Muted Creativity, the Christian Mind, and Jensen Ackles

Have you ever wondered why most evangelicals cannot write good fiction or compose good music? I have. I’ve read some abysmal Christian fiction (Left Behind, anything by Randy Alcorn, and others) and I wonder, why are all the good books written by people who don’t claim an evangelical stance or who are atheists or agnostics? C.S. Lewis could write. So could J.R.R. Tolkien. My favorite Christian writer wrote almost 100 years ago: George MacDonald. But most evangelicals would be hard put to name any truly great Christian fiction author. I believe there is something stunted in the evangelical imagination that prevents them from truly “feeling” real emotions or identifying with the thoughts and struggles of real people. I believe that they are so focused on the single purpose of evangelism that they are blinded to art for art’s sake. Everything for the evangelical has to have a purpose or it’s futile. This is why Christian music is also mostly bad. It’s pretty much sentimental tripe in the worst pop tradition style. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good songs out there in Christianland, but the Jesus love songs can’t compare to the worst of Styx or Supertramp or Fleetwood Mac. What can I say, I grew up in the 70s!?

I know that when I am in a full blown Christian mode of thinking, my imagination goes down the toilet. After all the Christian is supposed to cast down imaginations and bring everything under the reign of Christ, right? (2 Cor. 10:5) But by doing so, my creativity flies right out the window and I feel dead, deprived of all the creative juices that informed my college years and won me awards at university. Freedom is curtailed and my love of life, thought, and imagination is so severely stunted that I feel that I’m a worthless talent. All that is beautiful is stripped away, nature is muted, music carries no weight….it’s as if life itself is tamped down.

I’m not sure why this is, but I don’t like it. This morning I plugged in one of many iTunes Cd’s that I’ve made for myself. Cd’s of good, rousing music, from all decades of my life and all moods. What gets me going? Here’s what’s playing right now:

iTunes CD number 1

  1. Love is a Beautiful Thing by Al Green (click link to listen at Seth Swirsky’s site, scroll down the page to get it)
  2. Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty
  3. Mad World by Gary Jules
  4. Fall At Your Feet by Crowded House
  5. Renegade by Styx
  6. Lullaby by Shawn Mullins
  7. Into the Ocean by Blue October
  8. Counting Blue Cars by Dishwalla
  9. November Rain by Guns N Roses
  10. Black Horse and a Cherry Tree by K.T. Tunstall
  11. Seminole Wind by John Anderson

Now this list is one of many Cd’s that gets me going in the morning, transports me to another time and place and allows me to think creatively. You could say it’s my altar ego’s morning devotion time. Oh, my goddess, there’s nothing like Al Green’s rendition of Love is a Beautiful Thing to put me in a good mood!! Since I commute 40 minutes one way every morning, I have to do something or succumb to road rage (people are such dumb drivers).

But while I listen, I remember that before I was a Christian I had a distinct personality with strong moods, distinct tastes in art and music, a pretty good writing ability, humor, and yes, even sex appeal. Now I just feel like a 47 year old, creatively challenged, gravity-victimized mother of 3 adults, who couldn’t appreciate beauty if it knocked me in the head. I don’t like it. The only thing that makes me forget my age (besides my husband)? Jensen Ackles.

UPDATE: Jensen Ackles removed due to bad link. Google image him and you’ll find him. πŸ™‚

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17 thoughts on “Muted Creativity, the Christian Mind, and Jensen Ackles

  1. hey…. i don’t think that God necessarily enjoys the fact that most (modern) evangelical christian music/ christian writing is so bland.

    And I think he encourages and celebrates creativity (look at the psalms, or song of solomon, or Isaiah.)
    and there are some inspired christian writers out there…. somewhere.
    (I haven’t read that many but I like Max Lucado, G.K. Chesterton, Ken Catran I loved when I was a teenager although haven’t read him as an adult. I’d also recommend Joy Cowley ‘Psalms for the Road’ if you’re looking for good recent Christian Poetry.)

