Kings & Queens

For today’s Mission Monday, I have brain cramps from a long weekend. However, music is powerful and this video and the lyrics explain the heart of the Father and a missional outlook better than I can.

Courtesy of the newly reformed Audio Adrenaline with the spectacular Kevin Max on vocals, this song instantly became my new favorite of the year. Please check it out. I love the purple and the association with royalty as a thread through the video.

Twenty Seven Million

February 27.
Twenty-seven million.

The rough estimates (rough because the criminals behind this don’t advertise their numbers specifically) for human trafficking are 27-30 million people around the world under some form of modern-day slavery.

The word is getting out more and more. My church joined with thousands of others yesterday for Freedom Sunday, and it was a great blessing.

There are many quality organizations out there who are doing work in various avenues to combat human trafficking. One such group is The A21 Campaign, with a specific focus on Greece and eastern Europe. A comment on their website suggests 80% of their work is awareness – letting people know about the problem and shining the light so that those who hide in the dark with this evil have no place left to cower.

To this end, A21 has partnered with one of the most well-known names in the modern worship movement – Matt and Beth Redman. Along with British hip-hop group LZ7, the Redmans have created a song called “Twenty Seven Million.” The video below was shot when the song debuted at the recent Passion conference.

Today for Missions Monday I have a simple request that can raise awareness for human trafficking. Go to iTunes or Amazon and download the single “Twenty Seven Million” that debuts today in the UK and Australia, and tomorrow in the US. [UPDATE: It is now available in the US!] For the price of a Coca-Cola you can get a song that stirs the soul and lets the world know that we are growing in our knowledge and desire to fight for those who are in bondage to slavery.

Let’s lift our voice for the 27 million!

Twenty Seven Million

February 27.
Twenty-seven million.

The rough estimates (rough because the criminals behind this don’t advertise their numbers specifically) for human trafficking are 27-30 million people around the world under some form of modern-day slavery.

The word is getting out more and more. My church joined with thousands of others yesterday for Freedom Sunday, and it was a great blessing.

There are many quality organizations out there who are doing work in various avenues to combat human trafficking. One such group is The A21 Campaign, with a specific focus on Greece and eastern Europe. A comment on their website suggests 80% of their work is awareness – letting people know about the problem and shining the light so that those who hide in the dark with this evil have no place left to cower.

To this end, A21 has partnered with one of the most well-known names in the modern worship movement – Matt and Beth Redman. Along with British hip-hop group LZ7, the Redmans have created a song called “Twenty Seven Million.” The video below was shot when the song debuted at the recent Passion conference.

Today for Missions Monday I have a simple request that can raise awareness for human trafficking. Go to iTunes or Amazon and download the single “Twenty Seven Million” that debuts today in the UK and Australia, and tomorrow in the US. [UPDATE: It is now available in the US!] For the price of a Coca-Cola you can get a song that stirs the soul and lets the world know that we are growing in our knowledge and desire to fight for those who are in bondage to slavery.

Let’s lift our voice for the 27 million!

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!

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.

CBA Following CCM?

And in other news, ABC hates CBS and NBC.

Aside from abbreviation proliferation, I’ve been thinking about the continuing (continuous?) debate in CBA fiction circles about how to expand the “boundaries” of Christian fiction. On one side there are people defending the industry, pointing to its growth in the publishing world over the last several years, and the greater variety of genres/books being published. Another camp feels stifled by the unspoken limits of what is acceptable, and wonders how CBA/Christian fiction can reach unbelievers in its current status.

(Realize that the “industry” is a disparate group of authors, editors, agents, publishers, marketers, and booksellers, each with their own agenda. People speak of the CBA as some monolithic organization, which it certainly is not.)

Doncha dig the font
 and hairdos?
I’ve considered another industry that has had similar growing pains. CCM stands for Contemporary Christian Music, and it is another nebulous designation to speak of a variety of interests in music.

CCM started in the late 60’s/early 70’s with the revolution of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. As the hippie movement took full swing, there was a counter-revolution of young people getting saved, but retaining the new tastes in music and culture of their peers (without the sex and drugs part). As they naturally wrote music in the rock and folk genres, the initial music was often picked up by general market labels. Artists like Keith Green and Randy Stonehill were pioneers in these areas. Soon there was enough interest that labels were started to give further outlet to these musicians.

Since the people involved wanted to glorify the Lord as well as sell music, they became Christian publishers. This had the effect of sucking most of the blatantly Christian artists into a niche area, creating a music “ghetto” for lack of a better term. There were those like Bob Dylan with his Christian phase albums in the general market, but most artists producing specific Christian music (religious lyrics/subjects) were isolated from the general market airwaves. Christian music was on the outside looking in with the advent of MTV.

Slowly Christian artists tested the waters of “crossing over” to the general market, even as the Christian music ghetto flourished. Stryper was a famous Christian glam-metal band that got MTV airplay but was sold in (many, not all) Christian bookstores. Amy Grant was the first big crossover with her song “Baby Baby,” a syrupy-yet-catchy pop song that wasn’t specifically religious.

A debate raged at the time (early 90’s) whether these artists were “selling out” by writing lyrics that were ambiguous enough to be sung as a love song to the Lord or to a girlfriend. Michael W. Smith had a couple of hits on top 40 radio with such songs. In the mid-90’s Jars of Clay burst onto the scene when an early single, “Flood”, made waves in both markets. U2 remained a conundrum as they had spiritually insightful lyrics, but refused to be labeled a “Christian” band. Those darn Irish rockers wouldn’t let themselves be squeezed into the little CCM box!

Slowly, things have changed in the last 10 years in Christian music. Movies and TV shows started pulling songs from various Christian artists to play during the program. Switchfoot became a band that garnered a lot of respect in the general market, but were still considered “one of ours.” Relient k participated in the Vans Warped Tour with other general artists. P.O.D. broke through to both markets. Songs by The Afters, The Fray, and others got noticed. Skillet’s “Hero” was the major song for Sunday Night Football last year. The band Paramore is not considered a Christian band per se, but they have songs such as “Hallelujah” on their records.

Most of this has happened organically, without a lot of organization that I can tell. Perhaps there was behind the scenes maneuvering, but suddenly it was okay for bands to talk about spirituality without being black-listed to the CCM ghetto, and the CCM folks didn’t fuss about “selling out” nearly as much. This isn’t perfect: the band MuteMath sued their Christian distributor for being called a “Christian band”, as they felt it hurt their image since “Christian music” wasn’t considered the same quality as general market music. You don’t find songs blatantly speaking of Jesus on mainstream airwaves.

Could this be the model that CBA fiction follows? There are parallels – Ted Dekker is successfully publishing in both ABA/general market as well as Christian fiction. The CCM flow right now seems to leave room for the overtly Christian tunes, such as Chris Tomlin’s praise music along with the bands such as Superchick that have had some crossover appeal.

I can see this happening. I don’t know much about marketing and how books get out to the Barnes and Noble of the world, but it would be nice if relationships could be built with publishers and booksellers, getting more CBA books into areas of greater visibility. Hopefully the Ted Dekkers of the world will help pave a way for the Eric Wilsons and Robin Parrishs of the world for greater exposure.