“Is Kirk Franklin trying to serve two masters?” Part Three (final)

Some very serious questions were raised at the end of Part Two. If you’re coming into this debate now, or you are the sort of reader who wants to get to the end as quickly as possible, then I do understand where you are coming from – but if you don’t go back and read Part 1 and Part 2, you will miss something that you may need for your own understanding!

~

My friend ‘B’ had said:

“…I still contend that any musical genre can be used to glorify God. I don’t know if another quick analogy over lunch will be helpful, but since drugs have been mentioned: If heroin can be usefully and helpfully employed in a hospital, but at the same time destructively abused by a drug dealer or an addict, then couldn’t we say the same about certain club music genres or hip-hop?”

If my friend ‘B’ is right, then some club genres (but not all?) can be used to promote the gospel – and seeing as virtually all club genres are part of a lifestyle of rampant hedonism where emotions are lived out both in the mind and the body and where the very point is to lose control in controlled circumstances (like a person choosing to get high in a ‘safe’ party environment or get drunk in a situation where there are people around to ensure that they don’t become vulnerable to the wrong persons).

There are indeed some club genres that are more cerebral – more for the mind than for the body. But the musical skill involved in their creation is still something that really only makes sense as music itself. Some of those drum programmers are incredibly talented – but this music does not tend to have any message other than that of music itself and being a celebration of human creativity on its own terms. How do I know this? I did a research project for one of my postgraduate research projects on contemporary club genres of the more cerebral variety – an area that very few Christians have researched in any way. It was singularly eye-opening.

However musically clever they may be, brass tacks: all club genres and other popular (that is an important word as you will see when I write about what jazz actually is) secular music forms are actively promoting a secular, anti-God agenda through both lyrics and instrumentation – creating the means for the rational mind to be bypassed by the music. And this agenda is not in any way compatible with the message of the gospel. Neither is it congruent with who God is. And this is the final strand of this argument: in Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul talks about two contrasting sets of characteristics – the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.

Part of the theology of that passage is contained in the reality that there are some things that mankind can do pretty much on their own. Sure, they need the life-breath that belongs to God, but other than that, they can execute the ‘works’ of the flesh all on their own. We can make things with our hands and think them with our minds. And so Paul calls them ‘works.’

So why does he not say ‘works of the Spirit?’

Well – in a way, he does say that! Let me explain. The works of the flesh are what we do in our fallen, carnal state. The work that the Spirit does in us when we say ‘yes’ to Him is what the Spirit does in us – not what we do in the Spirit! Can you see the difference? And so, the work of the Spirit in us results in ‘fruit’ – the fruit of our lives! Now, I can build a car, or a computer, or a whole hospital complex – but I cannot make a fruit. I may stand in my own orchard and admire my fruit trees that I grew and cultivated myself, but I did not make the seed. I did not give that seed power to live and become fruit, and I did not give that fruit the properties that make it life-giving to me (not that all fruit is safe to eat, but you know what I am saying).

I believe that as a Christian, I should abstain from alcohol. Not all Christians do. That’s fine – that’s how it is. Here’s my point: just because I do not believe in drinking alcohol, and cider is made from apples, does that mean that I can make a reasonable argument to say that apples are bad? God made apples!

I also believe that fermented substances can play a part in our healthcare – but I would not say that commercially-manufactured-and-packaged cider bottles are a ‘fruit’ of the Spirit. The alleged health benefits of commercially produced alcohol are far outweighed by the incredible trouble it has brought to the world. Inebriation is not part of God’s will for humankind, and so anything that facilitates that is going to be a ‘work of the flesh.’

So then: what about the origins of jazz? And gospel music? Surely they cannot be used for the glory of God either, given where they come from!

I have been waiting to write on the subject of jazz and Christian faith for a long time. The time has come. In due course, that blog post will appear.

And I will also address the origins of gospel music in a separate blog post. Stand by for that.

In conclusion, therefore, do I believe that Kirk Franklin is trying to serve two masters? Yes, I do. I think that he is an exceptionally talented artist who has been deceived by some very subtle and dark forces. In sampling secular music and collaborating so closely with artists who have gone out of their way to make music that itself flies in the face of God and His will for humankind in order to make a type of music that will appeal to secular listeners who might want to be ‘entertained’ before being ‘edified’ he has crossed a line that I would not advise any Christian music artist to cross. This does not mean that we never work with those who do not believe as we do – but to what extent? And with what parameters and boundaries? What sets the agenda for the style of music we put out there? If KF had stuck firmly to the kind of pure, confessional gospel that he can do so well and brought his collaborators into that soundworld, that would have been different. But he is going in their direction – not the other way round! How does that work? What example does it set?