    Anyway I don’t know much about christian writers but recently i have sort of had an epiphany about modern evangelical christianity, or at least evangelical musicians; I think they’ve got the wrong approach. The right idea but the wrong approach.

    I reckon, any secular person who hasn’t really experienced church before (or worse, has been in a church and had a bad experience and then rejected it)….. or even just a christian who’s looking to move churches …..in the long run…….doesn’t really care about the window dressing side of things like what the music sounds like… I think most people care more about how many people talk to them on their first visit…. or how people react when they say they’re a single mother of four, or an ex-junkie….

    and also…. how do I say this….. I think a large proportion of evangelical christian music is based around the desire to sound ‘just like everybody else’. So you can put it in your stereo, and it sounds just like every other bland pop artist out there, and then someone says ‘who is this’ and bing you can ‘evangelise’ to them by telling them they’re actually listening to a christian artist. Ha ha tricked you, something cool did come out of the church after all and this is it. Aren’t we Great yay for Jesus.
    BUT…. I think this approach has a 2% chance of success… really. I mean, most of my friends are smarter than that. (and have better taste in music).

    Ahhhh so what’s the solution…. perhaps it’s ‘don’t sound like everybody else’. Not sure exactly how to do this. I do like the music of Sufjan Stevens (not sure of spelling on that) who is a christian artist, but not sure if he’s really that evangelical, he just does what he does. Also Blackalicious if you’re into hip hop are great christian hip hop artists.

    Or…. perhaps it should be about also what you surround your music with…. like I immensely respect Brooke Fraser for being a spokesperson for World Vision, as well as enjoying her music. Although that also would be kind of off putting to some people who aren’t into the whole christian thing…
    Don’t know, don’t really know what the solution is….

    maybe we should celebrate some of that crazy historical church music… ever tried driving in rush hour traffic while listening to ancient gregorian chants? It’s like a little chapel in your car…..

    or also I would totally recommend reading Song of Solomon for proof that God at least enjoys sexiness and creativity and appreciates beauty (even if most modern western evangelical churches are afraid of it). Or check out the architecture of Gaudi, not sure where you’re located but if you can get to Barcelona you should check out his work especially La Cathedral de Sagrada Familia (not sure of spelling there), it is amazing and beautiful, and chaotic, and totally celebrates God. (V. different from say, a modern western church that meets in the local university gymnasium on plastic bleachers- wonder if that has anything to do with the stifled creativity thing….?).

    but i too despair of ‘christian music’ most of it- I mean, why is it so hard for them to really abandon themselves and just enjoy the music? Why can’t christian artists capture the same enjoyment of life that comes out in a guns and roses song? What are they afraid of? Why why why? I say this every time I tune into the christian radio station in my car.
    I mean, I would have more success using Marilyn Manson’s version of ‘your own personal jesus’ than some of the bubblegum poppette rock that comes out of the christian labels…..
    argh. frustrating. But like that dude with the really bad shirts says… what’s his name….. (wrote 40 days of purpose…. Rick Something?)… if you’re complaining about it all the time, then maybe it’s a calling to do something about it…. hmmmm…. perhaps I should stop complaining…..

  2. kpmillion,
    All good suggestions! Many good offerings of musicians and artists to check out. Thank you.

    I think the solution is art for art’s sake. Forget the message. If you pursue creativity and follow your muse, there will be a “message” without forcing it. I think what I hate most about some Christian fiction and music is the forced quality of the message without regard to the art. But then, I’m an English major, what can I say? πŸ™‚

    As for Rick Warren…..BLECK! I’m sure I’m not called to create fiction or write music considering I don’t have a creative bone in my body! πŸ™‚

  3. How can I say I truly agree with you your taste in music are very similar to my own I love November rain an all time favorite of mine Seminole Wind is cool too.

