It Needs More Jesus: How to Write the Next Christian Hit

Jesus Rock

My wife listens to Christian music all the time, and I tend to make fun of her for it. I tell her that Christian artists are the rock and roll musicians that just didn’t have the talent to make it in the local cover band. Realizing they had no talent, they dashed out a chord or two on their acoustic guitar and wrote some sappy lyrics about how great God is while they made sure Jesus was mentioned at least every second word or so. And aside from a few outliers, my joking criticism of Christian music holds true for most artists.

Today I was filling up at the local Mississippi Christian gas station the kind that likes to cram their Christianity down your throat whether you like it or not, and I was surprised to hear a Christian song that didn’t quite fit the mold. It still mentioned Jesus saying the name directly several times throughout the song. It spoke of a girl inflexibly attending church. And it spoke of the girl being wildly in love with God and preaching Gods word. But it spoke all of this in the past tense. I was refreshed to hear a “Christian” song lamenting someone losing his or her faith in a real and permanent sort of way.

In most Christian songs or stories, the loss of someone’s faith is the beginning conceit for an annoyingly false narrative of someone showing this poor fallen person the truth and bringing him or her back to God’s grace. But this song did not do that. It left this girl‘s loss of faith unresolved and as such it humanized both the girl’s loss of faith that was treated like a real and difficult issue that the girl needed to resolve on her own and the singer of the song who was not just the deliverer of God’s poetic justice but a real person with real and complicated feelings about this girl. This song builds a relationship between the singer and the girl. You are left feeling the longing and disconnect caused by the growing gap between the two of them. Unfortunately, when people realize that this song doesn’t follow the strict guidelines of typical Christian thought, it will be pulled from the airwaves and it will never be allowed to spark off a much needed renaissance in Christian music. But at least I have just penned the next platinum selling Christian song that will make me a millionaire.

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Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus

Jesus Jesus

Jesus Jesus

Jesus Jesus Jesus

Jesus

Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus

Jesus Jesus

Jesus Jesus

Jesus Jesus Jesus

Jesus

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Holding a Mirror to Society

Taken from ANTON OTTO FISCHER MARINE ARTIST; Katrina Sigsbee Fisher and Alex A. Hurst; Mill Hill Press; Nantucket; MA; © 1984; #159
Taken from ANTON OTTO FISCHER MARINE ARTIST; Katrina Sigsbee Fisher and Alex A. Hurst; Mill Hill Press; Nantucket; MA; © 1984; #159

In Crane’s story, “The Open Boat” the characters are kept from giving up in the face of an unrelenting and uncaring world by focusing their every thought on the work of survival. Similarly, Sary Jane spends her entire time just trying to survive. She constantly focus on her work making nankeen vests. This focus on her work keeps her from giving in to the unrelenting and uncaring environment of the ghetto. On the other hand, The Lady of Shalott is bedridden and unable to work. Being unable to lose herself in the repetition of mundane tasks, she uses her mirror to find beauty in the terrible struggle of day to day life in the ghetto.

Phelps’s story, “The Lady of Shalott” uses mirrors and other glass or glasslike objects to filter out the horrors of the naturalist world in which the characters live. Because The Lady of Shalott cannot move from her bed she is forced to view the world through the ten inches by six inches of mirror. Mirrors reflect a reverse image of the world, and The lady of Shalott’s mirror shows her a world of magic and beauty instead of the conditions in which she actually lives. And there is a sense that as long as she the beauty in the world she will not be affected by these terrible surroundings. In fact, she states that the reason that the people who live in the space below the sidewalk had a mirror they would not have succumbed to the inhuman heat of the summer. And The Lady of Shalott does not die until after her mirror gets destroyed.

But the mirror is not the only screen separating The Lady of Shalott from the reality of the ghetto. Her mirror gives her a view of a window which is the only way that she has to view the world in which she lives. Being shut up in this attack room since was five years old has given her the ability to understand the world from an elitist point of view hence the name The Lady of Shallott. The Lady of Shalott’s misunderstanding of the world mirrors the way that the rest of the population of the city can see the poverty of the ghettos without actually understanding how bad they really are. When the doctor comes to check on The Lady of Shalott, there is a sense that he has come down from his palace and can finally see the conditions in which the poor actually live. He is shocked by the conditions in which The Lady of Shalott lives and claims that she could be cured if only she was moved to better conditions and given treatment. But instead of actually taking care of her himself, he sends for the board of health and goes on vacation. The doctor like so many of the others that had seen glimpses of the life of the poor handed off his responsibility to help to someone else and their help was too little too late.

Fairytales and the Sounds of War

Chickamagua

Ambrose Bierce’s story, “Chickamauga” furthers the argument from “Edison Realism Test” that sound emitted from the phonograph has the ability induce the same emotion that a live experience has. “Chickamauga” uses the premise that without sound one cannot register the appropriate emotional experience in the first place. This story also questions literature’s ability to portray the real with only print’s pale representation of sound. At the same time, the story uses the boy’s inappropriate emotional response to direct the reader to the appropriate emotional response even though there is a lack of auditory input.

