In a long, difficult yet exciting spiritual journey, CROSS RHYTHMS is standing at a crossroads after a more than 20 year history.
Rachel Cutts is half way through her Cross Rhythms Drive Time programme. She clicks a button and "Will You" by P.O.D. kicks in with a howl of guitar feedback. Her guest for today's programme is Tony Cummings, the grizzled editor of Cross Rhythms magazine who every Monday on Rachel's programme plays an Unsigned Artist Of The Week track. Once he's played that - a single by Scottish band Luma - he stays on air to comment on a front page story in this week's American music industry magazine, Billboard. The article is Rock & Rehab: Industry, Artists Coming To Grips With Addiction. After listing the rock and pop stars - Courtney Love, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, Whitney Houston, Kelly Osbourne, Jo Dee Messina, Scott Weiland - who have recently undergone rehab for drug and/or alcohol addiction, Cummings reads a quote from the article from Dr Lou Cox, a New York-based psychologist who specialises in addictions. "In rock 'n' roll, you're supposed to be outrageous. Being bad is good. The culture is not only supportive (of addiction) it is as if there is a demand for it - like it's part of the credibility package."
The article goes on to suggest that the culture of drug abuse in pop and rock is "undergoing a major transition" and suggests that more and more artists are renouncing drug abuse. Tony Cummings remains unconvinced. "I think there may be some much publicised cases of artists renouncing drugs. But the pop and rock scene is still riddled with drug abuse. The music companies are worried about the drug scene because it kills their cash cows. The Billboard article quotes a worried Warner Bros executive saying, 'Artists on drugs can definitely slow down the promotional process.' From my perspective, remarks about addiction harming marketability might be true but really ignore the human wreckage drugs produce." Rachel agrees. She adds, "I think it's a bit rich for the music industry to start voicing concern for artists on drugs when for decades it has heavily promoted drug abuse in the lyrics it sells to the public."
After the programme is finished Rachel and Tony walk to the car parked a few minutes from Cross Rhythms' Conway House HQ. Cummings recounts how, almost miraculously, the Billboard story had appeared on his desk. "I'd just started work on an article about The Word In Action which is the collaboration for expanding the Kingdom of God, between Cross Rhythms, Gilead Foundations and Cornerstone Vision. I was haunted by something that Chris Cole had said a few months earlier when he was talking about the redemptive quality of Christ's character. He said, 'If rock 'n' roll birthed the acceptance of a drug culture, then contemporary Christian music should help birth rehab.' It so leapt out at me I scribbled it down on a post it note and stuck it on my desk. The next day Billboard arrived with its front page story Rock & Rehab. Now that's what I call miraculously strategic timing."
Chris Cole, CEO and co-founder of the Cross Rhythms ministry, is driving out of Stoke-on-Trent on his way to the Devon-based rehabilitation ministry Gilead Foundations. Cross Rhythms City Radio is playing in his car. As the song "No Weed" by Midlands raga man Prodigal Son draws to a close and he heads towards the M5, Chris begins to talk. "A lot of the Church has still to recognise the value of CCM. The '60s were a defining decade for Western culture. Not only did post-modernity emerge as a social reality but a dynamic of popular culture, particularly music, exploded across the globe. What a lot of people have still to grasp is that that creative dynamism was the seed of the Jesus Revolution which birthed CCM which is today a billion dollar industry in the USA. One could say an Isaac followed an Ishmael." To those unfamiliar with Cross Rhythms history, four hour journeys down to a drug rehabilitation centre can seem a strange divergence for a man running a Christian media company. Yet for Chris Cole such trips are both an expression of a particular close relationship he has developed down the years with Ian and Bron Samuel who lead the cutting edge rehab ministry Gilead Foundations and Cole's deeply held conviction that if the Church is ever to halt its decline in the UK it must rediscover the dynamic process of allowing God's Spirit to direct us to "good works God has prepared for us before the foundation of the world" and that those works will often be in close collaboration with other Christians and ministries.
