Sunday, October 18, 2009

Music about boogers for the glory of God

“Going Secular”

That’s what we used to call it when a Christian artist all of a sudden appeared on mainstream radio (or even – gasp! – in a music video on MTV) with a song that didn’t mention Jesus, or maybe only talked about God in the vaguest of terms.

He’s going secular!

She went secular!

I think they’re trying to go secular!

It sounds ludicrous to me now, but at the time it seemed like juicy, scandalous news. It was sort of the ultimate sin in Christian entertainment (every time I say those two words together, I either giggle to myself or shudder a little).

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, this sort of thing was big news in the evangelical Christian community. And it was all really controversial and divisive, too, because you never knew where people were going to stand on it. Was “going secular” tantamount to denouncing one’s faith? Was it a divinely-inspired way of doing ministry to the world outside of the CCM culture? Or was it something in the middle? Something more organic and unintentional? Like, simply, a particular artist was making music that was so good that it suddenly demanded to be heard by people, regardless of faith or lyrical content?

I honestly don’t know. It was probably a case-by-case thing. I’m sure there were some folks who “went secular” because they stopped believing in Jesus (or at least stopped believing in Him in the same way). And I’m sure there were some who just got embraced by the “secular” world without even trying or changing a thing.

Personally, I’ve never cared for all those labels and divisions. I wish people could just make music and not try to pre-categorize so much. There’s a lot of really inspiring, God-pleasing music out there that never makes it onto the shelves of your local Christian retailer.

Where am I going with this?

There’s something sort of distinctive about my soon-to-be-released kids’ record, and that same something represents what seems to be happening in my career as a whole right now. So I figured now was a good a time as any to talk about it.

Confused? Gimme a little of your time and I’ll work it out for you.

Can you handle a little backstory? I really think this will help.

OK, so maybe 15 months ago, when I first started thinking about the possibility of doing a record strictly for kids, my first thought was that I would just write whatever came to my mind, with no regard for how overtly “spiritual” any of the songs needed to be. The thread that would hold the songs together would simply be “things I want my kids to sing and learn and enjoy.”

So the songs, as I started to write them, had the potential to end up being about obeying God; or they could be about eating boogers.

Hey, I want my kids to understand both of those basic principles. They’re not necessarily on equal ground or whatever, but you get the idea. I mean, if you raise up a little scripture-quoting, sin-overcoming saint who eats his boogers, that’s a fail in my book. Nothing ruins a witnessing opportunity like a booger snack.

Random Stranger: “I really appreciate you stopping on the side of the road in this heat to fix my two flat tires. Why would you do something like that?”

Your Super-Godly Kid: “Well, Jesus said He came to serve, not to be served, and I just want to live like Him, because He loves me and saved me.”

Random Stranger: “Wow, tell me more about this Jesus! I am really interes… Hey! What are you doing?!?”

Your Super-Godly Kid: “Nom-nom-nom…”

Random Stranger: “Are you eating your…?”

Your Super-Godly Kid: “Nom-nom-nom… gulp. What? Sorry, what was that you were saying?"

Random Stranger (running away now, deeply disturbed): “AAAAH!”

Your Super-Godly Kid: “Where are you going?”

Random Stranger: “I don’t care how nice or articulate you are! I don't want your Jesus, you booger-eating wacko!”

See what I’m saying? And that’s exactly how it would happen, too.

The point is that I wasn’t going to try too hard to write songs in certain categories. I just wanted to cover the whole gamut of kid topics. I’ve always approached writing from a very organic perspective. Out of the 300-400 songs I’ve written in my life, maybe 30-40 have been writing with a great deal of planning-ahead intentionality. Mostly I’ve just written things that seemed important or relevant or urgent. Jeremiah talks about a “fire shut up in my bones and I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot.” Like that.

Well, at the same time as all this was going on (in other words, over the last 9-12 months or so), I was starting to get more opportunities to write other not-overtly-Christian music. I won’t go into all the details or reasons, but I was being presented with good, money-making reasons to write everything from country to instrumentals to jingles. Being a person who just really enjoys being creative (and a person who loves changes and challenges and such), I got into all that. Some of it even paid some of my bills and got me some fairly significant “interest” from people who pay significant money for such things.