Because the boy is only six years old and cannot hear or speak, he has had very little exposure to the world through education or actual life experience. Just like the average person who reads literature about the glory of war, he misinterprets the “ghastly gravity” of the wounded soldiers as “a merry spectacle” (Chickamauga). But more often literature about the glory of war did not delve into the wounds that soldiers received at any level of depth. Therefore, only someone like Bierce, who had seen the horrors of war first hand, would understand that the events depicted in this type of literature is not a merry spectacle because unlike Edison’s phonograph literature cannot pass the Edison Realism Test.

“Chickamauga” Juxtaposes language glorifying war with graphic depictions of wounded and dying soldiers. As the story goes on, the depiction of death and destruction takes precedence in the story and eventually the deaf child, who was a mighty conqueror, is reduced to a chattering ape or a gobbling turkey (Chickamauga). And like the fate of the boy the reader is taken on an emotional roller-coaster as the story begins like the telling of a fairytale and ends with the boy staring at the dead body of what is presumably his mother and watching his home burn (Chickamauga). This last picture of the death of the innocent town’s folk, of the family of the child leaves the reader with both the understanding of some of the hurdles that literature must leap in order to depict the real and an understanding of the importance of sound in signifying the real.

The Nosegay Effect: How to Smell Real

Nosegay

The snippet from Henry James’ “The Art of Fiction,” he represents a novel (and other examples of art by extension) as a flower saying that some of these works of art have the smell of reality. He then his alters his metaphor to a nosegay (Henry James). While nosegay can refer to a posies specifically or a small bouquet of flowers in general, James uses words like air, air-borne, atmosphere, suspended, faint, and particle to play up the smell related aspects of the word, nosegay and bring one’s attention to the smell related meanings of the word such as sweet smelling flowers, herbs, or perfume (Oxford English Dictionary). When James relates a finished piece of art to a nosegay, he is saying that realist art (while not actually real) has suspended within its unreality the faint air-borne particle that reminds the audience of the atmosphere of reality. Therefore, art can never truly represent the real.

In James’ “The Real Thing,” the Monarchs are unfit subjects for realist representation in sketches because they are already a convincing representation of reality. The artist initially assumes that the Monarchs are celebrities, and the porter’s wife announces them as “a gentleman—with a lady” (The Real Thing, Chapter 1). However, throughout the story he receives several hints that they are not the upper-class individuals that they seem to be. They had once made a living taking portraits for advertisements but had fallen on hard times. Now, they have no money. They live in a small apartment. They are forced to beg the artist for work. And once the artist realizes that he cannot do anything with them, he continues to employ them as charity (Chapters 1-3).

If they were actual aristocrats, they would not have been working for their wages in the first place. And if they had fallen on hard times, they would have been taken in by their relatives or friends who had room and money for them. The simple fact that they had no family or friends to give them somewhere to live shows that they only pretend to be aristocracy. But the Monarchs ability to act and dress refined is so good that that artist never questions their airs of aristocracy. Therefore, the reason that the artist is unable to convincingly draw them any other way than the way they look is because he is being influenced by Henry James’ nosegay effect. The Monarchs have created an atmosphere with suspended particles of the scent of aristocracy.

Twain’s Covert, Overt Discussion of Racism

Mark Twain

Twain brings up an interesting conundrum in “The United States of Lyncherdom.” When considering the rise in lynchings, Twain writes, “Is it because men think a lurid and terrible punishment a more forcible object lesson and a more effective deterrent than a sober and colorless hanging done privately in a jail would be?” (Twain 194). Twain describes a lynching as lurid and terrible and a state sanctioned hanging as sober and colorless. If Twain is using the dictionary definition of the word lynching, he is making a strange statement by describing a hanging in contradictory terms. However, he does make this contradictory statement after giving the example of the Pierce City lynching that made little sense because the man that they lynched would have hanged anyway if he had gone to trial (Twain 194). After this example, Twain’s contradictory statement about lynching can be read as an unstated indictment of the racism inherent in the justice system itself. Twain hints at the problem of racism when he writes, “… There are but few negroes in that region and they are without authority and without influence in overawing juries (Twain 194). He only goes as far as to say that the black people in the area have no influence on juries and does not explain why they had no influence.

Twain writes his contradictory lurid, colorless terrible, sober linchings in the form of a question. Asking the reader to decide whether or not a mob run lynching is a more forcible punishment than an inevitable legally run hanging also gives the reader the time to contemplate just how different the two types of execution are. Also, When Twain compares two forms of execution that are essentially the same, only differing in who is carrying them out, but describes them with opposite adjectives, he is giving the reader the chance to think about the differences between the people that comprise the mob of lynchers and the jury. A mob of lynchers would typically be comprised of the local adult males that are chomping at the bit to hang the man that the sheriff has in custody, and a jury would typically be comprised of the local adult males that are chomping at the bit to hang the man that the sheriff has in custody. Therefore, even though Twain did not have the word racism set into type, “The United States of Lyncherdom” is a serious writing directly discussing the problem of southern racism.