Zurich, Switzerland - December 1
I decided to spend the late afternoon walking around by the Limmat River and in the Old Town, observing the Christmas shoppers. This is the first night for the Christmas lights on the Bahnhofstrasse. They are hanging at regular intervals, horizontal lengths of wire spanning the street with numerous vertical rows of plain white lights dangling in the cold breeze like luminous, flexing cake-cutters. Against the deep blue evening sky it's a lovely sight, or so I thought. A Swiss friend informed me that to him, the lights are ugly, because they represent the wealth of the city being spent on frivolous things while many people go hungry. I walk up the cobbled streets of Old Zurich, the new mixed indiscriminately with the old: shiny electric kitchen implements basking in three-hundred-year-old storefront windows. Fresh graffiti mars even older structures. As I look up, I find the sight of the thousands of francs worth of lights both beautiful to the eye and distressing to the heart, with neither side of the dilemma able to explain away the other.
Oerlikon, Switzerland - July 2
The small family-owned restaurant exhibits its usual lunchtime assortment of old friends meeting for a meal, cards, beer, cigars and conversation. Since the shops are closed from twelve to two, there's plenty of time and no one is in a hurry. The atmosphere is smoky, loud but rather jovial, and quite interesting to watch from a corner table. Half an hour passes with all signs of normality. Then a lone man enters the room and seats himself next to a card-playing foursome. Suddenly, the room falls quiet. He proceeds to talk slowly, loudly and directly to the players, making full use of a seemingly inexhaustible repertoire of gestures. I don't understand his thick Swiss-German at all, so I have to rely on visual information alone to determine what is going on. Eliciting sheepish glances from those seated nearby, the loud man continues his one-sided conversation. No one dares look at him, lest they catch his eye and draw his personal attention. A few people begin to quietly filter away. After another quarter hour, the man leaves the restaurant, and all gradually returns to normal. Based on what I have seen, I will never know whether the man is a mental case or a travelling evangelist.
London - September 18
I know it's much safer to ride the tube here than in New York City, that is when conditions are normal. There's not nearly so much graffiti here as there are posters and beer-ads. Pay the coins, go down the old extended escalators, wait on the platform, get in the subway car look at the red and blue legend, get off, go up another escalator (this one wooden), and through the turnstile into the street. Such a familiar process. Including the familiar chalkboard warnings of bomb-threats. Today in the paper there's a headline that is frighteningly familiar. Today a bomb blast killed three of the people who negotiated the subterranean maze as part of their normal schedule. They were innocent passengers who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Another lesson in the power of terrorism, another set of pawns for its purposes. I wonder what it's like to be a casualty in somebody else's war.
Lausanne - July 12
Riding through the vineyards of Western Switzerland by train on a hot day, I decided to try my pitiful German vocabulary (even though we're in a French-speaking canton) and ask for a drink from the boy pushing the refreshment cart through the cars. I decided to ask for grape-juice, and so I proudly said to the boy, "Einmal Traubensaft, bitte." Only instead of "Traubensaft", the word came out "Taubensaft". The boy backed away from me with a frightened look on his face. (later learned that instead of asking for grape-juice, I had asked for pigeon-juice.
Los Angeles - January 8
I always get nervous when winos ask for money. They may be hungry, but it's not food they're saving quarters for. While we were shooting photos two old men approached us and gave us the familiar slurred spiel about their destitution (which was even worse than they could realize), and could we please give them some money. We remembered we had some tuna sandwiches, tea and a couple of apples in the car. We gave the men those things. They were surprised, but glad to have something for hunger, despite their disappointment that the bottle was still a dollar away.
Rome - September 6
The variety of fruits and vegetables for sale from the Italian street vendors is incredible. You can buy fresh coconut at almost every street corner and it's refreshing to gnaw it amidst the hot sidewalks and traffic noise. I saw another American at a stand this afternoon. He spoke in English to the lady at the stand, "Hey, I'd like a peach.'' "You likka what?" she asked. "A peach," he said, "Peeeech-a: how much?" "Peach, six hundred lire," she replied. "How much is that?" asked the American. "That six hundred lire," replied the woman. "Yeah, but how much is that?"