As he hits the motorway Chris begins to elaborate. "First, we must recognise that much of the British Church is in crisis, in terms of church attendance at least. We've lost two million people in the last 20 years and that figure speaks for itself. Back in the Bible days when Israel was in a mess the people came to the prophet Samuel and demanded a king to rule over them instead of God. Even when they were warned that a king would be a 'hard task master' they demanded they get a king. Effectively, they went after organisational structure rather than a personal spiritual revelation. It is easier to get leadership to do your spiritual thinking for you than to learn to hear God's voice and to submit yourself to his leading. We need to be careful we're not doing the same thing today. I say this with sadness. So many churches and Christian organisation are very competitive, they are obsessed with building their own little empires and can't get beyond their own ministry. Individual Christians, those who pastor churches and those who run Christian organisations all need to have a revelation of the Father heart of God for them because the love of the Father becomes more important than any perception of 'ministry'. When you've got that you're resourced to disempower yourself." Chris sees the strategic relationships Cross Rhythms has forged down the years with Gilead Foundations and Cornerstone Vision and others with organisations like God TV and Women Arise as being essential for the growth and spiritual health of Cross Rhythms. "Take Women Arise. The dimension of prophetic insight and intercessory prayer they bring to Cross Rhythms is absolutely essential to where we are heading. Unless the Lord builds the house we labour in vain. Without strategy and direction revealed by God we're bound to fail." Chris sees the same malady in Christian organisations where many ministries duplicate effort and fight for the same resourcing as other almost identical ministries - as similar to what is happening in many local churches - where an insecure leader stifles ministry from rank and file church members. "The way I see it is that church leaders have an absolute duty to encourage the whole body to minister. If people have a song to sing, spiritually speaking, give them a platform to sing it. Leaders need to be freed of the bondage of trying to function in every ministry. There needs to be that plurality as set out in Ephesians four. Similarly, with Christian organisations, those who head them up need to be freed of empire building and trying to control everything."
Chris then returns to Cross Rhythms strategic relationship with Gilead Foundations and Cornerstone Vision. "We have travelled with them through good times and bad times. The three ministries have been built on a level of accountability. That's more book of Acts lifestyle than everybody owning each other."
Jonathan Bellamy is a little nervous. He has a right to be. Not many people get the opportunity to speak in the House Of Lords. But here stands Cross Rhythms' general manager in a meeting organised by Britain's pioneering pressure group the Christian Broadcasting Council. The oakpanelled anti-room is full of Lords, MPs, other Christian broadcasters and officials from the Government licensing authority Ofcom. They all listen attentively as Jonathan begins his speech. After outlining Cross Rhythms City Radio's history he explains why people outside the Church are happy to listen to Cross Rhythms. The first reason, Jonathan asserts, is because the station is contemporary.
"We play a lot of contemporary music - rock, pop, R&B, rap... But all our music is by Christian artists. Most people, when they hear the phrase 'Christian music' think Thora Hird, Harry Secombe, Cliff Richard or Mr Bean mumbling an age old hymn. Yet when people are searching through the dial and find our station, the music is the first thing that grabs them - it sounds great. One example of this is a man called Buff, the owner of an infamous rock pub in the city called The Rigger. He came across the station and loved the rock music. So much so he wrote to us and said he wanted to support us. He said that as for our message he's a 'floating voter', but he's recognised that his kids watch a lot of TV and the values and lifestyle presented was, in his words, 'one sided' and he felt by supporting us he'd be doing his bit to bring some balance. He subsequently put our poster up in his pub next to the poster of a naked girl band by the name of Rock Bitch, and every month for the last year and a half we have DJ'd Christian rock music in his pub."
Another point Bellamy makes is about the still rising popularity of CCM. "In America last week, in the mainstream Billboard Top 100 charts, over 20 per cent of the albums were from Christian artists, whilst figures recently for our own music sales department at Cross Rhythms showed that despite being a national organisation broadcasting on Sky Digital and running a popular website, more sales came from our home county of Staffordshire than any other county and Stoke-on-Trent was the city with the most sales, second only to London. People listening to our station want to buy the music they hear."
