Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Christian Artist Who Isn't

I'd like to introduce you to a lovely young woman from New Zealand.

Brooke Fraser.

You may not be familiar with her. She's a singer/songwriter who is gaining an international reputation for her thoughtful, creative music. Hopefully you will become acquainted with her, because her songs are quite beautiful, with a unique sound and a touch of whimsy.

So why am I talking about a kiwi musician on a writing blog?

I follow the publishing industry in general, but the Christian fiction (CBA) arm specifically. The discussion of what is a Christian artist/writer/book is a never ending cycle of back and forth.

As for Brooke, she seems to have two distinct careers. She has released three albums for the mainstream, each progressively doing better first in New Zealand, then internationally. However, you may have heard her music on Sunday mornings as well. Her songs "Hosanna" and "Desert Song" are known worldwide in contemporary worship services, and she has done worship with Hillsongs United in Australia (sometimes as Brooke Ligertwood, her married name).

The interesting part is this dichotomy, where she is a successful artist to a mainstream audience, and can write and sing for a Christian audience without losing her other identity. When asked about "tension" with these two different worlds, she replies in an interview on an Australian website for Christian music:
You can't put what God is doing on this earth into a box... it can't be summarised into tidy categories. Whatever God is doing through my life, it's not just about me. There's a stirring happening in God's Church, through the creative arts, creative ministries and other things too... and as time moves on we get closer and closer to Jesus coming back. God has a plan for the whole earth and it involves everyone one of us doing our part -- it's not necessarily going to look like something we can easily understand on the natural. I write worship songs that are for the building up of God's people in the Church, and I love that because I'm able to express really clearly, and declare uncompromisingly my love for Jesus. But at the same time I recognise the importance of my other songs as being like parables... taking Church to people who would never walk into a church...

She says in the article that she doesn't consider herself a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artist and actually resists it strongly because of concerns about "merchandising the gospel." I know other artists won't identify with CCM because of concerns of being pigeonholed and possibly reducing their audience, but I've never found a major artist who refuses identification with CCM due to such a conviction.

I like the part where she recognizes some of her songs can be directly worshipful, and others are like parables. One of my favorite bands is Switchfoot, and I think many of their songs work in this way.

Songwriting is a different skill than writing fiction, but I believe the ideas brought out by Brooke in her interview and career offer insight to those pursuing writing fiction and wondering where their work fits. I think a fiction example would be Ted Dekker, who is writing best-sellers in the thriller market, while still pursuing stories that speak more directly to a Christian aspect. His books certainly fit a parable.

I know there is a lot to discuss as far as marketing, reaching audiences, and message, but I think having the concept of parable versus being a direct expression of faith in fiction is one to consider.

For my writer friends - where do your stories fit? Parable or more directly speaking to issues of God and faith? What are books that have done both well?
Oh, and go check out Brooke's website for some refreshing music!

1 comment:

  1. I think she makes perfect sense. If I remember right, most of the Words In Red *don't* advocate the separating of yourself from the community in little sheltered nooks of the like-minded.

    In genre fiction, we like our gatekeepers and classifiers because they present the illusion of a guaranteed, built-in audience who leans towards the receptive towards what we put out. Whether it's romance, sci-fi, urban fantasy, or Christian fiction, commercial fiction seeks to lock in a consistent and receptive market. But the downside of that is that by classifying, you lock in a core market and lock out the rest of the larger base of readers.

    As far as parable versus direct's a question of finesse and your writing style. A good writer of any stripe knows not to bludgeon people with any element of their story, whether it's character/caricature, theme, or insertion of the author's worldview on any subject, whether it's matters of faith or favorite vegetables.

    It's also about letting go of your own message. You can't control what readers will take away from your stories.

    There's a lot more to say about genre and subgenre expectations and how they both limit and provide framework for authors, but that might make this comment a little too epic. :)