I was walking down a side street and passed a bus stop. An old man was the last to get on the waiting bus, entering the side door at the rear Before he was up the first step, the doors closed, sandwiching the old man, and the bus sped off, motor noise and muffled Italian cries mingling with the exhaust fumes. As it rounded the corner the man's legs were still plainly visible, kicking as if he were being gobbled alive by some diesel-powered predator.
Everybody is in a hurry in Rome. If you aren't careful, you will be
run over by a car driven by gesturing arms. But there is also evidence
of past ages everywhere, so that time seems to stand still. It is not a
difficult task to reckon what the people who
inhabited this city 1000 or 2000 years ago were like. There are many well-preserved ruins, evidences of human abilities and ways of thinking in times past. But there is also evidence of downfall and the death of civilization. There are ruins on top of ruins in the layers of excavation. Feeling the texture of an intricate design on a marble pedestal, (try to imagine what the person who designed it was like, his work having outlived him for millennia. There's a salami store built very nearly over the ruins of Caesar's house. How strange to taste of the temporal and the eternal simultaneously. How easily retrospect reduces centuries of time and mocks men's lifespans as moments in the dark past.
Marburg, West Germany - June 11
The medieval flavor of the old town has been well-preserved, the half-timbered houses kept in mint condition by occupants. The average house has 3 or 4 floors, and each successive rising story juts outward by about 10 inches on all sides. Thus, the houses have a faint resemblance to an inverted Mayan pyramid. They are somewhat asymmetrical and slightly irregular in their lines, and they seem able to sway and breathe -- they have personality. There is in this town a cathedral, famous for its crooked spire, which looks like an upside-down ice cream cone jammed on at an inconvenient angle, I'm told that when the architect discovered the design mistake which precipitated the spire flaw, he jumped off it to his death. The beauty of symmetry that was never accomplished was valued more highly than the utilitarian purposes that even a crooked steeple can fulfill, in a town of crooked houses. I guess he voted for trying to do things right, poor guy.
Milano - June 21
We walked to Boccoccio where we went into the Sante Maria delle Grazie Church and in one of the rooms, we viewed Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper". We were not disappointed in the painting, despite the extensive fading. The room containing the painting (it is a fresco) was literally destroyed in World War ((in August of 1943, and only the wall with the Last Supper and the opposite wall, containing a crucifixion scene, were left standing. The painting escaped harm because sandbags had been carefully stacked up against it before the bombing began. To this day locals sometimes argue over whether the paintings were saved by God, or by the people who had stacked the sandbags. In most theological arguments of this nature, perhaps neither side is entirely correct.
Kussnacht, Switzerland - July 22
Today we began the sessions for the Marchstei album. I'm really proud of the guys, not only for their playing, which is getting better all the time, but for their desire to distribute the record through a regular label and not through an exclusive Christian one. John did such a good job on his vocals and Peter's slide playing is amazing. It's too bad Swiss German is such a difficult language for anyone but Swiss to understand, but I admire them for not copping out and doing the record in High German or English, like most of the other Swiss bands do. Many of our American friends could learn a lot from these guys and their aversion to the grandiose in favor of real communication. They're not out to reach the world, they're out to communicate to those around them, so nothing is watered down, and I do hope they make a good job of it.
We've been watching the ducks around the docks during breaks. They run and swim away when the boats come in, especially the steamers with paddle-wheels, but they come right back, quacking. I guess the fish are confused and easy to catch for a duck-snack. It's so strange that sometime in a few months someone will be driving along, hundreds of kilometers from this waterfront studio, listening to the music the guys have done today just inside these ochre stucco walls. What a strange synapse of communication. The guy listening in his car will never know there were ducks singing not 50 meters from the microphones.
San Francisco - September 10
Last night the cabbie who brought us to the motel was so nice. He was genuinely interested in carrying on conversation with us, which is more than I can say for most people I seem to end up talking to these days. He took us the shortest route to the motel, too. We tipped him well, but I know that wasn't why he was so nice to us. Today the story was different. The cabbie that took us to the airport bus was so shrewd - he managed to get us in traffic and went at least 2 miles out of our way. He complained about his bad leg almost the whole time. Poor guy. I was mad at his dishonesty, so I didn't tip him, but now feel bad because he'll probably be twice as ornery with the next fares.
