A Plea for Originality

Does anyone else get depressed when they go into the Christian bookstore? My wife gives me that “tsk tsk” sound and the slow side to side head rotation everytime I screw up my courage and walk back to the music section in the Christian book store. The reason is that I almost always walk out disappointed. Why does it effect me that way? Because I’ve literally heard most of this before–on Top 40 radio. Yes, yes. the lyrics are uplifting. The choruses are distinctly Christian in a repeat-the-same-five-words-twenty times kind of way. But the artistic creativity is straight from billboard’s top forty. Just as an example: I drove to work this morning and the three songs I heard as I made my way to my office praised Jesus, glorified God, and did it all with the vocal stylings of Coldplay. All three had the same emo feel and that distinctive vocal sound that is a cross between a castrati opera singer and a 15 year old girl.

Can’t we just be orginal? Why does our offerings to culture have to be so derivative? There is a difference between derivative and inspirational. Its been said before, by the late Francis Schaffer especially, that there was a time when Christians led rather than followed in the artistic realm. Now that might be because we lived in a Christian culture during the so-called dark ages where sunlight was the medium and stained glass was the canvas. However, I refuse to believe that our artistic creativity has to be reactive rather than revolutionary.

I remember walking into a Christian bookstore once where there was a book extolling the virtues of contemporary Christian music and inside I found a chart comparing well-known secular artists with their Christian counterparts complete with a “sounds like” header. At the time I thought that was cool. Here I could match my heathen tastes to Christian lyrics. Of course I was 13 and on the brink of buying my first KISS album. Is there a good reason why mainstream radio has effectively ignored Contemporary Christian Music (or Christian rock for you aficianados)? Why is it the kiss of death to be labeled a Christian friendly band as Creed and Evanescence once were? Mainstream record labels deny that moniker with the passion of a John Edwards denying his love child.

When is the last time you remember an openly Christian artist being praised for their creativity and innovation not just their uplifting lyrics or singable and prayable choruses? Yeah me too. Modern Christendom suffers from a ghetto problem. We have our own music. Our own books. Our own t-shirts. All cleverly disguised as their secular counterparts until you get up close. But we are capable of so much more.  We have the greatest source of creativity and inspiration anywhere. You know how I know? Consider this:

You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Think about that. Psalm 16:11 indicates that at God’s right hand are infinite pleasures. No boredom. God has the capacity to be infinitely creative–enough to keep us satisfied for eternity. Is it too much to think that some of that creativity can be imparted to us by the Holy Spirit? Must we be derivative when we can be inspired? Both “inspiration” and “enthusiasm” share a common idea of the divine moving through us.

 Usually I would go on ranting for close to 1,000 words. But instead I’ll open it up for our readers. Comment please. What bright spots of orignality do you see coming from the Christian community? Read a Christian novel lately that could really hold its own in terms of creativity and craft with any book on NY times best-seller list? Heard Christian music that glorified God and you couldn’t quite put your finger on who they sound like when your friends ask for a secular counterpart? Give me some hope that the people of God can be inspired rather than merely derivative. Give me hope that creative excellence doesn’t have to be sacrificed in the name of getting the message out.


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