So suddenly I was writing all kinds of music – and having a great and fulfilling time doing it – and most of it wasn’t the kind of stuff that I would normally put on my CD projects.

There’s a whole other story I could tell here about how, sometimes when I’m alone in my thoughts, I kind of get a little self-pitying about the fact that I’ve been pouring my guts out for 15 years, writing music for Christians, and I’ve never had any real interest from the mainstream Christian music culture. Believe me, when people who don’t know Jesus start to value my talent more than people who do, it makes things weird.

But that’s not entirely relevant to this story, nor is it all that helpful. Maybe I can blog about it some other time. For now, I digress.

Well most of you know what happened with my instrumental work. I have been getting some affirming and financially viable interest in that field, which I’m really thankful for. Many of you also know that I’ve written a fair number of jingles and had varying levels of success in that field as well. And a few of you have heard some of my country tunes. Nothing big going on there at this point, but I have gotten some pretty great feedback from "industry" types as I've pursued that aspect of my art.

The point is that, with regard to the content of the kids’ songs, I found myself writing all kinds of stuff. And maybe 6 months into the process, I realized that I had a ton of music that I really liked, but only some of it was overtly “Jesus music.”

So I started thinking about the Gospel and relationships and how the world perceives Christians and evangelism and such.

And I came up with a plan. Here’s where I might lose some of you. I hope not, but I’m prepared for the possibility.

I’m going to do a different kind of kids’ CD than many of you might expect. Hopefully, I’ll end up doing two CD’s. That’s the plan right now. The first one is pretty much done. Many of you have heard a couple of the songs. We’re already well into the mixing stage. Artwork design is being finalized. If things go as planned, it will be out within 4 weeks or so. But this CD isn’t going to have much God-talk on it. In fact, to the casual listener, it will probably fit right in with this guy and this lady and these people. I have no idea if it’s as good as what those artists do, but it will cover some of the same kind of ground.

What I hope to do is to get this music into the hands and iPods and cars of people who would normally have no interest in my music. People who have no interest in the Gospel or Christianity or Jesus. People who would never let their kids listen to music that promotes what is, to them, “religious propaganda.” I’m not trying to trick anybody or whatever. I’m just trying to do something with my career that is rarely done by “Christian artists.” And that is, to get non-Christians to listen to it. Can you imagine? What a crazy idea!

If I can get people to listen to this CD, maybe I can build a little trust with them. Maybe you (if you are the person who tells them they should get it or buys it for them or whatever) can build a little trust with them.

“Hey, thanks for the tip on that music. My kids really like it, and I like it too. Does that guy have any other music?”

I have no idea if the CD is good enough to endear my art to people in that way, but I think my plan is worth a try. Like I said, I’ve actually been getting some of my best responses, as a writer and artist, from non-church goers lately. Go figure.

I’m not turning my back on any of you. Just letting you know that if I have a chance to share what I do with people who don’t know Jesus, I’m going to do it.

Something else. A few paragraphs ago, I said I’ll probably end up doing 2 CD’s. That’s actually my plan at this point. See, I still have a bunch of kid songs that are very much God-talk, and I want to show those to the world as well. But, if I can get people to listen to the first one – and hopefully, love it – then it will be much easier to convince them to listen to the second one.

That’s the theory, anyway.

Don't freak out about this strange plan. As far as I know, I'm not selling out or hiding my faith or any such nonsense. I'm simply trying to reach a wider, less religious audience with these songs, in the hopes that I (and those of you who buy it and share it) can build relationships with children and parents for the sake of the Gospel, and then share more songs (and more conversations and more life, etc) with them.

Maybe this doesn’t make sense to anyone but me and the few trusted folks who I’ve counseled with thru this process. But hopefully you can trust me that I have a big-picture, long-term plan for trying to share the Kingdom with parents and children who may or may not know (or even want to know) about Jesus.

I say all that to let you know that you can feel free to pass the CD (or select songs, or a link, or whatever) to co-workers and friends and family and whoever, whether they are interested in Christian music or not, and you don’t have to worry that people will think you're throwing religion at them. Unfortunately, that’s the way people think these days. Trust me, non-believers love it when we just give them stuff, without any sort of agenda other than to bless them. If you like the songs, let them be that kind of blessing to your friends.