Reykjavik, Iceland - June 15
We walked around town while the sun was still high over the horizon - it was 10:00 at night however. We had had a picnic on a lava flow at midnight the night before, and it had looked like 4:00 in the afternoon. (I could take photos at 1/60 sec. at f5.6 with 64 ASA Ektachrome.) Even though it's still light (as ills all night in summer) people get in their cars and turn the lights on. And in the hotel lobby many local folks are drunk already. At near arctic latitudes it seems that there's a higher than normal percentage of alcoholism, and this extends down to the very young. I wonder if it's because of the sunless winters (there's also a high suicide rate). We met a group of guys in their teens and talked with them for about an hour in English. About half of them were drunk or getting there fast. They wanted to know all about America -about big cars, about big cities, about big stars. They idolize America to a ridiculous extent, not seeing what true beauty there is in their own land. They said they buy all the latest American records and pay upwards of $23 U.S. for them. They even import food, why not lifestyles? If they could only spend two weeks in Hollywood, I'd wager they'd gladly come back to Reykjavik and see their environs with new, wiser eyes.
Olten, Switzerland - June 20
After the concert tonight, a student from the Polytechnic approached me with questions. He told me he wasn't a Christian and he didn't believe in God. But he then went on to decry the ethical values of our society, saying that good morals should be upheld. I asked him what he meant by "good morals." He replied, "People being nice to other people." I then asked him if he really embraced the naturalistic view of origins of the universe: thus, man, and thus, ethics. He said he did. I suggested that his optimism and his emotional yearning for a peaceful world and kindness among human beings was left unfounded. Beginning from Darwinian assumptions, his logical conclusion should be to deny the categorical existence of objective ethics, since they are only possible with the existence on an objective moral set of absolutes outside the sphere of human opinion. All morals can be in the naturalistic system is a collection of popular opinion as to what should be considered right, and popular opinion as to what should be considered wrong, and these values change as opinion changes. The philosophers understood this a long time ago. The student understood too. It was what he had feared, he said. So I asked him if he didn't think that it would be wise to consider just from the philosophical viewpoint, the existence of a God who has revealed the objective basis for ethics so needed. He said he didn't know, that he has been taught so much from the opposite point of view that he may have to try to go on living pretending there could be absolute moral values, yet realizing in the back of his mind that within his non-theistic framework, there couldn't be.
In Transatlantic flight - December 8
At 30,000 feet over New York City, Manhattan just looks like a small peninsular protrusion of land into water The only visible recognizable objects are the Trade Center towers and Central Park. It's so easy to feel transcendent of the city at this altitude, even though I'm only six miles from the streets where life is being lived by millions of people. I am only a noise in the sky to the few ears that may notice. I'm told that in the time it takes me to pass over the entire island, 5 babies will have been born there and 6 people will have died there -- just since I first caught sight of the Trade Center out the window a few minutes ago. This aerial transcendence seems a curse, an evasion of the reality of the exuberance and pain of a new mother, the tears of a new widow, and perhaps their knowledge that there is no other human being with whom the toy or the sorrow can be shared. (Note: I discovered later this was the day John Lennon was shot in those streets.)
Oslo, Norway - August 23
The spirit of the open air, free-speech forum is still alive in Oslo, much like at the universities in America 10 years ago. The people here are seemingly very interested in the public debate of ideas, and Christianity is as yet a subject not ruined by such well-meaning but over-zealous participants as have presented an ugly caricature of Christianity in America. There is respect for others, and I'm surprised to find how conducive the atmosphere is for my remarks as a Christian during my concert. This "secular" audience seems to be more tolerant of me than some Christian audiences I've known.
Los Angeles - December 12
Dear David, I understand your initial reaction as a Christian to the iconoclastic comments made the other night by Frank Zappa concerning the meaninglessness of certain Biblical characters to himself and to others. I guess you realize that one man's opinion doesn't change what has happened in history or its bearing on the present, so don't lose too much sleep. You must understand, too, that the assumptions of the non-theistic element of our society go back themselves a long way. When one of their number voices such a complaint as Zappa did, it deserves our attempts to put ourselves in their shoes. And given those non-theistic presuppositions on which the majority of liberal arts academia has rested for years, you must realize that those Biblical characters are, in that context, rather meaningless. I'm afraid that instead of understanding these people and their modes of thought, we Christians generally seem to turn our backs and condemn the voices which brandish verbal swords against matters relating to our faith. Of course it's aggravating when someone doesn't understand the significance of facts which make history different from subjective observation and which make faith different from subjective experience. But we should be sad too, that as Christians we have not properly done our job of communicating. We have not learned to understand and even anticipate the naturalistic views of others, even as they are taught in the public school system. We prefer to keep to ourselves, and we have our own growing number of Christian schools. We lose touch.