In addition, I have not yet addressed the matter of homosexuality in the music industry and in the gospel music industry, but the time has now come to hit some more of those big subjects. I do not believe that KF is homosexual. But one of the consequences of writing this three-parter is this: I finally know for sure that if I ever become a famous sacred music artist, I will need to stay away from the major labels. I may distribute with a big name, but I will need to retain control over the direction of my own music and I will not be targeting any audience groups. KF is on record as saying he wants to target fans of both gospel and r’n’b. I used to think like that. Now, I know my job is to put the gospel message into the best music that I am capable of making and let the general public make their own decisions.

In Part 1, I posted the video for ‘I Smile.’ To my mind, that video sent some very mixed messages. But if you were to take these very words, with a more powerful and focussed choral arrangement (and band arrangement, come to that), and have a confessional gospel choir singing it, it would be a different message to the one in the video – but you know what? Make up your own mind…

“I Smile”

I dedicate this song to recession,
depression and unemployment.
This song’s for you.

Today’s a new day, but there is no sunshine.
Nothing but clouds, and it’s dark in my heart
and it feels like a cold night.
Today’s a new day, where are my blue skies,
where is the love and the joy that You promised me
You tell me it’s all right.

(I’ll be honest with you)
I almost gave up, but a power that I can’t explain,
fell from Heaven like a shower now.

(When I think how much better I’m gonna be when this is over)
I smile, even though I hurt see I smile,
I know God is working so I smile,
Even though I’ve been here for a while (what you do?)
I smile, smile..
it’s so hard to look up when you’ve been down.
Sure would hate to see you give up now
You look so much better when you smile, so smile.

Today’s a new day, but there is no sunshine.
Nothing but clouds, and it’s dark in my heart,
and it feels like a cold night.
Today’s a new day, but tell me where are my blue skies,
where is the love and the joy that You promised me
You tell me it’s all right.

(the truth is)
I almost gave up, but a power that I can’t explain (the Holy Ghost power, yo)
fell from Heaven like a shower now.

I smile, even though I hurt see I smile,
I know God is working so I smile,
Even though I’ve been here for a while
I smile, smile..
it’s so hard to look up when you’ve been down.
Sure would hate to see you give up now
You look so much better when you smile.

Smile.. for me
Can you just smile… for me.
Smile.. for me
Can you just smile… for me.

ohohoh you look so much better when you
ohohoh you look so much better when you
ohohoh you look so much better when you
ohohoh you look so much better when you
ohohoh you look so much better when you
(and while your waiting)
ohohoh you look so much better when you
(and while your praying)
ohohoh you look so much better when you
(look in the mirror)
ohohoh you look so much better when you
(always remember)
You look so much better when you smile

I almost gave up, but a power that I can’t explain (but the Holy Ghost power, yo)
fell from heaven like a shower now.

I smile, even though I hurt see I smile,
I know God is working so I smile,
Even though I’ve been here for a while
I smile, smile..
it’s so hard to look up when you’ve been down.
Sure would hate to see you give up now.
You look so much better when you smile.
so smile.

ohohoh (Dallas) you look so much better when you
ohohoh (New Orleans) you look so much better when you
ohohoh (Cleveland) you look so much better when you
ohohoh (Detroit) you look so much better when you
ohohoh (Philly) you look so much better when you
ohohoh (Jersey) you look so much better when you
ohohoh (L.A) you look so much better when you
ohohoh (all my people say) you look so much better when you
smile…

See I just don’t want you to be happy
’cause you gotta have something happening.
I want you to have joy
’cause can’t nobody take that away from you.
I see you…SMILE!!

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“Is Kirk Franklin trying to serve two masters?” Part Two

Part One was anything but brief. Part Two is shorter (some of you will be pleased to note). However, this post won’t provide the same value for money unless you are aware of what came before. So, if you need it, click here for a link to Part 1.

~

I promised that we would deal with my friend ‘B’s response to my last response, as well as clarify a few things. So let’s jump right in. Part 1 ends with my friend ‘A’ making a statement of understanding. But before then, I had said this in response to ‘B’:

The nature of the Bible as an entity is very different to anything else that we could attempt to compare it to! So while it is indeed the case that anything good can potentially be used for bad purposes, I am not sure that particular plane of thought would hold in every dimension. At some point the Bible has to emerge as a distinct entity that does not even fit the archetypal boundaries of ‘literature.’ Genres are fully within the domain of human creativity. Death metal is a genre created by humans that uses the God-given gift of music. So in strict logical terms, it would be sounder to compare ‘music’ and ‘the Bible’ as both come from exactly the same source.

