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.
(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.