Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
In part one I talked about the burdens of poverty and of wealth, in part two I laid out some of the nuts and bolts of what it costs to make an album–just one of many ways an artist can use his or her gift to shed light. Before I wrap this up I want to respond to a few comments.
Thank you all for your thoughts. I’m a people-pleaser, so it’s always hard for me to throw out ideas like these for public scrutiny. I know better than any of you just how deeply wrong I can be about things, which leaves me with two options: I can keep quiet for fear of wrongness, or I can write out my thinking in the hopes of gaining a better understanding.
A few of you bristled at some of my comments about Rich Mullins’s singleness. My point wasn’t that marriage is necessarily better, nor was it that single people have no responsibilities. Obviously, if you’re in Christ your responsibility first and foremost is to God, and his will should be sought in any decision. I thought that went without saying. But a married man or woman with children has a far different set of responsibilities than a single person. There are lots of options available to a single person that aren’t available to married folks, and vice versa.
For Rich, identifying with the poor and living a somewhat vagabond lifestyle was an option he took as a single man (under God, of course) that he wouldn’t have been able to take as a married man with children. In fact, had he chosen to marry and have children and still live in his truck and go barefoot and smelly, he would have been a picture of selfishness–though I suppose there’s a slim chance he might have married a woman who was similarly called, and they might have lived in a van down by the river with their smelly barefoot children. I’m being silly. It occurs to me now that I’ve met lots of families blessed with the astounding courage to live on the mission field or in inner cities, which is probably what someone like Rich would have done. Still, that’s a picture of living simply, not in poverty. Living out of a truck (literally) would no longer be an option, at least with children in the picture.
If you’re single and you’re still bristling, I’m sorry. But I’m not sure how anyone can argue that a single person’s responsibilities are the same as someone’s who is married with children. They’re just not. And my point was that a single person, as Paul said, has options a married person doesn’t. Like choosing poverty.
As for the part about Rich’s theoretical wife wanting a few nice things now and then, I totally get your point. My list was a list of material things, as if that’s all women are interested in. That wasn’t my intention at all. That list came to mind because just that morning Jamie overslept and was late for school (she teaches music at a homeschool co-op), which meant a classroom of kids waited for her for twenty minutes. She hates being late for anything, and it was a bad way to begin an already busy week. I bought her a bouquet of flowers (aww), and I was thinking how thankful I was that we have the means to do that once in a while. And, by the way, the flowers made her happy.
Not only that, but when we moved to the Warren we downsized considerably and one of the things Jamie sacrificed was a big, open kitchen for a tiny one. She’s gifted at hospitality, at making things beautiful and serving neighbors and friends, and I want so much to be able to add on a nice kitchen for her. We can’t do it anytime soon, but Lord knows I want to. NOT because she’s materialistic, but because a fine kitchen would be a tool she’d put to good use in Kingdom work. This scenario is something Rich Mullins never had to consider. That was my point. It’s not that women demand nice things and men don’t. A woman has to give up just as much to get married (just ask my wife, who was crazy enough to marry a songwriter). Her responsibilities change just as a man’s do. And one of the things they both give up is a certain amount of freedom.
That probably just invited more frostiness, but there you go.
A few of you also expressed frustration and/or despair at my nuts and bolts list of the demands of making a career of music (or coffee mug peddling). Many people don’t realize all that goes into making a record, so I thought it would be helpful to lay it out broadly in light of the patronage and tier options we sometimes offer here. I wanted to illustrate why it’s sometimes necessary to get creative with how we sell our CDs (i.e., Tier 7 for $200). I don’t mean to cause you despair–if you’re gifted at songwriting, then write songs. Don’t worry about how much it costs to record an album. The point is doing good work and shedding light.
But if you’re a family man (or woman) who’s thinking of laying it all on the line to come to Nashville you should know what you’re getting into. It’s not easy. Heck, it’s not easy for twenty-year-olds fresh out of college! But moving to Nashville (or wherever) to pursue a dream is a fine thing, especially if your wife, children, and church are supporting your decision. I’ve often said that if you have two options before you, choose the one you’re most afraid of. Defy the fear with faith. Even if you fail miserably–and you probably will–God can gather up the bits and make it beautiful. But don’t be foolish–seek counsel. Seek it from your family, from your pastors, elders, mentors. Seek it from the Holy Spirit.
Finally, don’t let me tell you what to do. I don’t know your situation like you do, or like the people walking with you. I can only speak from my limited perspective. Sure, I may have accrued a little bit of insight into this process, things you may not have considered yet, but I’m only one voice of many.
When I was still in college I traveled to Nashville for two reasons. First, I wanted to see Rich Mullins play at the Ryman Auditorium. I had never seen him live, so it was worth the trip from Orlando. Second, I wanted to attend GMA, the Gospel Music Association’s yearly convention, which is now defunct (oh, how times have changed). If I was going to make a go at this music career I figured a week at GMA would give me a good handle on what I was getting into. I was a sophomore in college, was newly married, and was itching to quit school and move to Nashville.
Reed Arvin, Rich Mullins’s producer, spoke at one of the sessions and changed my life. He had written a book called The Wind in the Wheat, a cautionary tale about a young man from a Kansas farm named Andrew Miracle. Andrew had a Gift. So he moves to Nashville and is gobbled up and spit out by the Evil Music Industry, losing his focus and his innocence in the process. It’s not a very well-written book (though Reed went on to write a few really good detective thrillers a la John Grisham, and he also provided me some great one-on-one advice while I was writing On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness), but I read it and it did its work on me. It was hard to ignore that the main character’s name was Andrew. And that he was from a small town. And that he felt a strong call on his life to write and sing his songs. And that he wanted to move to Nashville. Reed had written the book just for me, it seemed.
So at the session Reed talked about how important it is for us to stay rooted. Stay where you are. Your community needs you, he said. Your church needs you. If God gave you a gift, you don’t need to live in a certain city or have the validation of a record label to use that gift. Just shed light. Up and moving to Nashville isn’t the answer for everybody, and Music City is chock-full of people who probably shouldn’t be seeking a career in music. Nashville isn’t El Dorado, the lost city of gold records.
Now that I live here I see all kinds of benefits to living in a community like this one, with or without the music industry. I love this city. The industry is vastly different now than it was when Reed wrote the book, but it was exactly what I needed at that time. I drove twelve hours home with a full head and a full heart. I chose to stay put. I chose to finish school. I chose to stick around and play church camps and Sunday night concerts and all-nighters for the junior high youth group and even to work for a year as a youth minister. I played wherever and whenever I could, and walked through the doors that God seemed to open. Only after years of that did I graduate college and move with Jamie to Nashville. Those years were important, formative years for me. So thanks, Reed.
Now that I’ve lived here for thirteen years and have been playing music professionally off-and-on for eighteen years (man, that makes me feel old), I can tell you that none of the good things in my career were forced. The times I really pushed hard for something to happen usually ended in, well, nothing much at all. The happy surprises have borne the most fruit. The slow, patient, prayerful tilling of soil has brought the finest harvest, a harvest only recognizable in hindsight. That doesn’t mean I didn’t work at things. I did, and still do. But I have learned that it’s best to be patient. I’ve learned not to put too much stake in the music business equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme.
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.