Of course statements those "secular" people make are flavored by their
assumptions. To secular, non-theistic frameworks, Christianity is included
in a category considered to be mystical and having no rational or objective
basis. As such it is deemed absurd. Now, Christianity in fact is not a
subjectively mystical thing it is faith based on historical
events which have happened, regardless of experience or opinion. But we
haven't dealt with the opposition on that battlefront adequately. From
our side of
the fence, we Christians have worsened misunderstanding by not addressing problems at the root, but simply continuing to spout forth our Christian phraseology, personal experience, and "peace". They have no need to argue with us, but simply dismiss us along with all other religion, having already explained us away metaphysically.
If we react with rage, what help can we be? I wish there were a broader interest within the Church in education as to world-views of those who do live and breathe around us. I think if there were, we would be far less critical of their behavior, and more loving in trying to help them understand our faith in its true historical setting. They are human beings, and they think as they have become accustomed to think. If we do not influence this thinking process, even though we may pray for their souls and maintain all the "spiritual" activities through which we supposedly express our concern for the lost, then we are not evangelizing. Until we learn to put on people's mental shoes, how can we expect the historical Christian faith to make sense to them, seeing as how they are taught it is mysticism? We must pray for them, but if we only pray for them, if we only tell them that first they must believe in God and in Jesus before we can talk to them further their picture of our faith as pure mysticism will be reinforced. We will have helped harden their hearts. Our piousness will contribute to their ruin. If we love them, we won't be reactionaries: we won't be surprised when they question our faith. We must be prepared to meet their questions on their grounds. Condemning spiritual blindness is not enough. We are whole people, minds, bodies and souls, created as such, and they are too. We must reinforce our claims of love with our actions and our mental processes, or they will have reason to believe that those claims are meaningless as well. So when you listen to artists like Zappa, or read authors like Bertrand Russell or Aldous Huxley, don't get mad. Realize their works are the logical conclusions of thought from a consistently non-theistic point of view. Realize there will be many more like them until there are enough Christians around offering answers of substance to their questions. Thanks again for taking the time to relate your thoughts to me.
This is your second Christian album in less than a year. You seem to be spending a lot of time in the studio these days.
Yeah, I enjoy the studio quite a bit. I've been kinda camped out in studios all year producing my own music and that of friends.
Who have you produced lately other than yourself?
Last Summer I produced a rock and roll band in Switzerland known as
Marchstei, but to whom I refer as the Screaming Cheese Band. They're my
friends, and I really enjoy working with them. Their album is out now on
Polydor over there, but I guess it won't be released over here unless a
lot of us learn to speak Swiss-German. Then, I co-produced Pat Terry's
first solo album. He quit his group, you know, and is doing the rock and
roll that he has been secretly doing at home for years.
Will the album you released in Europe last year ever be released in the United States?
Well, I hope so. Larry Norman and I are hoping to release "Fingerprint" over here - maybe it will happen this year.
Why are there so many city-oriented songs on your newest American album, Victims of the Age?
Well, partly because the material was all written in Zurich, Switzerland and in Los Angeles, neither of which is very rural. Then too, the city image is the thread that ties the songs together into a whole. The city is representative of the environment in which we live in these days. It's a plea for awareness - the awareness of real human lives beginning, thriving, withering and dying all around us - a cross section of the reality that exists outside our idealism the real reality. That reality gets ignored by everyone, but I'm especially concerned because we Christians have this growing problem of losing contact with the outside world. We've put up walls, and seldom venture out. Christians are understandably reluctant to "stand in the way of sinners and sit in the seat of the scornful'', but these ''sinners'' are largely hypothetical to a Church that has confused purity of conduct with isolationism, and it's this problem that I'm addressing throughout the entire album.
But isn't some degree of isolation due to the inherent differences between Christian philosophy and secular philosophy? And doesn't the Bible stress the importance of Christians having fellowship with other Christians?
