Here's a riddle for this month: Who worked too hard, slept too little, cared too much for his art and not enough for what anyone thought, and died too soon because of it?
Want some more clues?
Whose name is first on the lips of some of the best known living songwriters when asked whose songs they admire the most? Whose songs have been recorded by such eclectic artists like Kevin Smith (dc Talk), Vigilantes of Love, the Call, Bruce Cockburn, Victoria Williams, Kate Taylor, Marvin Etzioni, Ashley Cleveland, Buddy & Julie Miller, Rich Mullins, Phil Keaggy, Olivia Newton John, Chagall Guevara, Randy Stonehill, DA, Pierce Pettis, Kate Taylor, Pat Terry, the Williams Brothers, Ramona Silver, Glenn Kaiser, the Choir, and Carolyn Arends (to name only a few)? Who had a heart attack while performing at Cornerstone, knew it, and finished his set anyway because that's the way he's always done everything that had to do with his music and art, with everything he had right up to the very end? Who continues to receive critical acclaim and yet doesn't sell enough for his widow and child to receive hardly any support from the large body of brilliant work he left behind?
Maybe some of his lyrics will help: Like bees in a bottle we are flying at fate/Beating our wings against the walls of this place/Unaware that the struggle is the blood of the proof/In choosing to believe the unbelievable truth/But they have captured our siblings and rendered them mute/They've disputed our lineage and poisoned our roots/We have bought from the brokers who have broken their oaths/And we're out on the streets with a lump in our throats/We are soot-covered urchins running wild and unshod/We will always be remembered as the orphans of God.
Still need help? Okay I'll tell you: it's Mark Heard, and if you knew that all along it's because you've dug a little deeper than the shallow waters of the mainstream market, be it Christian or non. But I believe there's an injustice here. The market feeds the little fish in those shallow waters because it believes that's where everyone is and what everyone wants. But I wonder? How come so many people keep asking me why Christian music is so shallow? What do they listen to?
There is an impression going around that Christian music fans all want simple, bland, believable lyrics and sounds that confirm everything they already believe. No one wants to grow or be stretched to consider new ideas. People only want to hear stuff where the good guys win, everything turns out right and believers have all the answers. Well guess what? The Bible doesn't even promise that, and I'm starting to think most Christians are smarter than this. What if Christians were actually smarter than the market? What if the market is self-perpetuating and it's perpetuating a lie? What I mean is: Sometimes I wonder if the market feeds that image which feeds the market which feeds the image so many times around that we forgot where the cart was and where the horse was and in the meantime there are people out there, lots of them, who want more but they only hear about what the market thinks they want.
Sometimes I wonder if a lot of people aren't checking out Mark Heard because they never heard of Mark Heard because the market wouldn't market Mark Heard because the market thinks people are shallow and Mark Heard isn't shallow and yet people keep asking, "Why is Christian music so shallow?" Why am I suddenly back to the place I was a paragraph ago? See what I mean? How do we stop this?
Go for something deeper. Believe more from people. And if you have anything to do with the writing, producing and marketing side of things, treat people as if they had brains. Treat them as you would treat yourself. Who among us would say, "I'm shallow. Give me more shallow. 'Three shallows coming up, hold the reality!'"
I did a column a couple of months ago about Mars Hill Tapes. These are pretty heady audio tapes discussing aspects of faith and culture for those who want to think realistically about their faith and their world. The 800 number I listed received numerous inquiries. I couldn't have been happier and more surprised. Wait a minute... these are supposed to be shallow people. Way to go, folks. Once again, you proved the stereotype wrong. Let's be stereotype busters.
There's a proverb that reads: "He who seeks good, finds good will; but evil comes to him who searches for it." (Prov. 11:27) I think it's the same for deep and shallow. Look for shallow, find shallow; search for the deep, and don't be surprised when you come up with a lot of intelligent people who are wanting to go deeper with their faith.
I'm going to go out with one more dose of full-strength Mark Heard. Warning: this is not for the weak in faith. Shallow people might want to stop here. Market-busters read on!
Maps hide cities, cities hide houses, houses hide faces, faces hide hearts, but hearts still beat quietly. Few feel even their own pulse, but hearts are made to beat. We can drown them out with more accessible rhythms, but they continue the counterpoint. Hearts are made to beat. Our souls are still with us, our Creator waits for us to notice, as our geographical boundaries are chased around the sun by time, decaying in a fashion some call normal. - from Mark Heard's journal, Orphans of God.
For those who want more Mark Heard but can't seem to find it because... (oh well, you know), contact: 800/540-4637.
Copyright © by John Fischer for CCM Magazine, June 1997 issue. Take a look at John Fischer's CCM-article of September 1997
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