Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I thought you were a Christian

I want to acknowledge at the outset how easy it would be to write a cynical/hipster-type post here that would demonstrate to all of the blogosphere how thoroughly above the whole definition-of-morality issue I am, but the truth is I'm not above it. I'm smack dab in the middle of it (as are most people I know, Christian or not).

So, anyway, as a newlywed I taught GED classes as part of a satellite program for a community college in Prescott. They were satellite classes because our town was 50 miles from Prescott, way out in the middle of High Desert Nowhere. One night, a student showed up with one of those nylon, book-type CD cases, and as he took a practice test I flipped through his collection. "Cool," I said, stopping at Appetite for Destruction. I love Guns N' Roses."

There was a long pause before the student answered, "I thought you were a Christian."

I've thought about that exchange many times over the years. I've thought about it when I've heard sermons about what it means to be a Christian, and I've thought about it when trying to figure out how to approach a potentially inflammatory subject in my own writing. I've probably thought about it too much. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would say, "Who cares what you listen to or what you watch? The important thing is that you love God, right?" Well, yes, there's that verse about what comes out of a man's mouth being the thing that makes him unclean - not what goes into his mouth. The same might apply to eyes and ears. Then again, I know there are others who would say, "It matters absolutely what you watch and listen to because your body is a temple." And they'd be right, too. As for me, I've lived on the fringes of both anti-Christian liberalism and Christian legalism, and I know that neither one is where my soul finds rest or inspiration. So, I'm working through the details now, and have been for many years.

Part of me wishes I could simply toe the socially acceptable Christian line and only consume books, art and music by Christians. Life would be much less complicated that way. But the truth is, I find much of today's popular Christian music and fiction unfulfilling and unable to transport me the way some decidedly non-Christian music and books can. Notice I didn't say that I find Christian literature in general uninspiring - give me a C.S. Lewis book any day of the week and I'm good. I also didn't say that I'm transported by "anti-Christian" arts, because the moment a singer or writer started trashing Christ, I'd be completely repelled.

But, I mean, have you listened to "Paradise City" lately? Among other things, it's a masterful blend of musical artistry and barely-controlled rage (mainly on Axl Rose's part), and I have come to believe over the years that, despite the band's decidedly un-Christian flavor, at least the musical mastery part comes from God. Then again, maybe I'm just looking for an excuse to listen to something a "good Christian" shouldn't listen to. Where art is concerned (well, where basically everything is concerned) I'm far from a humanist. That wasn't always the case (ask anyone who knew me in my UC Santa Cruz days), and while I suppose it's always possible that my views may change about the connection between human creativity and the Creator, I doubt they will. This may be why I have a really hard time dismissing music that may not honor God overtly, but nevertheless has the same elevating effect for me that all great art (or what I consider to be great art) does.

What are your thoughts?


  1. I'm with you, Nicole: balanced on the fence between two worlds that are supposedly distinct, but which I think are blended together.

    I enjoy "non-Christian" artists/authors (and a lot of them ARE Christian!) but I dislike the politics that call for limiting ourselves only to Christian arts.

  2. Bonnie, that's a good way to put it. I think a lot of this stuff is political. Just one more reason to roll one's eyes now that all the candidacy announcements are starting to be made. :-)

  3. Hey there,
    I stumbled on this blog and yup, agreed with everything you said. I have friends who proudly state they don't listen to anything non-christian or read anything non-christian. I find sometimes the quality of christian music or books can be below par although I love Ted Dekker. Like you, I find music from non-christian sources can be really uplifting and inspirational. Does God call us to totally turn our backs on that that isn't "christian enough"? I don;t think so. After all, those people like GNR who obviously have a talent, should they have become christians, would have been very proudly snapped up by the same people who don't listen to them presently as they don't bear the fishy label!
    Great and thought-provoking post.