Jonathan then goes on to emphasise how Cross Rhythms City Radio has engaged with daily city life. "80-90 per cent of my life as a Christian is the same as my next door neighbour who's not a Christian. I'm interested in how Stoke City did at the weekend, what's on at the theatre, local news, travel, health awareness, education and employment opportunities. Christians aren't people who hibernate all week with their bespectacled noses sunk in the Bible, only venturing out into the big bad world for a quick Sunday morning dash to church and back. No, Christians live in the real world too. So our station looks to present normal Christian lifestyle. Every week we run programming with the police, the job centre and local health and education authorities. The local newspaper The Sentinel supplies us with news every hour and local companies buy on-air advertising and sponsorship - everyday businesses such as Holdcroft Motors, Centurion Italian furnishings, Blinkin' Ink Toner Cartridges and Pedal Power. During local elections we have run acclaimed round table debates and interviews with all the local politicians, being affirmed by many of them as the best local coverage of all the local broadcasters. Every other week we interview the openly gay elected mayor, a man who, whilst holding a different set of beliefs, has called us a 'force for good in our city' and has stated 'long may we continue.'
Jonathan points out the favour Cross Rhythms is now receiving in the community. "With only two weeks' notice we ran a live on-air lunchtime programme called Something To Celebrate where we invited local leaders from the Mayor, local MP's and the Chief Supt of North Staffs to those representing the African Caribbean partnerships, Voluntary Action, CAB and many more. Each person was to share, in two minutes, their 'Good News' story in the city for that year. 27 of the invited 31 came. Each one was also presented a commemorative salt shaker, kindly donated by a local pottery firm, simply to say 'thank you' for leading in our community - affirmation for leadership being a rare occurrence these days." Jonathan still has everybody's wrapped attention. Encouraged, he continues. "In effect our station is a normal radio station, but it is underpinned by a basic Christian worldview that is applied to the how, what and why of all we broadcast. Chief Supt John Woods has commented to us that he and his police constables who appear on the station truly enjoy coming on because they are given the room to bring out what they are really doing rather than interviewers always looking to find what is wrong. This doesn't mean we jettison editorial integrity. We will engage with any issue, but the approach is respectful and constructive rather than suspicious.
"Everybody has a worldview, indeed everybody has a faith. The belief there is no God, or the belief in the omnipotent power of man (commonly called humanism) is just as much a faith as the belief in a loving Creator God intrinsically involved in his creation. And out of our beliefs come our worldviews - how we interpret life, what we value and how we should live it. From our Christian worldview Cross Rhythms is looking to bring a fresh approach to the broadcast landscape. When we first started our Access Community Station we were categorised as a Community of Interest station, ie, for the Christian community. But it is a truer description, and one noted by the independent evaluator, that we are becoming a Community of Place station from a Community of Interest perspective. In our society that celebrates both multi-cultural diversity and also inclusivity this is a strong model.
"Incidentally, you are probably wondering why Muslim shop owners play a Christian radio station? Their comment was that they liked the 'God Slots'. And why? Well, although we have different beliefs, when Muslims see the level of our materialistic western culture or the way scantily clad women are presented on billboards, they find they have far more in common with our Christian values." All around the room faces are turned to Jonathan, listening attentively. "We do provide experiences and examples of that other 10-20 per cent of our Christian lifestyle - that which comes out of our spirituality. Music that in its focus on God is able to stir the spirit as well as the soul - we call it worship. Inspirational teaching that offers hope and purpose to some of the pain and tragedies that people suffer. And life stories of people who have overcome difficult times and done so with and through faith in God. One example of this - we heard of a local lady who was considering suicide. She went to the shed in her garden, but instead turned on her radio and listened to our Close Encounters programme where someone was sharing about their faith. It so inspired her she got on her knees, asked God for help and is now still alive and part of a community of people who can support her in a local church."
Jonathan continues, "Two years ago Stoke-on-Trent was ranked the worst place to live in Britain in the Experian Survey. Now it is eighth from bottom. The city is pulling together and we believe Cross Rhythms has played a small part in this.