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ARTIST's CORNER: D-DAY AGAIN? by Mark Heard



"Impossible to guess how widely Carson will catch on here. His show may prove simply too American for local taste. Its throwaway allusions, for instance, to the L.A. Rams (football team), Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather (TV newsmen) and brownies (a cake) presuppose generally shared national assumptions and must have missed most British viewers by a mile." -- Herbert Kretzmer, Daily Mail, London

Carson, bluejeans, hamburgers, military technology and recently, blueprints for Christian music. We Americans feel expansionism as a duty it seems, and indeed the American way of seeing things has affected Christianity in America.

A friend of mine in Norway attempted to describe to me the typical American Christian as seen through European eyes: said, "who was baptized in the Jordon twice -- the first time, the flash on his camera didn't work."

I think that this is a fair assessment. It shows our American tendencies can flavor culture as well as our faith. The sad part is that sometimes we can't tell the difference.

When English and American missionaries traveled to remote cultures in earlier centuries, they carried with them not only the Gospel, but the cultural trappings of their respective homelands. Items such as clothing and social manners were preached right along with the elemental message. It was done in the name of evangelizing and civilizing these "heathen" nations, but irreparable damage was inflicted to some admirable cultures as a result, despite the fact that souls were savedin the process. If the recent Debron Seminar in Holland is any indication, thingsmay not have changed much since those times.

Not only the lack of ability to put oneself in the other's shoes widens the gap between geographical cultures, but between ideological cultures as well. American Christians seem to have forgotten how to communicate with their own "secular" culture at home. Somebody is buying Christian products, so we Christians too easily assume we' re doing our job in the world. In actuality, we' re selling our products back to ourselves. American secular society generally doesn't watch our Christian TV, listen to Christian radio, or go to our Christian stores to buy music. Therefore, demands are rarely made on Christians by the American culture at large to promote communication between thetwo. We live in a dualistic society.

In Europe confrontation occurs more easily. Christian radio and television most of what is done by Christians must be presented in the same marketplace as things done by people who are not Christians. I think it is healthy and promotes more realism in the art concerned. I'd sure hate to see it botched up by a group of well-meaning Americans who would encourage growth on the organizational level of Christian media in Europe. If that happens they will repeat our American mistakes of isolationism, and people will begin to see the Gospel going behind the practically closed doors of Christian business circles.

During the four months I was in Europe this summer, I ran into people in several countries who had sponsored a well-known American Christian group in concert. These Europeans were concerned. They said, "That band dripped with 'spiritual' vernacular on stage, as if our spirituality exists separately from the rest of our being. But then they come off stage and they' re just regular people, regular Christians living like the rest of us, problems and all. Don't they realize the schizophrenic image of Christianity that they are portraying?"

A dualism of sorts has been extended by American Christians into the concept of spirituality, leaving a large portion of the spectrum of human experience untouched by the amputated and sterilized concept of faith. Some of these sponsors attended theDebron seminar and complained to me that the same problems were being exhibited by many Americans there. So quite naturally those Europeans were disappointed in both the schizoid image of our faith, and the closed circuit nature of the Americanversion of Christian music.

Not only are European Christians faced with threats of cultural and spiritual dualism, but also with problems of defining ''Christian art'' and setting aesthetic standards. Good art thrives when little pressure is felt by artists to conform to popular stereotypes. But as soon as perimeters for art forms acceptable to Christians are narrowed, the Christians are narrowed. The Christian artists face two Choices.

1). Accept that framework and produce only music which conforms
to the expectations of the music consumers, or
2). reject it and be deprived of acceptance in Christian circles.

That has happened in America, but it hasn't happened yet in Europe.

I believe that a fairly narrowed spectrum of "Christian art" was represented at the Debron seminar this year. Next year the spectrum may be narrower. I heard a discussion of plans to cut down at next year's seminar on the "infiltration" of rock'n'roll and "secular gigs." In short, persons or groups who do not fit the American Christian stereotypes could be quietly censored, regardless of their virtue as Christians or their value as artists. If this happens, it could signal the beginning of the speak rationally and pointedly into the society which presently exists on the Continent. It will signal the birth and nurture of an elitist European Christian circle of art, a transplanting of the American problem in foreign soil, the possibilities of a secular market cut and re-cut in favor of a profitable Christian .market.

I would like to further suggest that the DeBron seminar being billed as ''Christian Artists'' is misleading to the European public. There is still a high value placed on aesthetics on the Continent. The word ''art'' has strong connotations and shouldn't be used lightly.

It is not my purpose here to discuss whether art for art's sake is an acceptable proposition. Nor is it my purpose to criticize those who may be doing the best they presently know how in creating music and lyrics. But most Europeans believe that if you write a melody it should be more than a generic representation of countless melodies that have gone before; if you write lyrics they should maintain the values of good poetry or otherwise not be called art. They happily have not yet discovered what many American Christians have long known; that is, if you can write some lyrics containing sufficient theological content or spiritual sounding words and put them to something sounding like the secular music of, say a decade before, you can get by in Christian cirlces with it and even call it art.

I propose that if it weren't for our separatism, with its rewards based on conformity, many of our "Christian" lyrics and musical endeavors would have long ago been put in their proper place as incomplete art, or even bad art. To rob European Christians of their much needed checks and balances on artistic standards by encouraging their removal from the larger marketplace would be an atrocity. As far as I have been able to determine by observation, a more appropriate title for the DeBron seminar might have been ''The Marketplace for Music Acceptable and Saleable in Most Churches, Primarily American ones.''

The sooner we Christians realize how strong a culture we have created, the sooner we will be able to begin stripping away that and other excess fat, and the sooner we will be able to understand and communicate with people raised in other cultures, whether those cultures are geographical or ideological. We have the responsibility to widen the perimeters put on art by Christian culture, to encourage Christian artists to use their minds like never before, to allow their creativity to runFREE and explore EVERY new possibility in art and in communication as real and sincere human beings and as conscientiousworkers desiring to be true artisians, carefully and honestly exploring the realityof the existence of a loving God in a fallen world.

Mark Heard ( CCM, December 1981 )
Copyright © by Mark Heard for CCM Magazine 1981


Mark Heard is an American Christian recording artist, formerly with Solid Rock Records, now with Home Sweet Home Records (Benson). Mark has spent seven months out of the last two years in Europe, giving concert appearances and producing a Swiss band, Marchstei, in the studios there. His role as a cross-cultural communicator has brought him insight on the strengths and weaknesses of the Christian music industry from the American and European viewpoints.


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