    You are so right Christian fiction is mediocre at best. I read the Left Behind books and for the most part enjoyed them. But they didn’t fire my imagination like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter did. And they didn’t inspire me to write any fanfiction.

    I was really into the music for awhile but then it all started sounding the same like some cheap knock off of the dime a dozen teeny booper pop music that has no depth or soul to it. I love classic rock so maybe it was because there was no driving rythem or wailing guitar solo. The only Christian music artist I can continually listen to and enjoy time and again is Rich Mullins, and it was the wording of some of his less popular songs that has always enchanted me. The man had a way with words he could almost paint you a picture with them.

    And as for beauty I totally agree with you on Jensen Ackles ,God certainly blessed the man with good looks not to mention talent.

    But i have to say I feel with all the beauty God created in this world he must appreciate it and it only points to his goodness and his glory so why oh why are so many Christians afraid or unwilling to give themselves over to it lose themselves in praising God. They should be like David in their praise and in their joy in praising God did any of them ever wonder why the psalms are so beautiful David didn’t hold back because he was afraid of what anyone would say he was open and honest in his praise. I think most Christians today are caught up in either getting their “healing” or their “blessing” from God like he’s just this giant cosmic vending machine . You know like put in enough tithes and offerings and out pops your miracle.They seem to fail to miss how awesome he is have you ever seen an ugly mountain, a blah sunrise, have you ever seen a rainbow that failed grab your attention and make you say how beautiful. We see the awesomeness of God everyday in the oceans, the stars, the sun and the moon in a blooming flower, or a leaf changing colors in the fall. Why don’t we shout it from the rooftops. Oh well beats me I just think it’s a pity that we don’t.

  4. Tonya,

    So, so true! Why we have to “hide” the beauty of God’s creation by labeling stuff “Christian” is beyond me either. Like you said, why can’t all beautiful music be God’s music? Why can’t all literature be God inspired literature? I too liked Rich Mullins as well as some of DC Talk’s stuff. I don’t know that lead singer’s name, but I loved to listen to him. It’s a shame that everything some Christian writers do has to have some kind of message as if the medium itself, the craft, the talent, isn’t the message. In the meantime I’ll just look at Jensen and thank God. πŸ™‚

  5. I’m a visual artist who could not try and make a good piece of christian art if my soul depended on it. But if I just create and don’t try to proselytize my work does seem to have an element of christianity to it or maybe just a reflection. Really, only I can probably make the connection. But it is there.

  6. I’m surprised by the comments about a lack of creativity from Christians. Were you aware that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are both Christians – 2 authors mentioned? Where do you think creativity comes from – God!!! We are made in the image of God – we all have the ability to be creative and that ability comes from God. Look around us at the world that God has created – He is highly creative. If we are finding ourselves less creative, it doesn’t having anything to do with God – He’s the One who inspires incredible creativity – and being a Christian. Our lack of creativity has only to do with our own stunting of it. Don’t blame God or Christianity for your lack of creativity. That’s all on you.

  7. Well, knock me over with a feather! You’re kidding!! Lewis and Tolkein, Christians!! Hahahahha! πŸ˜€ Of course, I’ve heard. Who hasn’t?? Christians never let you forget it, which is the point of my post. There are other more worthy writers out there and it doesn’t matter whether the writer is Christian, Hindu, or a martian. Doesn’t change my opinion either. Just because you’re a Christian it doesn’t mean you can write. But you did make a good point; most Christian writing has nothing to do with God. Thanks for reading my crappy writing though. I appreciate it.

