Torchlights

An Open Letter to the Kingson Singers and Dancers

   I just heard about a wave of shake-ups in the ranks of Christian music: top record company personnel resigning without notice, artists firing managers, record companies firing artists, and major tours losing big bucks. These events once again call into question the future of Christian music. Are its days numbered?

   I'd like to suggest that apart from the personal pain to individuals involved, a shake-up in Christian music is probably a good thing. I'll go one step further: unless there's some kind of change, Christian music is headed for either oblivion or the meaningless repetition of proven formulas in a subculture that no longer matters to the world — which is pretty much the same as oblivion.

   In many ways, Christian music to date could be described as a novelty. Putting spiritual words and principles into contemporary music was a great idea — a novel thing to do. When a person first realizes that something like this exists, it can be a truly exciting

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thing. But a person can't feed off that excitement for very long. "Wow, we've got music just like them!" will last for about a year at best. Sooner or later we've got to give people more.

   Furthermore, although Christian music has been in existence for more than fifteen years, the audience has remained relatively young. Where are all those people who grew up with Christian music? Could it be that they outgrew it? That once the novelty wore off, there wasn't enough substance to hold them?

   Throughout history, artists have been the most influential leaders of a culture. The anti-war, love, and peace movements of the sixties were almost single-handedly inspired by musicians. Their songs led marches as they lit fires of passion across the nation.

   Today in Central America, the musicians, film makers, and poets give voice to the helpless cries of the common people — the peasants being crushed beneath the world's political machines. It's the artist who can reach the heart and stir the spirit to act.

   But what about the Christian community in America today? Where have we, as Christian artists, brought Christians in sixteen years?

   Well, we've told them in a thousand different ways that God loves them, and they liked that. We've told them to praise God, and they've done that. We've told them they were in a battle, but not to worry because they'll win in the end; and they liked that. And we've told them over and over again that soon the King is going to come and punish the bad guys and take the good guys to be with Him forever. And they liked that best of all.

   But how many ways can we say these things? And how many times can our audiences hear it until they grow hard of hearing and bored? That's only the first of the questions which comes to mind as I think back over these last sixteen years.

   Did we tell them of their responsibility to love their neighbor? Did we represent to them the lonely hearts of the people who surround them every day? Did we stir in them a compassion for the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the prisoners — pictures that artists know how to paint?

   And were we honest with them about our own lives? When we went through great pain, did we take them with us? Did we share our unanswered questions with them? Did we force them

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to face their own lives by forcing them to face ours?

   Did we bring our doubts out into the open so they wouldn't feel so alone in theirs? Did we write about our failures and the things they taught us? Did we paint common, everyday pictures of loving God and loving each other? Did we paint such a clear picture of our own sins that it nearly scared us — and them — to death?

   Did we sing to them of the dangers of spiritual pride, bigotry, and racism? Did we stimulate our fellow Christians to recognize truth wherever they found it, even when it was growing and flowering in a secular field?

   Did we use the power of music to take Americans beyond the complacent confines of Western culture and awaken them to the needs of the world beyond — the Third World? Did we give them a feeling of what real suffering is? Did we stir them to action? Did we ignite fires in their souls?

   Artists have always carried the torches that light the spiritual fires in a culture. I have one, and so do many of you. And it may not be too late.

Chapter 39  ||  Table of Contents