Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wanted: A Few Good Secular Saints

There’s a rather frequent occurrence in the born-again crowd that, frankly, makes me nuts. It’s the tendency—heck, the seemingly implied obligation—by Christians to take whatever artistic work they did before they got saved, turn it 180 degrees, and transform their output to “all Jesus, all the time.” Why? For those of you wondering what bugs me so much about this, let me illustrate. I’m one of the world’s great Randy Travis fans. I have loved him since I started seriously listening to country music again—something I tend to do in fits and starts—and discovered that a lot of the songs that I heard and liked “happened” to be by this guy. I like his deep baritone voice, I like his general style, and I love watching him in concert, which I’ve had the privilege of doing not once, but twice, for free. (The graciousness of US99 in Chicago cannot be overstated in his particular case.) The man simply comes onstage with his band, stands in the center with a guitar, and sings. No frills, no light show, no dancing or prancing around, no flash—in fact, as stage performers go, he is Mr. Laid Back—and yet, for an hour and a half or two hours, or however long the concert is, he has the room in the palm of his hand. You find yourself sitting back in your seat, breathing easier, and just relaxing as that sweet voice—singing those familiar, hokey, wonderful old-fashioned country love songs—washes over you. Or at least you used to be able to. Until the guy got saved. Now, one of the things I’ve always loved about Randy Travis is that, even as a secular country artist, he’s never to my knowledge performed a deliberately “dirty” song. I wish that could be said for country artists as a group; it can’t. Sure, one of his big hits (On the Other Hand) is about adultery—but the lyric line is concerned with the narrator reminding himself not to do it. Another song (The Hole) has these words to live by: “There’s no healthy way to mess with the line between wrong and right.” Not only is this sound morality, but this progression, and Randy’s whole life, illustrates a remarkable transformation and maturation of a former hell-raiser. So even in a strictly secular sense, this man was obviously moving closer to the light for a long time. God spoke to him gently and persistently until he came the rest of the way, opened his Bible, and finally confessed to a saving faith. This is a wonderful thing personally, and apparently it’s been a wonderful thing professionally; now, instead of just winning Grammys for country songs, Randy can win Doves and Grammys for two kinds of music. That is, he could…if he recorded country anymore. But when was the last time you heard any new country by Randy Travis—or maybe I should say any new country music from him that isn’t, at its core, about Jesus? Yes, I understand that sometimes in the heat and light of a new conversion, the only thing you want to think about is Jesus, and the only thing you want everyone to hear about is Him. So maybe that’s what these last several albums have been on Randy’s part—the overwhelming, bubbling joy coming out and expressing itself. And from what I hear and read, Randy’s finally going back into the studio and recording a straight-country album soon. I fervently hope so. But in the meantime—from the perspective of the folks on the straight-country end of things—what he’s done, and what so many artists do, feels a little like an abandonment. And I wonder if that’s really the message that a Christian artist ought to be sending to a fan base, much less to the world at large: “Oh, I was doing the devil’s work before. But now that I’m doing Jesus’ work, everything I sing has to be about Him, and only Him, and if you don’t like that, it just proves you need to be saved, Amen, Hallelujah.” Does it? Really? The world’s dark depravities do need a Christian witness, but that doesn’t mean that everything we put out there has to have the word “Jesus” or even “God” mentioned on every other page to qualify as “Christian witness.” If anything, exactly the opposite is true—that’s yet another example of preaching to the choir, and folks who used to like us before we “got religion” and “got weird” then leave us behind. Naturally, if your entire former oeuvre was based on immorality, blasphemy, or promoting lifestyles that are against God’s laws, of course you make a change (!). But if you were doing family entertainment—albeit secular—with nothing morally objectionable as its foundation or in its execution, is it really always God’s will that you leave all that behind for a more in-your-face declaration of Whom you belong to? In some cases, maybe. I’d say in most cases, probably not. In most cases, you’ll do more good just staying where you are and continuing to do what you do. And I wish there were more Christian artists who would catch on to that. People are remarkably intelligent when it comes to entertainment. Despite the array that’s on much of TV and the Internet, the fact remains that generally, if you give people a horking good product—a good story, a great evening of music, an uplifting theatrical experience, a beautiful painting or photograph—they’ll reward you by telling their friends, and they’ll hang around waiting for more. If we truly believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll know that He works in all our best efforts…and God is glorified by them. He can’t help but be, simply by the approaches we’ll take and the quality we’ll produce as people who do all things “to the glory of God.” Even “secular” work. Maybe especially “secular” work. Thoughts?