The answer to both questions is yes. But I think we've allowed it to
go a bit too far. There is a fine line between having Christian fellowship
within a community, and having an exclusive Christian community outside
the community. And I think here is the point where we begin not relating
to society sufficiently, according to our Biblical responsibility. It's
too easy nowadays to retreat to the Christian ghetto. When we're active
in Christian circles to the exclusion of activity in the larger circle,
we're widening the ideological gap instead of trying to bridge it. (And
by activity, I don't mean meetings, I mean dialogue.) Thus, the Church
continues in its own world while general society continues in its own world.
So, "secular" society continues in the
paths into which it has been thrust by the academics and politics of recent years, and the inertia carries it forward, while ''Christian'' society continues in its own path, occasionally voicing reactionary comments to secular society, but, nevertheless,
independent of it. Our reactionary statements usually don't do too much good, because they come too late. We often don't see the problems until they become so big that they look over the walls of our Christian villages and threaten to eat us alive.
For example much of the battle in Arkansas courts in recent months concerning Evolution and Creationism being taught side-by-side was doomed to be lost by creationists, due to the fact that the real battle had been lost much earlier. The point of the Arkansas trial was that creationism was defined as religion apart from facts. That's our failing: for 100 years some Christians have preserved Creationism as a purely religious concept rather than the viable metaphysical explanation that it is. To repair the damage now will take a long long time of patient observation of fact, both as presented by natural evidence and by a careful examination of what exactly is in the Scriptural account of creation, avoiding dogma and interpolation, as well as an examination of the philosophical underpinnings of evolutionary thought.
There needs to be a verbal and mental exchange of ideas between Christians
and non-Christians, not for an exchange program, but so that each human
being knows what the other one means. I think that it's too often one-sided
in the Christian world: we Christians just tell the world what we think
and then perceive the world as either accepting it or rejecting it, whether
or not communication actually took place. The Bible tells us that all of
us are reluctant to accept the fact that we are guilty in the eyes
of God. But that point aside, there exists in our culture a general intellectual bias against theistic thought, philosophy having gone in an entirely non-theistic direction for several hundred years. How can we expect to say we have communicated when we don't meet, don't communicate about this bias? We usually only assume it, assume it is totally "spiritual" in nature and try to preach over it loudly, There are many valid questions we shouldn't skirt.
Did the Jesus Movement bring about a better communication, showing the world through personal experience that Christianity is the truth?
In the late sixties, many churches in America were theologically intact to one degree or another but emotionally dead (or in the words of the Jesus movement, "spiritually dead") and many people were seeking experience through drugs and so forth in society. It was a time in which the value of personal experience, the existentialist philosophy, had truly hit the common man in that existence was deemed to be verified or made complete by the experience one has. Experience became a primary factor in conversations about value. If it was a good experience, it was a good thing. So the Jesus movement came out of that background. The young church took on street talk, paraphrasing Bible language, and took Jesus as an experience in alternative to drug experience. All these things seemed good at the time, but are dangerous in their implications. The effect of the Jesus movement is that it popularized a form of existentialism on the Christian side of the fence. It brought emphasis on peace and happiness from the secular pop culture over to the Christian side of the fence and helped form in effect a Christian pop culture (not a culture of substance, but a culture relying on popular and "saleable" caricatures for its survival), Issues are robbed of their complexity when mass-marketed in such a way. Many people did seriously turn to Christ during that time, but problems are beginning to show up now in many people's lives who became Christians in order to be happy. They are seeing that we still live in a bent world, and we still live in a real world. Life can be very difficult, especially for a serious Christian. Many have been living in a dream world as a result of some of the youthful exuberance of the Jesus movement. Some of the optimistic sloganeering done then injured the Church in that it masked the true nature of Christian experience. (Read some histories of Christians throughout the past ages.) To say the crux of Christianity is that Jesus will give you "peace" is not the way to present Christianity because it is not the essence of Christianity.
