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« Take it with a grain of salt - Dealing with the critics | Main | Unlearning »
Monday
Sep072009

Why is a secular artist performing at a Christian Church?

I am a performing songwriter. I write songs for self expression. My career allows me to create, and to communicate my thoughts and emotions with a lot of people in an intimate, exciting and fun way. I’ll perform just about anywhere people are willing to gather AND listen.

But I was given pause recently when I was invited to perform a concert in a Christian church. When it comes to religion, I don’t subscribe to a particular world view. I recognize man’s spiritual nature, and I’ve studied many religions, but despite all their useful teachings, I’ve never identified strongly with a singular book.

In a way, I identify with a line from Martin Landau’s character in the movie “Rounders.” In one scene, he explains to a student why he never became a Rabbi, despite family pressure and his extremely thorough and advanced knowledge of the Torah. He intimates softly, “I never saw God there.”

Most would agree that Christian churches are trying to bring people closer to God, and to secure their soul’s place in the afterlife. However, much like a Buddhist, I’m primarily concerned with my time here on earth. If I can lead my life in a way that enriches the world around me, I will peacefully and happily exit when my time comes.
churchsign
(Christians gasp in collective horror at my impending doom.)

But this upcoming church gig led me to think about what I might have in common with the church’s philosophy. If I had to distill my mission statement to a few words, it would be to “entertain, educate, and inspire.” But I also had to ask myself, “Inspire what?” And I was made to think of what Christian churches do that inspires me.

One clear example comes to mind. Although churches have long been centers of aid to the poor and homeless, the events in New Orleans reminded me of the thousands of families who took in the newly homeless in dozens of cities like Dallas and Houston. Much of this southern generosity was inspired by church leaders, and people who’s faith in God instills a willingness to do good deeds.

So in my practical view,  I believe the church is trying to inspire people to goodness - and that ethic is what resonates with me. After all, what is Jesus Christ if not an example of goodness?

So I gladly accepted the invitation to do a show as the opening act for Cosy Sheridan, at the Second Presbyterian Church of Little Rock.

When the time came, I packed my bags for Arkansas, and departed for a scheduled performance at the Acoustic Sounds Cafe - a twice-monthly concert series in the church’s great hall. They offered me a reasonable fee, as well as lodging at Camp Ferncliff - a quaint, Presbyterian-affiliated retreat in the woods just outside the city. It was a great place to recoup from the 7 hour drive, and to rest up for the next morning’s TV interview to promote the evening show.

The concert was fun, and I warmed up an appreciative, though slightly sedate crowd of 100 or so with songs that, you might say, “stretched the subject material” one might hear in a church auditorium. In the middle of “I Left the Seat Up,” I was compelled to mention I never thought I’d be playing this song in a church, which drew as much laughter as the song itself. In addition, my more “uplifting” material really connected, and I was busy after the set shaking hands and selling CDs.

It turns out that all around the country, Christian churches are embracing secular music as another means to bring their community together. I suppose they realize that you don’t have to invoke the name of Jesus Christ to have a positive effect on people. Secular artists can also inspire goodness, make an audience reflect, and put them back in touch with their often neglected, soulful side.

Unity and Unitarian Universalist churches have been doing this for years. But I find it encouraging to see more mainstream Christian churches are also seeing that artists like myself are not off topic at all. For a few hours a month, they allow their house of God to also be a House of Blues, where secular artists entertain, educate, and inspire people to do good - even if it only applies to this world. Fortunately, that still leaves them plenty of time to talk about the next.

Fran Snyder is an artist based in Lawrence, KS, and the founder of concertsinyourhome.com.

Reader Comments (4)

I've been going to theater church where they play mostly songs 4 worship.

They typically play the first 10 minutes into session before the Pastor gets up to speak.

The music is essential to the gig, warms up the crowd and gets them prepared to listen.

But it had me thinking the other day that it could really be any music, electronica, hip-hop, country etc.

Music resonates, it's proof of the existence of God.

September 7 | Unregistered CommenterBombtune

Me and my Band. We played a gig in a church in front of about 50 people. they loved us because of our lyrics, singing bout slavery, social evils, familiar problems and so on.

first we were very sceptical to do this, but then we realised, you dont have to be a christian to play in a christian church. you dont have to write lyrics about jesus and god. and finally you dont have to change your bands music style at all. not only the church is talkin bout social problems but other religions too. slavery, social & familiary problems are general-purpose.

I highly recommend a gig in a church (except you're a 666 metal band hatin the church with your lyrics :-) )

September 8 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

You raise a question that I have thought about a great deal, since I wear the hat of music professional and dedicated church musician at the same time. The thing is, a church building is just a building, the people in it are just people (becoming a Christian does not change one's humanity, of course), and the worship services in most denominations only last 3-5 hours. That leaves 163-165 hours every week for which the building can be used for other things, like concerts. Here in San Francisco, the classical scene basically lives half the year in some of our bigger cathedrals -- if one accepts that, it is not a big stretch to imagine any genre with clean, life-affirming lyrics finding an appreciative audience, and a church hall is an affordable and comfortable place to enjoy such music.

[That is, of course, if one can't book a good house concert . . . what an intriguing concept, Ms. Snyder]

By the way, gasping in collective horror may be a bit of a stretch to describe the modern Christian reaction to secular people, not least because coordinating a billion people to do anything is kind of hard. But in all grim seriousness, some of us are no longer truly concerned about the temporal or eternal welfare of the people we live with on this earth, and that lack of concern is one of the reasons modern Christianity has lost so much credibility. On the other hand, you will, as you pointed out, find Christians standing in the breach of tragedy. . . but it is not entirely a question of the church inspiring people to goodness. A true belief in in Jesus Christ and His death for sins, burial, and resurrection (per I Corinthians 3:3-4) allows the Christian to be the vessel for a very good and loving God to manifest Himself in the world -- His concern, for both the temporal and eternal welfare for the people around us, motivates individual Christians, who for at least 3-5 hours a week are usually in a church building. The rest of the time (when not sleeping) many of us are out there making music and otherwise rubbing shoulders with people of other faiths or none . . . . in prayerful optimism about the eternal future of everyone we meet.

September 11 | Unregistered CommenterDeeann

The music in church is not to entertain but to worship. If people want entertainment then church is not the place. Church is a place to worship and learn. And Jesus spoke about the blind leading the blind. How can a lost soul inspire another lost soul to do good when nothing we can do as humans is seen as good before Gods eyes? The only way to become "good" notiice the quotations, is to ne washed in the blood of Jesus!

January 26 | Unregistered Commenterwow

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