Here is what ‘B’ said in response:

A quick clarification:

1. When I used the example of Satan quoting Scripture, a clearer argument is: if something as clearly good and God-given as Scripture can be used for evil ends, then how much more can musical genres be subjected to this frustration. I too would be wary of equating music and Scripture – thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

2. After a little thought, I think I still contend that any musical genre can be used to glorify God. I don’t know if another quick analogy over lunch will be helpful, but since drugs have been mentioned: If heroin can be usefully and helpfully employed in a hospital, but at the same time destructively abused by a drug dealer or an addict, then couldn’t we say the same about certain club music genres or hip-hop? After all Jazz came under huge criticism – particularly by “religious” types – in its infancy… and given our topic of conversation, the origins of the word “jazz” are shady at best! The same might be said of the roots of Gospel music in general – do I remember rightly that it has its origins in music originally used to worship African deities (AD, please correct this if you know otherwise)? Basically, I need to go and rehearse now (!), so my argument is essentially to ask whether ANY man-made art is beyond God’s redemptive power.

Here is a brilliant thing about dialogue and exchange – we can all learn something new even while defending our point of view. Before I did a little research, I would have said that it is not heroin that is used as a painkiller, but morphine, and built an argument from there. However, this would have been less than accurate. Morphine is legal in both the UK and the US, but heroin is also a legal painkiller in Britain (in strictly controlled clinical care settings), whilst the US bans it (despite allowing opiates even stronger than heroin).

This means that ‘B’s argument that “any musical genre can be used to glorify God” takes on a slightly newer dimension – particularly as he goes on to position himself on a stronger conceptual footing by asking “whether ANY man-made art is beyond God’s redemptive power.” I really like that question, and it has caused both the artist and the theologian in me to come together and think about that question all over again.

But I cannot deny that these days, the theologian sets the agenda and not the other way round. This includes in the arena of thought. As such, I had to ask myself if I believed a theological justification existed for the argument that literally any genre of music could be used to glorify God.

Even if one casts this question in a theological mould, a Christian musician’s answer is not likely to be the same as a theologian’s answer. And I now know that this question is even more complicated than I had already understood. The mere fact that general Christian expression exists on such a vast continuum (and some would say more than one continuum, such are the discrepancies between some denominations and traditions) means that a watertight argument for any position on this issue is particularly hard to make.

But a watertight argument is exactly what I propose to try and make – there would be no point in academic endeavour of any description if one were not striving to achieve that end as often as possible, given the inevitable and ineluctable limits of human cognition. So – ‘B’ proposes the possibility that no man-made art is beyond God’s redemptive power. The musician (or artist of whatever description) can stop there if they choose, but the theologian must keep thinking. If one allows for that possibility, then by logical extension one can and must allow for the possibility that there is nothing man-made – full stop – that is beyond God’s redemptive power. Not just art, but in the whole scope of human output.

That sounds really nice to many Christian ears. Nothing whatsoever that a human does, makes, says, thinks – nothing is beyond God’s redemptive power.

Now, theologically – based on Scripture, we would indeed say that there is nothing that a human being can do that would put them beyond the scope of God’s redemptive grace – IF (and only if) the person in question is serious about their desire to make things right between themselves and God. So that means that there is what Christians refer to as the unpardonable sin – the sin of saying no to the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 12:31).

Immediately, we see issues. Is there an action that humans can do that is beyond the scope of God’s redemptive power? Yes. There is. A person’s refusal to acknowledge the entreaties of the Holy Spirit eventually means that if God is not to force them to obey Him, He has to leave them to live as if they are god to themselves. So, a man named Judas made up his mind to do what he thought was best for Jesus – and for his people – and betrayed Jesus. It is argued that Judas may never have thought that Jesus would go to the cross the way He did, and the result of his actions was a terrible, terrible guilt that could only lead him to the conclusion that his life was now worthless. By refusing to listen to the Holy Spirit, he had placed himself on Satan’s territory – because we are not the masters of ourselves. We either serve God, or Satan. And the sad and tragic thing is, if we choose not to serve God because we want to be God, we automatically serve Satan – for he has more power than we do and he controls and manipulates – unlike God.

So here is a potential objection to what I have just said: Judas betrayed Jesus, and he died at the hands of both Jews and Romans – but that death was a victory, so Judas’ actions were ultimately NOT beyond God’s redemptive power!

