Stop the Dominos was your first Christian album in nearly three years. How have you spent the interim period?
Has it been that long? Well, as far as recording goes, I've been busy helping on other people'sprojects lately. I still work with Larry Norman quite a bit, and he and I have been coproducinga guy from England named Steve Scott. I think Steve's images and poetic sense far surpass whatthe Christian public has been used to. I'm looking forward to the changes which may comeabout as a result of projects like Steve's. Also, I have been spending a good bit of my time in Europe, producing in the studios there. Oneband I've produced in Switzerland is already getting national airplay. I like to call them theScreaming Cheese Band. All their lyrics axe written in Swiss-German dialect. There are noChristian radio stations there; the radio is run by the government. But the "secular" societyseems somewhat tolerant of projects done by Christians, because the Christians there axeclearly iraterested in being real, and not allowing their Christianity to set them culturally apart from their friends.
I understand you've been playing concerts back a now album in Europe?
Yes; the overseas concerts and record provide feedback from different cultures. I think it's good for anybody to see how people live andhow they think in different places. It helps you see the good and bad aspects of your own culture more clearly. It is quite a challenge totry and help some of these friends avoid mistakes that have been made in Christian music in the last decade in the U.S.A.
What do you do when you're at home?
I've been putting together a collection of photographs and notes made during past excursions hoping they may be of use to somebody. I've been doing exotic things likelearning to knit. My wife taught me (she spins the yarn from wool). I feel guilty sometimes knowing that somewhere a sheep is running around naked - while we own his warmth insweater form. Last but not least, Larry and Little Bobby Emmons and I have been honing our careers as bleacher bums at Dodgers games.
In the past you have mentioned your involvement with L'Abri. Have your recent trips to Europe spawned continued involvement with them?
Yes. I feel closer than ever to the people there. They were of such help to me when I had questions as a skeptic, and as a Christian.Their attitude towards the value of creativity and the Arts their support of my work has meant quite a lot to me.
You referred earlier to your days as a skeptic. Is skepticism a sin, or does it seem to you a plague of sorts to those so minded?
Skepticism doesn't have to be viewed as a liability. Unfortunately, most of the timeChristians see it that way. I have had hard times in the past because of that - my questionswere equated with sin by most of the believers around me, and that caused still more questions,like, "Well, shouldn't God's people be concerned enough about me to help me instead of crossingtheir arms and waiting for me to see things their way?" It bothered me for a long time.when a person has no rational basis for his faith, or feels that he has lost that rational basis,it is quite painful. It's hard to believe with your heart if there is conflicting information in yourmind. To ignore the mind and brush off the questions is wrong, and is more an Eastern ideathan a Christian one. So finally I figured, "Well, if Christianity can't stand up to questioning,it's not the truth, and if it's not worth scrutiny, it's not worth believing." So my skepticismcontinued and led me to look deeply into the matters in question. Most of my answers camefrom quiet study. Skepticism-was an asset to me in that it forced the roots of my faith to grow deeper.
Did becoming a Christian change your approach to music at all?
Well in the late Sixties when Christian music was becoming popular, in the secular world itwas 'in' to inundate your songs with a message. You know, revolution and all that. ChristianRock got off on that foot, and of course most Christians began to see music as a tool withwhich young people could be reached with the Gospel. I always kinda resented that idea.It is valid to say that music can be used by God, but it's unfair to put a limit on the number ofways in which music can be valuable to a Christian or to someone who isn't. I hate to see music as onlya podium from which one voices one's convictions. To Christians especially, there is a broad spectrumof human and artistically valuable purposes for making music other than to make backgroundmusic for a revival meeting. So much Christian music is missing the human touch. When peoplewho aren't Christians look at Christian music as a whole, they probably don't see much honesty.it's hard for me to say that because It may offend somebody; many Christian artists may really bebreaking their backs to make an honest presentation of their faith. But sometimes we'reso wrapped up in our own terminology, and our own trends of thought, and our own circle ofunderstanding that we don't venture out and truly relate to someone on the outside so that theymight look at us and say, "Regardless of what I think, and the biases I have, this person hasreally shown me the truth." We need to be concerned about being real, honest people,not haughty and pious; we should begin to stop writing things that are supposedly "spiritual"and contain all the terminology and intimations of songs that have been written throughoutChristian history. We need to move on from where we are and make our faith real in the eyes of the people roundus, taking off our masks and letting them see that ours are human faces as well. Otherwise we are slightingthose people and fooling ourselves, and not living up to the expectations that God has of us to present the Truth as the TRUTH, and reality as it actually is, -including all its real joy, all its real pain, all its complexity and ambiguities, all its wonder.
Do you think evangelism means more than telling the simple gospel message?
We modern Christians live in an age in which evangelism enjoys a high position on the totem pole of Christian activity, or at least theology.But I'm not so sure we know what evangelism is anymore. We have told ourselves what it isthousands and thousands of times, and we have believed ourselves. It has become a creed untoitself, and the rules of it axe usually structured to lump the "unsaved" together in a generalheap, and then to "witness" to them according to a prefabricated plan. Once you'r a Christianit's easy to tell other people that they should be too. It seems so obvious and easy to youthat you can forget that it may not seem that way to someone who is not yet a Christianhimself. It's too easy to believe that everyone realises his need for a Saviour, but just - will notaccept Him. I tell you, that's not the case in our society any more, and it's becoming lessand less the case. What does our message mean to to these people? Usually nothing. We are noteven in their realm of thought. We blame their disbelief on their hard hearts, but we maybe causing them to harden more because we do not understand their pre-supposed notions ofwhat the nature of the universe really is, and that maybe, and likely is, quite different fromthe orthodox Christian view. I'm not saying God can't work in their hearts, but we axeresponsible as well to reach their minds. So we have to learn to meet people - where theyare without condescending. If someone doesn't believe God exists, do we havesomething more to discuss with him than to tell him we'll pray for him and leave him atract? We have become an ugly sort of non-human in our noble efforts to take the message (the one we have told ourselves is the best formof the message) to the people, and we have failed miserably. We must realise that ournon-theistically oriented society needs some background, a foundation if they are to everunderstand our personalised versions of the Christian message. We must broaden ourhorizons in order that we may totally understand the thought forms of those around us.
Some have said your songs are too esoteric, not simplistic or straightforward enough forthe Christian public. Couldn't one accuse you of doing the same thing you have calledunfair, that is writing what you want to write rather than seeking a lower commondenominator - which more people - would respond to? If that's where the people are,Christians in this case, according to yourself, shouldn't you meet them there?
If I placed the highest value on pleasing the largest number of Christian people, that's what I'd do. But I'm not looking for votes,and my music isn't only for Christians. I figure that given the level of consciousnessfound in most present day media efforts, it's important now not to compromise depth formore widespread acceptance. Most people should be intelligent enough to comprehendsomething if they want to. So I write what I want to write, hoping they will seek tounderstand the things I'm saying. You can't depend on the public market to help youdecide what to write anyway. The Oral Roberts Press said my last American albumwas only worth one listen, and then Group magazine picked the same album as albumof the year. I don't listen to either side. There'll always be plenty of people on bothsides, so there's no point trying to tailor your work to fit someone's expectations.
( New Christian Music, Vol. 3 No. 4, 1984? )
Mark Heard - In Conversation PART TWO
INTERVIEWS & ARTICLES