I’m not trying to propose that we should stop doing overt, controversial things in order to reach the world. If you’ve ever listened to my lyrics, read my blog, or been to my church, you know that I’m okay with overt-ness and controversy. But maybe we can mix in a little of this kind of thing as well.

I’m open to thoughts and discussion on this. I’ve sought wise, trusted counsel, so I feel okay moving forward with this plan, but I really would like to hear from anyone who has thoughts, agreeable or not.

Oh, and two last things. To all of you who were eagerly anticipating a new CD to teach your kids Bible verses and such, I apologize. I really do think your kids (and you) will be pleased with this “going secular” CD. It’s fun and wholesome and I’m really proud of it. Again, if all goes well, the “Christian” one will be out fairly soon as well. I’ve written about 70% of the music already, and I actually even recorded a fair bit of stuff for it, back when I was planning to put all these songs on one CD. I don’t think it will take anywhere near as long as this one took. I’m thinking of actually paying some people to play on it rather than doing it all myself.

And to any of you who are wondering if I'm ever going to make any more "normal" CD's, I can only say that I absolutely plan to keep writing and recording thought-provoking, God-praising music for grown-ups.

I just have to get this crazy kid thing out of my system first.

In closing, I give you this reassurance: of all the genres to “go secular,” children’s music is probably the least scandalous. In fact, sometimes I’m more worried about Christian children’s music than I am about secular children's music. I mean, if we’re honest, which one of these guys is weirder?

It’s a tie, at best, right?


Dave Wyble said...

A few random comments. First, this all seems like a reasonable plan, and more importantly, if in your heart it's your best guess at God's will, who cares what I think? (But I appreciate your asking.)

Along "going secular." One really cool moment in the last few years was seeing MercyMe on Jay Leno singing "So Long Self." My response to that was that it was good for MercyMe, and good for Jesus. This is not quite what you are calling "going secular" but it is close. I'd call this "crossing over" which to me means the secular world bends a bit to allow you in rather than you changing (or eliminating) your message to get yourself accepted.

And who am I to say anyone does not have the right to make a living? I work in a university research lab. The mission statement of my employer does not even mention Jesus or God. We're all about educating young people to lead productive lives. Oh no! I've gone secular!

freetosing said...

I think the conversation between the "Random Stranger" and "Your Super-Godly Kid" makes a valuable point. It is also entertaining.
Thank you.

freetosing said...

About that conversation though... don't doubt the value of booger-eating wackos - they have the potential to reach all the other booger-eating wackos who think Jesus can't love them because of their booger-eating-wackocity.

Robert Conn said...

Dan Zanes is awesome in a super cool kind of way. I don't know who that other guy is. Should I?

You said, "Just letting you know that if I have a chance to share what I do with people who don’t know Jesus, I’m going to do it." Yes... and Amen!

Hendrick Family said...

Call this coincidence...but on the exact same day you posted this I got this text from my husband:

"I just sat next to a grown lady at the red light and watched her pick her nose and eat her boogers. Twice. Both nostrils."

I wanted to pass his text along because I think it proves your booger point nicely. It also may prove that there is a lot of room for growth in every marriage...but what's new?

No matter what we thought about "going secular" before this post, after the "booger eating, red light incident" we both agree...we're excited about this new project.

People sitting at red lights everywhere will thank you.


Unknown said...

Hey Ross,
I first heard about you from reading the book "Franchising McChurch" in which they quoted your song "Happy." I thought just from reading the lyrics it was worth checking out so I did. "Clear the Stage" was the first song of your I actually listened too and I was sold on your music since then. I think you have amazing God given talent and I appreciate your lyrics that actualy have meaning and something to think about.

So, that said, I will always listen to your music, "secular" or not. And, I think if this is what you believe is God's will then go for it. It seems like a perfectly fine plan to me and there is really nothing wrong (in my thinking anyway) with writing songs that are just fun and not necessarily "spiritual".

Keep it up and I know God will continue to bless as you honor Him with all your music!

LP said...

Being the light of the world means being a light and shining, not packaging & announcing yourself as such. This is where you excel. You're a brilliant singer-songwriter whose gifts cannot be extricated from the Giver. Besides that, you're a too-flippin' funny pun-filled product of a great marriage which has made you a great dad to (so far) 3 great kids. We, as your fan base, need your perspective on parenting, given to us in a very Ross-way in order to help us survive the booger-eating years.