No disagreement here at the theomusicology blog. But we do have a question.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, who then lied to their father. Joseph was later used by God to save many, many lives. Does that mean that we actively choose to sell people into slavery and tell lies – because God can make it all OK in the end?

Judas betrayed Jesus and took his own life as a consequence of terrible guilt. Does this mean that we are justified in choosing to betray someone, or in taking our own lives – because God can make everything OK in the end?

What God chooses to redeem and chooses not to redeem is beyond our capacity to determine. But we have been called to live according to the guidelines that he sets out. With that in mind, let us go back to what ‘B’ said:

“…I still contend that any musical genre can be used to glorify God. I don’t know if another quick analogy over lunch will be helpful, but since drugs have been mentioned: If heroin can be usefully and helpfully employed in a hospital, but at the same time destructively abused by a drug dealer or an addict, then couldn’t we say the same about certain club music genres or hip-hop? After all Jazz came under huge criticism – particularly by “religious” types – in its infancy… and given our topic of conversation, the origins of the word “jazz” are shady at best! The same might be said of the roots of Gospel music in general – do I remember rightly that it has its origins in music originally used to worship African deities…?”

See how complex this is? As I pointed out earlier, heroin itself is indeed “usefully and helpfully employed in a hospital” but at the same time “destructively abused by a drug dealer or an addict.” Can we make a correlation between a) a discovery of man about a natural object that is not created by man (the poppy plant) from which we can make a synthetic compound that gives us an antidote for pain as part of medical care; and b) the discovery of man about something not created by man (music) from which all manner of different genres of music emerge – some of which are designed to enoble and uplift, others to entertain, and still others to actually wash away your control in the moment – bypassing the cerebral cortex and blasting straight into the emotive psyche?

The pain-relieving properties of morphine-related substances are arguably something GOOD that mankind has abused. Satan likes nothing more than taking God’s good gifts and getting us to abuse them to our destruction. Now here is where my argument takes flight: in order to be saved, a person has to make a choice. [This creates major questions about those born into the world with major mental health problems, but we can never answer all those questions to everyone’s satisfaction.] If our choices did not matter, then God could choose to save us regardless of what we choose – which would beg the question as to whether or not we were really free.

Some music is made to stimulate active thought – intellectually and emotionally. But some is expressly designed to bypass the natural thinking capacity and target the emotions directly. Does that sound like something God would actually call a Bible-believing Christian to do? Are we called to force people into accepting the gospel? Manipulate them into accepting the gospel? Satan is the one trying to force us to do anything BUT follow God. God is the one calling to us, offering us a choice at the same time.

So if we are not to force-feed the gospel down people’s gullets, how would it work to emotionally manipulate them using music that is designed to manipulate people?

In Part Three we will pick up this argument and follow it through to its conclusion.

Monday, Monday…good for some, but not for others!

It’s weird to think that ten years ago last year (i.e. 2001), the precursor to X-Factor hit our screens and produced a band called ‘Hear’Say’ – who (on the surface) seemed to be a really nice bunch of folk – but whose band career lasted a grand total of 18 months…

It is weird how some people’s minds work. I have taken absolutely no interest in X-Factor for some time now, but I guiltily watched every episode of Popstars back in ’01. That had an innocence about it that X-Factor wouldn’t recognise if it sat down next to it at dinner. And one of the things I remember was that as part of elimination process, the Mamas and Papas song “Monday, Monday” was one of the things the hopefuls had to work on. And there was this guy, Darius Danesh, who sang, played guitar, and was just by some distance the most all-round musically talented person on the show, who led the others in sing-alongs and just left an indelible impression on both his fellow competitors and the viewers (well, those who knew something about music). The way Darius sang and played on ‘Monday, Monday’ inspired those singing with him to better things – and the song remains in my head because of that show to this day.

Darius somehow didn’t make it through as a winner on Popstars, but a year later, when the show was re-branded Pop Idol the British public voted him through to the finals, where he finished third. Here’s where the story gets interesting – Simon Cowell offers him a deal to sing whatever (covers?! don’t remember), and the dude says, “NO!”

Instead, he hooks up with U2’s producer and next thing you know, he’s got a No.1 hit and a platinum-selling debut album…

I just looked Darius Danesh up again and it seems he has gone on to bigger and better things beyond pop music – changed his name – and is doing really well! He has done a LOT in the last eleven years.

So, look at this. ITV screen a reality-TV pop show on which some not-well-known British youngsters sing a really famous pop song by an American band from the 60’s and 70’s – and for years I only know the song through them. It was several hours ago that I went to look up the song and that’s when I learnt the story of the writer, John Philips.

