I have to confess. As I sit here with a to-do list growing longer and longer, I really just don't care about most of it. Who has the latest CD, whose concerts are grossing how many hundreds of thousands of dollars, whose videos are appearing on MTV. These are Christian artists, and in a sense I feel an obligation to care, because some of these people are actually using the music to spread the gospel. And people do pay me to write about the industry.
Maybe it was the preview CD I got in the other day, The Ultimate Music Makeover: The Songs of Michael W. Smith, that threw me over the edge.
Never mind that the ultimate makeover idea is so overused that that in and of itself is enough to make me want to throw my hands in the air and surrender. Will the Christian market ever come up with something creative and innovative? (And just FYI - changing "extreme" to "ultimate" is neither creative nor innovative.) Or will the merchandisers simply continue to jump on the coattails of whatever mainstream fad has almost run its course and then promote it to the Christian market like it's the latest and greatest idea since Noah's ark?
It might have been the fact that this was a tribute album to the god of Christian music, Michael W. Smith, or Smitty as he's known to his friends and fans. The Christian industry treats the guy like he's the founding father of Christian music, and an album of his greatest hits covered by "today's brightest acts" just doesn't do anything for me.
I had the chance to meet Michael W. Smith during a trip to Nashville. He was getting into his car as we left our hotel to go to dinner, and the group of industry people I was with almost fell over themselves to make sure I was introduced to him. "Oh, he's sooo nice," they said. "You really have to meet him."
He might be nice, but he looked tired, and about as excited to meet me as I was to meet him. ("Hey, how's it going?" "Good, and you?" "Well, nice meeting you." "Same here.") I got the distinct impression that the excitement over people who "have to meet Michael W. Smith" wore off long ago.
Which is why I don't have anything against the guy. I don't think he set out to be an idol, and I can't really imagine that he's all that thrilled now that he is. And the "salute" album is probably a very honest and heartfelt attempt to pay homage to an artist who changed the face of Christian music.
The fact that it might make oodles of money for the record label doesn't hurt, either.
Which brings me back to my industry ennui. I think part of it has to do with the fact that I just got back from a short-term missions trip to Mexico, where we did construction on a school for deaf children. Whether any other album in the growing pile next to my desk charts, sells or shoots fireworks off in my back yard is of no consequence to me.
What keeps going through my head is this passage, from Romans 10:12-15, that was kind of my guiding passage for the trip:
13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
14How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
15And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
More and more, what I see is an industry that thrives inside of it's comfortable bubble, geared towards providing clean entertainment for believers and making a profit. Both fine and noble causes, completely legit and worthy in their own right. (We do need to be good stewards of what God has given, and running a profitable business to then give back to God is fine and dandy.) But I wonder - if we're going to call it Christian music, should it be used to share the gospel more often?
I've come to understand that I'm in this industry for a reason, and have made it my goal to seek out and find artists who actively strive to share the gospel via culturally relevant music - I call them musicianaries. It's what keeps me going every day, as I sift through the press kits and discard the redundant, the trite, and the overexposed.
But for now, I think I'll ignore the to-do list and instead mediate on what is pure, noble, trustworth and of good report. The press releases, the interviews, the radio charts can wait. Instead, I will write to the children in Mexico, many of whom can't communicate at all because they have no language and all of them who can't hear. They will learn about Jesus from the work teams who come to lay tile in their classrooms, and push them on the swings, and share Oreos over lunch. From strangers who come for a week and hug them and love them and send them pictures and letters. In the end, I think those are the greatest hits.