I am concerned because some churches in Europe seem to want this Jesus
movement we had. I try to tell them not to seek the experience of
a happy exuberant Jesus movement where everybody flings their arms around
each other and sings songs, although there is nothing intrinsically wrong
with that. But I tell them to be careful not to negate the truth, ultimate
truth that relates to the reality of what happened in Palestine two thousand
years ago. I'm very fearful for what might happen to the purity of Christian
theology in the future because from this existential pop Christian culture
has come a type of mystical theology in which happiness is equated with
salvation, theology deriving value from experience and not from its own
objective truth: history is becoming separated from doctrine: the spiritual
life is becoming separated from the physical world. Our responsibility
to tell other people about the gospel is certainly impaired by our mystical
air and our speaking in spiritual terms, in purely devotional terms, without
being able to relate as complete human beings to the problems that occur
on this earth daily.
Let's talk about some of the songs on your album, Victims of the Age. What does the song "Faces in Cabs" imply?
With that song I wanted to talk about how anonymity is a problem to
the world we live in when things are thought of in terms of mass. Of course
that has been harped on a lot in the recent past in a number of ways: "I
am a number in a computer." But this song also has a sarcastic rhetorical
smack to it. I know that God is aware of the personal individuality of
each face in each cab. But finiteness prohibits us from enjoying such overviews,
despite the fact that we should seek to be aware of them. As Christ
ians we can lose sight of this fact that those masses out there, those anonymous souls, are not just "somebody", but are truly people, just like ourselves. We have terms like "the world" or "secular society" which we sometimes apply to human beings, created in God's image who are born and live and grow and eat, if they can afford it, just like we do. We have segregated ourselves to the extent that we don't realize the fullness of their humanity, and that they are creatures whom God made, even though they are sinners just as we are. We are growing up blind, in a manner of speaking. It's a song for an awareness of that.
It's really difficult, though, isn't it, to put out albums to lots of people you don't know, anonymous people out there? And it's difficult to be personal with more than a handful of people. Why don't you just take your guitar and sing for handfuls of people so you don't have to deal with anonymous people out there?
That's a good question. I feel a responsibility to say what I need to say and the channels it goes through are more or less arbitrary for me, I write what I wish to communicate to someone. and hope that that will occur, regardless of the shortcomings of the electronic media, When you put a phonograph record on and listen to it, it may take more than once or twice or even (horrors) three times before you understand it, Communication can take place if one has patience. True, I have no way of knowing who will buy an album of mine or who will really listen to it. But maybe some of them will become my friends. If that weren't possible I would be doing something else. It is possible to communicate information concerning God. The Holy Spirit, of course, helps with that but we shouldn't stop trying our best to communicate.
I notice some of these songs are satirical. Do you enjoy writing satire?
Sometimes in Christian circles different forms of communication are not seen as desirable. Sometimes allegory isn't understood. I know Larry (Norman) has had problems of that sort. Another form is satire. I think satire is a great vehicle for communication, It can hit you in the face with a concept more forcefully than just a blatant observation of fact could. But unfortunately sometimes Christians don't understand satire either Indeed, our whole society has trouble with it. When Randy Newman released his satire, "Short People", it exposed prejudice in such a clever and forceful way. And yet many radio stations got huffy and wouldn't play his song because they took it seriously, literally. They thought it was putting down short people. What are you supposed to do in a situation like that?
I had problems with the song, "I'm in Chains", on my last album. Many Christians didn't understand that it was satire. I'm saying in that song, "Hey, I used to enjoy being a human being, but then I became a Christian and they told me that I'm just supposed to live and be spiritual, you know: I can't enter into life as it is, you know: I can't really be a human: in fact, my life is probably just an illusion, so one day I'm going to heaven and then I'll be real, you know." That form of thought is a lie and it's not Biblical, and I satirized it because I wanted to say something in a strong way about that mentality. That's why I chose satire. It's unfortunate that not everybody will see that. On this album, "Nothing is Bothering Me", "Dancing at the Policeman's Ball", and "Everybody Loves a Holy War" are all satires touching on problems. The first one is about the lie we can live as people by not seeing what's happening in the world around us. We have no right to interpret our complacent experiences as "the way things are" in this world. The other two are dedicated solely to Christian problems. "Policeman's Ball" is speaking about the isolationism to which I've referred earlier - how we as Christians can get so caught up with our own circles that we again forget about our responsibility to sense what is going on with human beings out there in the "secular world", And "Holy War" speaks satirically of the danger of believing that God is the author of our opinions, or our political leanings. Wars are always being fought between the "holy" and the "holy". Neither side realizes he can't win. Each side believes he has won already.