My father always taught me that one never had to read fiction if one desired ‘excitement’ in reading – for real life was always stranger than fiction. As I know that Dad never positioned himself to be aware of some of the more ‘out there’ literature (William S Burroughs and Anthony Burgess both come to mind), I did not take his dictum as literal unqualified truth – but I did accept his basic premise then, and still do.

Popstars took place in the first quarter of 2001, and I’m pretty sure that they did the “Monday, Monday” section before the beginning of March. John Phillips was 65 – not young, but not old, either – but by the end of March 18th, he had died of heart failure in Los Angeles.

Eight years later, his daughter, Mackenzie, actually claimed in the media that her father engaged in an incestuous relationship with her – a story ferociously denounced by two of Phillips’ former wives. However, what that did was draw attention to the insanely debauched life history of what was one of the wildest men ever to work in the entertainment industry.

Phillips had a less-than-wonderful childhood and with bad memories of relations with his own father, he vowed not to repeat what he had seen. Nevertheless, as journalists have since detailed, he created a private hell that was much, much worse than his father’s.

Somewhere in the heart of his being, despite his undoubted talent for songwriting and arranging, John Phillips nurtured and fed a self-loathing that in the end took him to the grave. There is a terrible story that I will let you read in the words of the Guardian’s Chris Campion:

In August 1977, John Phillips was supposed to be recording the album with Keith Richards that would mark his comeback. Studio time at Media Sound in New York was booked from 9pm but it might be 2am before the pair – two of the most charismatic stars of their generation and now two inveterate junkies – finally showed or 5am or not at all. The first port of call for the pair was always the bathroom. “No one wanted to be the one to go back there,” says studio engineer Harvey Goldberg, “because we didn’t know if we would find them dead.”

Dealers hovered around the studio angling for business. Goldberg recalls one girl asking if he wanted to see her scrapbook. “I just assumed that she was some sort of groupie and had loads of photos of her with the different stars she’d been with. Instead, she pulls out this scrapbook and it’s full of drug prescriptions from the 1700s through the 1800s. It was a collection of drug prescriptions. And I thought, ‘Wow!'”

Goldberg remembers Richards standing looking perplexed by his guitar amp one night. “I go over to find out if I can help him out with something. He’s just looking at his guitar amp, he looks at me, looks back at the guitar amp. Finally, it’s like a lightbulb went on over his head. A big smile comes over his face and he says, ‘I forgot my guitar.'”

Another time: “John comes stumbling out of the bathroom and into the control room. There are little blood stains on his shirt sleeve. It’s so obvious that he’s been shooting up. He sees me cracking my knuckles and says, ‘You know, you really shouldn’t do that. That could be a problem for you later in life.'”

As farcical and surreal as these incidents were, Goldberg was struck by how sad it all was. “These were grown men,” he says. After they had blown $170,000 in studio time, the sessions ground to a halt. A mix of the album was passed to Atlantic Records, but the label buried it. The finished master went missing for 30 years, only turning up among Phillips’s possessions in 2007. He knew that he had no one to blame but himself. “I had sabotaged the greatest break of my career since the Mamas and the Papas,” he wrote in his 1986 autobiography Papa John, confessing to an “intense self-loathing”.

So, what’s the connection between Darius Campbell (as he is now) and John Phillips? A reality TV pop show screened the year of Phillips’ death… Darius has re-invented himself, exploring opera and big band music, and become a huge West End star. Phillips went from project to project, desperate to build on the foundations of the phenomenal success of songs such as “Monday, Monday” – but in the end the demons in his head took the very success he had and took his life.

I will never, never hear this song in the same way ever again.

When Darius didn’t win through as part of Popstars and Pop Idol, some would have said that he failed. But look at him now, compared to those who ‘won!’

And who would have thought that a guy who could write and arrange a song like “Monday, Monday” – so good folk will continue to sing it for a long time yet – would be so unable to hold himself and his life together? But there is a deeper and darker truth here – there’s a little bit of John in all of us.

He couldn’t say ‘no’ to himself. And in his case, the spiral descent was horrible beyond measure. We all have areas – little things – in which we struggle to say no when we most need to say no. They may not be class-A drugs and sexual fantasies – but they will still hurt us spiritually. And if we continue to feed those parts of us, we will die spiritually.

Here at the outset of 2012, let us try to be wise enough to learn from the mistakes of others so that we reduce our own and enjoy a better quality of life than would otherwise be the case. There, but for the grace of God, go we…