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  • Writer's pictureJacke Karashae

jesus music

as a christian and a musician, i have thought about the christian music subculture–and where i sit in relation to it as a songwriter–a lot.  (my tendency to overthink things has only multiplied the amount of time i try to figure it out.)

when i started writing crappy power-chord punk jams in 2001 (which none of you will hear, so don’t even bother asking), i was pretty blissfully ignorant of a lot of the meta-discussion about religious music that sits on my brain now.  quite bluntly: i liked music, and the most significant thing that i felt like writing about was my relationship with jesus, and so a lot of my songs that were written with any seriousness were either talking about my personal struggles or testimonies of faith. (there were also the songs about adding “oi”s to songs for good measure and mispronouncing “paradigm”.  it wasn’t all seriousness in my pre-pubescent musical life).

thanks to making friends outside of my own faith, getting into music outside of my own subculture, and spelunking on this thinkpiece-ridden maelstrom known as the internet, i started getting way more reflective about why and to whom i and my favorite bands were writing music, and what it actually meant when people said that music was a “ministry” in any but the most straightforward writes-music-for-churches way.  i started weighing the number and obliqueness of religious references in songs, trying to divine the point at which devoutness becomes audience-targeting. i’ve seen the back-and-forth of people defending and attacking art made by, for, and/or about christians as if “respect” (from whom? by whom? still wondering) for christian art is a war we’re waging in the culture, and we’ve gotta either stand by our brothers who carry the flag of “christian music” or disavow them as hacks whilst writing our own, “real” music (whatever that is).

i used to think about this with the urgency and panic of my soul dangling in the balance of which side i sided with.

given time and the very wise words of others, i’ve moved from the point of simply reacting to the spirit of the controversy (and agonizing over my own sight as an artist) to coming to a bit of a realization that has given me a bit of peace in my artistic identity and associations, and i’d love to share them with you:

  1. figuring out others’ spiritual or artistic motivations is a loser’s game (more bluntly: “criticize the game, not the player”)no matter where you are in the whole subculture debate (the apologists, the critics, somewhere in between), there is a massive temptation to try to figure out who is “authentic” and “faking it”, and be ready to label one person as the beacon of hope or the harbinger of despair for the subculture.  this needlessly stokes our own egoes as curators of the true divine goodness and makes us more content with forming factions than with pushing for transformation when we see something that concerns us.this doesn’t mean that you can’t have problems with songs, messages, or even the way people present themselves.  by all means, take issue with thought and nuance and share your concern.  but don’t try to define yourself as an artist or even a music listener by how you’re not “with those people” (back to the whole “those people” talk again.  man, is this going to be a theme with me?) and thus have more cred. determining another person’s state with god through their music is just straight-up not our job as distant listeners.  praise music without feeling like you need to lionize the musicians, and criticize music without feeling the need to prove that the writer has always meant ill and no one noticed it til now.  the quality of a person and the quality of what they do are different things, and all we need to concern ourselves with (as strangers, at least) is the latter.  after all, if paul the apostle can shrug his shoulders in philippians 1:15-18 at people who spread the gospel for their own personal agendas because people are finding the truth in spite of the agendas, i can stand to be a little bit less of an armchair critic when it comes to the unknowable intentions of strangers who just make music.

  2. to my fellow christian artists: pursue god and just write down what follows.if you are like me, the question of whether you’re the real deal or a poser can kinda overpower your life and make you constantly reflexively judge your every thought and action in terms of how it reflects on you and your faith.  this is especially true in music, which people can be pretty ruthless in labelling stuff as “the best thing ever that proves they were right” or “the reason [insert group here] was always wrong and we all know it”.  listen to peoples’ concerns, reflect on the problematic aspects of the subculture, ask yourself the hard questions, but when you sit down to write, remember that you aren’t writing to fill a niche or prove someone wrong or fit in (or out of) any particular subgroup.document your own transformation, in whatever way you are inspired and whatever way you’re skilled.  sometimes that may involve direct references to jesus, salvation, redemption, and sanctification. sometimes it won’t.  and that’s fine.  this is obviously my own opinion, but i’ve never found that i do well as a writer when i’m filtering everything through the need to come across as relevant, to either the christian subculture or those outside it. i’ve been taking a music of ritual and religion class this semester, and one thing it’s illuminated is the vast array of different purposes and intentions of religious music that span far beyond (but not excluding) the pocket that the christian subculture has been associated with.  this has given me a degree of comfort, just in knowing that the songs i have written wracked with anxiety as well as the ones i have written in hope can both fall into the tradition of reflecting on the divine.

in the end, music and artistic expression are simply an overflow of what part of your life has the greatest impact.  i’m trying to go back with intention to what i used to do as a preteen simply for not knowing any different: write what is overflowing from my soul.  if there are problems i find there, i shouldn’t be worrying about how many ‘jesus’es i have in my songs, but rather in how jesus relates to my soul.

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