard into a discussion of language in Christian fiction. His recent novel The Resurrection had a jaded construction worker, who couldn’t say damn or hell because it was produced for the CBA market.

In the recent issue of Relevant, Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay asks if “offensive art can be Christian.” He starts off talking about a secular band declaring their allegiance  to Jesus in a song that also drops an F-bomb. Does the fact that they used such a word demean their otherwise Christian content? For a little more food for thought, check out this quote from the article:

We have come so far from reflecting the rebel Jesus in our art and cultural engagement that we do not recognize Him when He surfaces. I still wrestle with the fact that Jesus hung out with prostitutes not simply to tell them what they were doing wrong, but to love them where they were. He was in the world, and His agenda was to love. He was not looking for reasons to be offended. He was not looking for reasons to stay home, safely out of harm’s way. We weren’t set apart in order to live apart. We were called God’s own so we could confidently go into the world. 

 In a contrary grain, another author writes in Relevant that “Christian artists should (not) use violence.” He uses the term “violence” to include gratuitous sex and language. His contention is that the world is so jaded that using rough violence or stark violence or sex doesn’t faze the world anymore. When our morals were on a similar level, works like Flannery O’Connor’s provided a shock that hit complacency. Now when modern art tries to find new levels to shock and awe, then perhaps the answer  for the Christian artist is to paint a picture of beauty to be the contrast.

Whatever should be done, it is clear the Christian artist faces a peculiar enemy today: the expanding boredom of the modern age, which has the power to wash out even the severest expressions, and violence is its latest casualty. It is the constant duty of the Christian artist to outwit this amoebic tendency to consume and excrete, to make retail of riches. She must forge new paths of expression and restore old ones. When the world builds for itself a Tower of Babel, then she must paint a pile of rubble, and then when it is knocked down and the peoples wander in the refuse, she must paint a glittering city with jasper walls and foundations of precious stone. 

 A very intriguing article, and if you have to pick one, I think this would be it.

Finally, the flavor du jour here has been The Civil Wars. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Joy Williams describes the freedom she now experiences being out of the Contemporary Christian Music realm.

“The process of being with John Paul  (White, her band partner) is this wonderful discovery of creative freedom that I didn’t know that I had,” she said. “I started in a very restrictive genre of music. But the reality is that I’m able to write a lot more about the world around me, if it’s about faith or about cigarettes, or about murder or adultery, or about a movie that I saw, or a book we’ve both read.”  Emphasis mine.

I like to put out interesting thoughts and articles for people to explore more. If you have thoughts on it, I’d enjoy your comments here as well.

Challenging Creativity

Call it a case of “put your money where your mouth is.”

Last week I blogged about The Civil Wars and their debut album, Barton Hollow (or as they pronounce it, “Barton Hawller”). This beautiful set of songs has really captured my attention. It has also forced me to stand on some of the principles I’ve stated at this blog.

Many times I have proclaimed that Christian artists should have the freedom to produce the art they feel called to make, whether it is specifically “Christian” (which is a tricky definition) or not. So many times, we pigeon-hole Christian artists to make a certain type of music, or write only uplifting, God-honoring lyrics.

As far as I know, The Civil Wars are not a “Christian” band. However, Joy Williams had a career in CCM (contemporary Christian music) prior to joining John Paul White to form The Civil Wars. As far as I know, Mr. White has not had such a career.

In the midst of their moving vocals, there are lines such as:
“Ain’t going back to Barton Hollow
Devil gonna follow me e’er I go
Won’t do me no good washing in the river
Can’t no preacher man save my soul”

or
“If I die before I wake

I know the Lord my soul won’t take”

Doesn’t sound like typical CCM fare to me. In fact, initially I stumbled on this a little. It bothered me hearing them sing this at first, because I took it as denying that the Lord can save.

Is this really what they’re saying?

Of course not! I didn’t consider the point of view of the song – from the perspective of a man who has at least robbed a large sum of money, who didn’t think he deserved redemption. It’s a typical theme in Southern music, but I fell into the trap of taking the song very superficially.

How about their first well-known song, Poison and Wine?
“Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine”

or
“I don’t love you, but I always will”

Honestly, I was disappointed in myself for tripping up over something that wasn’t there. Listening deeper, their lyrics like from Poison and Wine talk about the dichotomy in a relationship that is so strong that sometimes you can’t stand the person, but you can’t be without them. It is honest and provocative in the presentation, but it speaks to a dynamic those of us who have been in a deep relationship can identify with, even if we can’t speak the sentiment.

I’m glad that I can realize and own up to my hypocrisy. Quality art, when it has depth, will challenge us in our preconceived ideas if we let it. If we get tangled up with a superficial glance, then we will miss out on the riches beneath.

The Civil Wars are a band that has found a niche the two artists would never have found alone. I applaud them for their music, and I applaud Joy for running in a new direction. By the way, they are produced by Charlie Peacock, head of the Art House, and a strong Christian who is a creative genius. Also, they sing a song in their live set, “Pray”, that is a strong tune for crying out to Him, without succumbing to Christianese. The surface can be deceiving – the truth lies deeper than that.

Here’s to mining the riches that Jesus our Creator, our Master Artist, has for His people!

Challenging Creativity

Call it a case of “put your money where your mouth is.”

Last week I blogged about The Civil Wars and their debut album, Barton Hollow (or as they pronounce it, “Barton Hawller”). This beautiful set of songs has really captured my attention. It has also forced me to stand on some of the principles I’ve stated at this blog.