Anonymous said...

I am a dedicated randy travis fan of ver 20 years and support everything he does. I can't help but wonder as i read on and on about how he does nothing but religious music now if you ever checked out Passing through released in 2004. although the songs had a very positive message to them, many songs, such as "Pick up the Oars and Row" "My Poor Old heart" and "Train Long gone" were definitely country.

Maybe if you've not heard that CD, you need to track it down.

It is true there should be a new country CD coming out sometime this spring.

Also this past September there was a Christmas CD released having both some secular and some christian type Christmas songs. The CD was titled "Songs of the Season."

So before you continue to ramble on how he's done nothing country or at least of a non-christian nature since having been saved, you need to study up on what he has put out.

Donna Alice said...

There's a lot of truth in this. A whole lot of christian fiction seems to be preaching to the choir (although they have a hidden agenda of being a ministry to get us unlightened folks saved.) Why can't someone write a story that would go out to people who have never even had a christian thought in their life, but maybe because a character (or singer) says one thing about the "right thing" or does something that points toward a moral position--it sets them thinking?

And why can't you just enjoy some things whether they are "religious" or not?

I'm not much into country music but I have a friend who LOVES Randy Travis. So, I pretty much have to listen to some of his music sometimes. I have to admit I like a lot of it. Even a song such as "Forever and Ever, Amen" has "spiritual" aspects that life my heart and mind to higher things like love without ever saying much about God at all. Yet, if I wanted to take it a step further, deep and true love leads to God. Happy marriages, long lasting ones also lead to God's goodness in letting the person find the right mate!

Guess what I'm trying to say is that we need more people in every walk of life or entertainment who can BE christian or Catholic and still appeal to a lot of people.

Deb said...

I too like RT, though I was never a hard core fan of his like you were (are?). But I suspect he's in that "honeymoon period" with his faith, where it all really DOES have to be about Christ, in your face, etc.

And I can't blame him. I'd talk about my honeymoon period too, if I could remember any of the details. He may stay as he is; he may revert to the old wholesome RT with an occasional faith-song in the mix.

I do know I'd much rather see this paradigm than the one where they start out as Christian music-makers (or any other sphere of endeavor) and then appear to forget Whom they serve. Seen way too much of that.


Janny said...


Yeah, I admit, I've been a little busy moving out of state and the like in the last three years and haven't seen the CD you talk about. I probably won't see it in many of the stores here, either...being as how we're kind of in Podunk, USA at the moment. But I'll check it out.

All I remembered is, he came out with INSPIRATIONAL JOURNEY, and then the next CD was sacred music as well--or at least I remember it as such. And I thought, "Phooey, where's the old country singer I know and love?"

I think I was especially dismayed one morning to hear his version of "Open the Eyes of My Heart"--it wasn't good. And that made me wonder if he truly was going down a path that wasn't showing off his best talents.

And, it must be said that while the post focused on Randy as an example, he's far from the first or last person to exhibit this kind of phenomenon...which is why I put the post up in the first place.

Finally, there's no need to comment anonymously on my blog. I don't bite. :-) So please use your name next time!


RTFAN said...

Janny, my name is Linda and i was in no way trying to be anonymous to keep my identity a secret. i only chose that option as i am not technically registered for your blog and was just posting. i also apologize if my post seemed rather strong; i didn't mean for it to be that way. I just always like to educate people on Randy if I feel perhaps they aren't aware of all of the facts. again, my sincere apologies.

I also do want to commend you on having audio feedback for your word verification as not all places do that. I happen o be totally blind using screen reading software which does not readily read the images so the audio verification is much appreciated.

Thank you.

Janny said...


You're welcome! Actually, I didn't know I had audio verification...must have been a new thing Blogger slipped in there. Nice to know sometimes you can get pleasant surprises online. :-)

Thanks again for stopping by. I hope you'll come back and read more!