Many of your songs tend to focus in on subjects which to some Christians would seem to be negative. How do you respond to that?
I'm speaking about these negative aspects of existence in a way that
says, "These are things which exist and they're horrible," That is a Christian
attitude, I think, I don't say, "These are horrible things happening and
I'm glad," or, "These are horrible things happening and I don't care."
They are happening and we must look at them. We can't escape and hide from
them, We know God and He can help us overcome them and there is good in
life, But, look at all these inhumane goings on. So I believe that contains
the element of hope, the element of being stricken with sadness over fallenness,
because this is not the world God intended when He created it. How should
the Christian look at death? There is this pressure on us to be "positive",
to be happy because someone has gone to heaven. That's certainly part of
our theology. But our earthly lives and deaths are just as real as heaven,
and to deny that fact just to be "positive" or happy is not honest. People
want happiness instead of sorrow. So when they are smitten with sorrow,
they block it out and try to think of heaven, so they can be happy. But
both happiness and sorrow are human emotions - why decry our humanity to
satisfy our humanity? It's a slap in God's face because He didn't create
death originally. Man chose to rebel and death was the consequence. So
I think God is really sad when anybody dies, although the angels rejoice
when someone believes Christ and is in heaven. There are two sides to that
coin. I am tired of just seeing one side of the coin, given by a blinded,
"positive thinking" society. Escapism, even when forced from Bible verses
taken out of context, is still escapism. We are here on this earth for
a period of time and that's that. If you are a Christian artist, you might
want to express something about that.
Do expectations from the Christian culture ever cause any form of pressure or even subliminal censorship as to what an artist who is a Christian may say?
I have had that problem in small ways. Like when someone tries to interpret
something I've said and they get it entirely wrong, The company I am with
now has been very gracious to me and allowed me total artistic freedom.
I am extremely appreciative of that and the responsibility that goes with
it, I don't see myself as one who desires to be told what to do by the
Christian public even though I am a Christian, and I don't see myself as
one who wants to follow what is going on in the Christian record market,
because I think that has a stifling effect on creativity. Many people in
Christian music don't have as much freedom as they would like. Perhaps
it is unspoken censorship. Perhaps the nature of the industry, the norm,
the stereotype is such a strong influence on writing that some people feel
they have to write songs that resemble what has been called Christian music
for the last ten years, when in actuality, they may desire deep down within
to communicate a little more than that, or say something a little different,
But they are scared to. I get letters all the time from Christian artists
who are frustrated because they feel pressure to write to please the industry
and they buckle to it. If they resist, someone might accuse them of pride
or delving in worldly things - trying to write words that are rationally
meaningful rather than just words which contain spiritual cliches that
God has seemed to work through in the past (because many people said they
were blessed by them). Artists are often scared that they will lose concert
bookings in Christian circles if they aren't singing things Christians
have become used to. I feel sorry for them. I do know a few who have broken
out of their molds and have gone on to progress in their artistry. Pat
Terry is one
of them. I think his new songs are great - so honest, so free from pressure of what has been expected of him in the past. I know many people won't understand the change. The Christian music market has been overbalanced towards singing Jesus movement music along with its jargon, phrasing and absence of reasonable intellectual and poetic depth. Any lack of conformity to that norm is very often wrongly interpreted as lack of spiritual depth.
As Christians we need to feel the sense of God's love for us and a sense of salvation in our lives. Don't you think we need some of that jargon if it unites us?
No, not particularly. We need creeds, but we don't need jargon. We need creeds that state the truth, factually and clearly, and we can work around those. There is bound to be jargon that exists. But at the start of the Jesus movement the big argument was, "Hey, the King James Bible is so jargonized. Who talks like that any more? The hymns don't communicate," So they started new jargon. But it hasn't changed for ten years. It's time to say, "Hey, those Jesus movement words are old and stale: they don't communicate."
Now that Victims of the Age is finished, what is in the works for you?
I'm hoping to release an acoustic album later on in the year - just a brief departure from rock 'n roll, a short interlude, before I go back to doing some rock 'n roll concerts with a band here and in Europe. I'm also writing a lot of letters nowadays to people who have written in with questions similar to the ones I have had as a skeptic and later as a Christian, I'm glad for the discussion and interaction, and I'm always happy to hear from someone who is trying to be honest with himself under all this pressure from both sides of the fence.