Many times I have proclaimed that Christian artists should have the freedom to produce the art they feel called to make, whether it is specifically “Christian” (which is a tricky definition) or not. So many times, we pigeon-hole Christian artists to make a certain type of music, or write only uplifting, God-honoring lyrics.

As far as I know, The Civil Wars are not a “Christian” band. However, Joy Williams had a career in CCM (contemporary Christian music) prior to joining John Paul White to form The Civil Wars. As far as I know, Mr. White has not had such a career.

In the midst of their moving vocals, there are lines such as:
“Ain’t going back to Barton Hollow
Devil gonna follow me e’er I go
Won’t do me no good washing in the river
Can’t no preacher man save my soul”

or
“If I die before I wake

I know the Lord my soul won’t take”

Doesn’t sound like typical CCM fare to me. In fact, initially I stumbled on this a little. It bothered me hearing them sing this at first, because I took it as denying that the Lord can save.

Is this really what they’re saying?

Of course not! I didn’t consider the point of view of the song – from the perspective of a man who has at least robbed a large sum of money, who didn’t think he deserved redemption. It’s a typical theme in Southern music, but I fell into the trap of taking the song very superficially.

How about their first well-known song, Poison and Wine?
“Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine”

or
“I don’t love you, but I always will”

Honestly, I was disappointed in myself for tripping up over something that wasn’t there. Listening deeper, their lyrics like from Poison and Wine talk about the dichotomy in a relationship that is so strong that sometimes you can’t stand the person, but you can’t be without them. It is honest and provocative in the presentation, but it speaks to a dynamic those of us who have been in a deep relationship can identify with, even if we can’t speak the sentiment.

I’m glad that I can realize and own up to my hypocrisy. Quality art, when it has depth, will challenge us in our preconceived ideas if we let it. If we get tangled up with a superficial glance, then we will miss out on the riches beneath.

The Civil Wars are a band that has found a niche the two artists would never have found alone. I applaud them for their music, and I applaud Joy for running in a new direction. By the way, they are produced by Charlie Peacock, head of the Art House, and a strong Christian who is a creative genius. Also, they sing a song in their live set, “Pray”, that is a strong tune for crying out to Him, without succumbing to Christianese. The surface can be deceiving – the truth lies deeper than that.

Here’s to mining the riches that Jesus our Creator, our Master Artist, has for His people!

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

I love it when artists can challenge us.
Hopefully you have heard about The Civil Wars by now. The duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White have made a big splash in the last few weeks with their debut album, Barton Hollow, releasing on Feb. 1. I’d say appearing on The Tonight Show and having their album be #1 on iTunes for its first week as a pretty good start.

Their music is haunting and beautiful, stripped down to the basics: White’s guitar, some occasional piano by Williams, the scattered accordian or percussion, and the intertwining harmonies of the two singers. In this day of auto-tuned, electronic noise being blared on iThingies and the random Super Bowl halftime show (brought to you by Lite-Brites), the organic, simple nature of these songs works into your soul. As opposed to bashing us over the head.

Their style would be best described as folk or Americana, although it resists easy labeling. They hail from Nashville and are getting airplay on CMT, but I wouldn’t call them country (especially to those who know me – I’m not a country music fan). The point is that they make lovely music together. A majority of the songs are slow paced with a melancholy feel, longing for love. The title track is a foot-stomper with soaring vocal gymnastics, while “Poison and Wine,” featured on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy speaks in a raw, honest way about the dichotomies of love.

The two singers are refreshingly real in a day of pre-packaged artists fed to top 40 radio. I was intrigued when I found they were produced by Charlie Peacock, one of my favorite artists himself. They aren’t the typical music I would listen to, but I’m all for quality, and their musicianship and chemistry makes Barton Hollow my first album purchase of 2011, and one of my favorites in a long time.

In my next point, I want to discuss how they are not only easy on the ears, but challenging to some of my convictions as well. Keep your eyes peeled for that, if you will.

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

I love it when artists can challenge us.
Hopefully you have heard about The Civil Wars by now. The duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White have made a big splash in the last few weeks with their debut album, Barton Hollow, releasing on Feb. 1. I’d say appearing on The Tonight Show and having their album be #1 on iTunes for its first week as a pretty good start.

Their music is haunting and beautiful, stripped down to the basics: White’s guitar, some occasional piano by Williams, the scattered accordian or percussion, and the intertwining harmonies of the two singers. In this day of auto-tuned, electronic noise being blared on iThingies and the random Super Bowl halftime show (brought to you by Lite-Brites), the organic, simple nature of these songs works into your soul. As opposed to bashing us over the head.

Their style would be best described as folk or Americana, although it resists easy labeling. They hail from Nashville and are getting airplay on CMT, but I wouldn’t call them country (especially to those who know me – I’m not a country music fan). The point is that they make lovely music together. A majority of the songs are slow paced with a melancholy feel, longing for love. The title track is a foot-stomper with soaring vocal gymnastics, while “Poison and Wine,” featured on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy speaks in a raw, honest way about the dichotomies of love.

The two singers are refreshingly real in a day of pre-packaged artists fed to top 40 radio. I was intrigued when I found they were produced by Charlie Peacock, one of my favorite artists himself. They aren’t the typical music I would listen to, but I’m all for quality, and their musicianship and chemistry makes Barton Hollow my first album purchase of 2011, and one of my favorites in a long time.

In my next point, I want to discuss how they are not only easy on the ears, but challenging to some of my convictions as well. Keep your eyes peeled for that, if you will.