Carolyn Arends Asks: Do Songs Matter? (The Answer is YES.)

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Carolyn Arends is one of my favorite writers (not to mention one of my favorite people). Here’s a snippet of a great piece she wrote for Christianity Today this month:

“At a concert in Erie, Pennsylvania, I sang a song called “In Good Hands.” Afterward, the church’s custodian stopped by. “When you was singing that song about Jesus’ hands,” he said, “the sun was imagessetting behind you, and it was making them stained glass pictures of Jesus glow. The sound of your buddy’s violin was bouncing off these stone walls, and, well, you was saying more than you was even saying.”

In these tough times, I worry that violins and stained glass and folk songs may become extraneous. Many people are in a state of financial frostbite; just as blood flow to the extremities is restricted to save vital organs in a case of hypothermia, resources for less essential items must be diverted during an economic crisis. Who’s going to buy tickets to a film festival, ballet, or concert when there isn’t enough money for groceries?

What business do I have writing songs when there is practical work that needs doing? Do the arts matter? Are they expendables or essentials?”

Read on and take heart.

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As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


15 Comments

  1. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Oh, man–what an article. “You was saying more than you was even saying.” That’s the best sentence I’ve heard in a long time. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, AP.

  2. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    It may not be possible for legal reasons, but if it’s kosher, could somebody print the text to that article in a response? Through some computer curse, I have never been able to access the Christianity Today website.

    I am a Carolyn Arends fan from way back and would love to read this article. I recently read a movie review by Carolyn that blew me away. I quoted “Seize the Day” in my Grandpa’s eulogy.

    I love that line too, Jonathan. That reminds me of an AP story I heard at a concert once, when AP worked for one day at the Brut factory. I would love to see that story in print sometime: “What cell block you is?”

  3. LauraP

    Hey Curt,

    I just emailed it to you, along with all proper attribution info. As long as you don’t re-publish it or quote without crediting the author, I think you’ll be able to avoid doing hard time. 😉

  4. LauraP

    Oh, and sorry, S.D., for the use of the emoticon, but I”m girl and I can get away with it!

  5. becky

    Loved this article, especially the quote about art in the camps. Curt, I am also a Carolyn Arends fan and love “Seize the Day”. Hadn’t thought about it for a funeral, but that’s a great idea. I need to get my C.A. cassettes converted to CD or MP3 so I can listen to those songs again.

  6. Tony Heringer

    Barliman,

    What a great article. I’m send it on to my wife for inspiration in her endeavors at the Arts Academy she directs.

    I love this line:

    “When we are lost in some endeavor—consumed by singing a song, dancing a jig, building a presentation, or telling a story—people say we are “in our glory.” In truth, we are in God’s glory, participating in the beauty overflowing from the Creator himself.”

  7. Brian Roberts

    I think making money off of art is expendable, but the creation of art is vital. The mistake many of us ‘professional’ artists make is that we have some right to make a full-time living off of our art. If we do, we must consider that a blessing and not a birthright. We need more Farmer/Artists and Crafter/Artists and Lawyer/Artists, etc etc.

  8. Tony Heringer

    Brian,

    Whew! That is sure to draw some comments. I appreciate your sentiment and want to add my perspective as a non-artist type who appreciates you artist types. I think what’s at issue here is how we value someone’s vocation or calling.

    None of us has a right to work. In my world, the software industry, that was made clear to me back in the early days of my career when I saw some coworkers get cut for the first time. It was, from my vantage point, “out of the blue.” These folks were doing good work.

    For the last 25 years I’ve seen this cycle repeated over and over. A lesson that I think we all need to learn is to answer the question each day “Am I true to my calling?” – no matter my occupation – “Am I seeking to glorify God in word and deed?” That’s the purpose of all of life. From there we all need to earnestly view how God has wired us and seek to honor Him with all of life – including our work or vocation.

    There is a lot to unpack on this topic, but I feel we need the artist more than we realize – especially now during the tough times. I’m thankful that this place among others lends its endorsement of that need.

  9. Brian Roberts

    Tony,
    Be careful not to confuse “God’s Calling” with “What you do to feed your family”.
    I think our tendency to mix those up leads to a lot of pain and frustration for people. Also, even for someone where it IS the same thing, that doesn’t mean they are CALLED to a middle-class lifestyle. I will admit to having some abrasively strong opinions on the matter, I feel strongly that we have all bought way too much into the “Osteenism” that “God having a great plan for your life” means we should be miserable until we’re employed in some great world-changing vocation that we are uniquely ‘wired’ for. In the end, the factory worker who goes home and loves on his children and plays a little Chopin on his piano before going to bed may be doing more for the kingdom and creating more ‘art’ than a Christian film producer who ignores his family for the sake of his ‘craft’ and treats his employees circumspectly in the name of ‘business’.

  10. Tony Heringer

    Brian,

    Thanks for the follow up. This is a good food for thought.

    Like I said, there is a lot to unpack. There are folks who take the word “prosper” too literally in Scripture. Certainly this type of teaching takes the Good News beyond its frame of reference — Jesus Christ. In other words, if we have Christ that is enough. He is our all in all. Otherwise, you are right. I’m never going to get it right and will likely always be frustrated with my work.

    However, “what I do to feed my family” is not just utilitarian. I know Christians who don’t take their work seriously or value it because they don’t believe God values it. They labor under the false impression that only religious work is valued by God and not all of life.

    God designed us originally to work. Adam’s sin brought trouble and toil in our labors – but we are still expected to work. Also, my work may not be what I want to do but I am called to it anyway as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Did Joseph want to be a slave in Potiphar’s house? Probably not, but he was called by God to be that slave as he rightly notes to his brothers later on in Genesis. He wasn’t just a grumbling slave either, he worked as unto the Lord and Potiphar recognized it.

    Martin Luther King put it this way:

    “If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

    Notice the references are to artists implying that all of work can be great art because we are working for an audience of One – the oh so Creative One our Creator God. He not only worked to make us, He continually works to sustain us day in and day out.

    What’s more I believe we will work when Jesus comes back again to “make all the sad things untrue”. There is a whole lot of ground to cover here – including work life balance; the ethical side of our work – what’s a Christian law practice look like? (no jokes please). I agree that folks can get too caught up in this process and certainly can deify work or so separate it from their faith that they can wrongly justify sinful behavior but it is important to understand the work God has called you to do – whether you choose your vocation or not. I guess my thought here is on our orientation to God and what He’s called us to do.

    Thanks again for opening up this topic some more. This is a good train of thought to explore.

    Hey! Speaking of shameless Jason Gray plugs, his new album has a name “Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue” Have you all heard Jason’s new stuff? You can check it out here: http://www.facebook.com/discography/album.php?aid=104535179384#/jasongray
    It is great work by the lad!

  11. Brian Roberts

    Tony,
    My thoughts exactly! Especially that “What I do to feed my family” is not a utilitarian concept.

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