NOTE: Originally published on Sunday, October 08, 2006 at [Subversive Underground].
When I pulled up and parked in front of the Deseret Bookstore, I felt a bit of fear. Not unlike the fear I imagine a covert agent must feel before he enters a building in order to gather intelligence. As I passed through the front door I felt a tingle run up my spine, as if I had just passed the hostile roadblock into the evil empire undetected. Why? Because this bookstore was unlike any other bookstore you've ever been inside.
This was a Mormon Bookstore.
I tried to act casual and browse the aisles without looking too conspicuous. The last thing I wanted was for one of the salespeople to notice me and think I needed some help finding the "Pearl Of Great Price" in a leather edition, or maybe ask me if I wanted a Joseph Smith bumper sticker for my car.
I wondered if everyone I saw inside was a Mormon or if some were, like me, just curiosity-seekers. Perhaps some of them were simply oblivious to the fact that this was a Mormon-themed store. At any rate, I was not comfortable here. No one smiled at me or noticed me. I felt like an outsider and an intruder into their little world. Which, to be fair, I was.
On a whim I had decided to explore this Mormon-themed retail store. It happened to be in the same strip mall as the pizza place where I had ordered our family dinner and while our pie was in the oven I thought it might be interesting to see how the other side lived.
The inside was not unlike any mainline Christian store you’ve ever been in. There were rows of large, hardcover books that were written by various authors that you and I have never heard of, but that the average Mormon might recognize if he or she heard the names. The titles ranged from the devotional variety to fiction. (Mormon fiction?!) I was especially puzzled and even saddened to see a large section of paintings that depicted a laughing and loving Jesus. “Wow,” I thought, “How sad to offer pictures of Jesus for sale without offering any true concept of who Jesus really is.”
I soon found my way to the music section, as I usually do wherever I go, and was amazed to see a large wall covered with Cd’s and tapes. Yes. Cassette Tapes.
Except for that Amy Grant display on one shelf, most of the musical offerings were hymns collections performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. There were some “rock” offerings too, which surprised me. Most of these were packaged like early eighties new wave projects and had names like “Elemenopee” and “Chris Savage and the Rock-Tones”. I was not too impressed. This was, after all, just a sad imitation of what mainline Christian bookstores across America have to offer.
I immediately realized that this was probably what most non-Christians would feel should they venture into one of our Christian Bookstores. I had to ponder if we in the Christian World came across as irrelevant and as derivative as our Mormon counterparts. Most of what I saw in this cult music section was a laughably pathetic rip-off of what I could purchase at my local Christian store. It had the look and feel of the real stuff but was obviously an imitation of the real thing.
It kind of made me scrutinize the whole Secular versus Christian bookstore dichotomy from a similar perspective.
I can’t help but feel a little saddened by the fact that most Christian Art (and especially Christian Music), is nothing more than a pale imitation of what the world is doing.
Just the other day some friends and I were standing around and we overhead the local Christian Radio Station blasting out of a nearby car. They were playing a remake of a popular secular song called “Love Is The Answer” but adding the words “Jesus” and “Lord” here and there to sanctify it for our righteous ears.
It made me want to puke.
Why can’t the art and music of the Christian Culture be different? Even if it were just weird for the sake of being weird, I’d prefer this to the “sounds-like” comparisons of most music and art in the Christian Marketplace today.
I once interviewed Mark Saloman from the band Stavesacre and he had an amazing insight regarding this. He noted that, “…the world creates music and art from a fleshly and vain pool of inspiration. Whereas we, the sons of God, have a unique relationship and connection to the very Creator of the entire Universe. Why shouldn’t the World be following us? Why are we the ones who are following them?”
That’s a great question.
Why are we the ones who are following them?
For over seven years I worked in the Christian Music Industry. I still have friends who are part of the CCM Machine and most of them are great, Godly people who are doing their best to change the system from within. But, sadly, at the end of the day, the Christian Music Industry is still a business and the bottom line is selling product, not ministry.
Why is it easier to copy what someone else is doing and “Christianize” it? Maybe because it’s much more difficult to take the time to submit your craft to God, allow the Holy Spirit to work through your talent to create something that may, or may not, be acceptable to the mainstream audience.
The problem is, sometimes the Truth is offensive. Sometimes the one’s most offended are the people who are supposed to be your brothers and sisters. If you’re supposed to be a “Christian Artist”, and especially if you’re trying to make a living at it, the last thing you’d ever want to do is to offend anyone.
What the world needs now is a new wave of true artists. Those who are more committed to using their talents to communicate a burning truth that sears the soul, rather than those who simply want to spread their own fame.
People like Derek Webb, Jars of Clay, Switchfoot and Over The Rhine come to mind. Artists who create what is sincere and true have more interesting things to say than those who are simply trying to sell us something.
Maybe the real problem is when we try to make a buck off of the Truth? I think maybe loving people and living out the Gospel should never get confused with commerce.
What do you think?