  8. Linked here through a search on Jenson Ackles, who states he is a non-denominational Christian. (http://members.fortunecity.com/darkalec/articles/newsletter.htm).
    I agree that what I would call the Christian Pop Subculture (CPS) has little creativity to offer. My theory is that CPS has little connection with church history as it spun off from the Jesus (Freak) movement of the late 60’s and 70’s. The result was in their attempts to restore the church, they tossed aside “tradition” and the rich resources developed over the centuries. In addition, there was a streak of “anti-worldliness” very similar to some fundamentalist churches. This combination along with the development of target marketing (e.g. George Barna) led to the CPS to feed the artistic appetites of Christians. So instead of developing a modern day Bach, Tolkien, Lewis, or Bunyan….we get Left Behind and This Present Darkness. I would recommend this blog: http://www.geneveith.com/

  9. luthvin,

    I think your theory has some merit. It sounds plausible to me. Everything created seems to be a “dumbing” down of something more ancient. But then again, that’s what academics say pop culture is by definition, “low brow” entertainment for those who can’t understand the good stuff. Thanks for the link and the comment.

  10. I used to do some studio sessions on keyboards for a few British Christian artists. I expect that names such as Martin Joseph, John Pantry, and Chris Norton have long since been swallowed by history. A lot of the music was OK, but it never matched the almost erotic intensity that informs the worship of some of these people.
    There seemed to me to be a conflict of interest, in that they spent half the time talking about their last royalty statement, and half the time talking about their mission. As a big fan of the King James bible, although not a Christian in any doctrinal sense, I wondered about the problem of serving God and Mamon.

    I think as soon as art tries to be accessible, it becomes a marketing exercise, and stops being art. In fact I think Mystery is right: As soon as art starts trying to be anything, it’s probably doomed as art. Maybe this is what they mean by the distinction between art and craft.
    Obviously, as a musician, my perspective is somewhat skewed. I had an Anglican based education, and the tradition of musical excellence is deeply ingrained in me, so I have a problem listening to poorly executed music, however sincere in its intention. My wife’s a Catholic, and I hear earnest young people playing guitar quite badly, and I can’t concentrate on the message. Now obviously, these kids are giving it their best shot, and I’m not having a go at them personally. But somehow, those in charge of the institution have lost their connection with excellence. From the effortless fluidity of Gregorian chant to a struggling guitarist playing through a tinny sound system, is quite a cultural leap.

    Historically, some of the best music ever written is liturgical. If you listen to the opening of J S Bach’s B minor mass, even doctrinally challenged people like me can see through a glass darkly.

    If we feel creative, we should simply create. Others can analyse it. That’s what critics are for.

  11. Reg,

    Yes, music was liturgical and all drama was liturgical as well. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox and Anglican churches have given us some of the finest music, art, and drama there is. I think all others are mere imitations and not art for art’s sake.

    The Christian “art” I speak of is pop evangelicalism which does not write fiction for fiction’s sake or create art for art’s sake, but does it only to convey a message. Didactic art is ok if it’s done tastefully, but when it’s not done tastefully or even well, then it’s more kitsch than anything. Tchotchkes of the spiritual set.

  12. I don’t want to dismiss the sincere efforts of people who are doing their best, and I certainly don’t want to stop them enjoying doing it. But we do have to be careful that, in following the modern obsession with inclusivity, we don’t lose any distinction between real excellence and the enthusiasm of the hobbyist. Everyone ought to have a platform, but this sacharine “everyone’s equally lovely” attitude makes me feel slightly sick.

    So, if that makes me an elitist, I’m an elitist. Dumbing down can lead to a situation where nobody is allowed to be good at anything. Teaching kids how to deal with failure is every bit as important as teaching them how to succeed, because fail they surely will in some areas. As long as we’re appreciated for what we’re good at, there’s no harm in acknowledging what we’re crap at.

    Sorry, this is straying from your topic. (please delete as necessary).

  13. Hey Reg, I agree wholeheartedly. Not everything labeled art can be on equal footing. Nor should we dumb anything down. No, my message in academia was not to dismiss art out of hand simply because it comes from the so-called lower classes. Elitism is thinking that nothing good can come from low-brow entertainment. I’m a prime example that it can!! πŸ™‚

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