PHIL THOMSON looks at whether we can change our world through music.

Phil Thomson
Phil Thomson

'Mother Theresa plays Hammersmith Odeon'. Hardly. 'Taize support Def Leppard in US.' Unlikely. 'Billy Graham charts with house mega-mix' - Whatever, it takes. If there was a sure way of changing our world, through music, we'd still let someone else get on with it, even if expediency, rather than expertise, was the benchmark. The problem of settling for less is invariably the problem of relative values. We don't know what we've got till its gone - it's the one about the man who took his new scarf back because it was too tight.

There must be a UK Bruce Cockburn or two waiting around in the wings. But who is going to risk the wrath of the sales reps with their bootfulls of unsold albums? We know the power of music to galvanize a culture, to create a mind-set, to stir people to action. Even in the obscenity of war it had its protagonist. How else would a lone piper front the columns as they headed for the trenches? Yet we'd rather follow than lead, fed on a diet of here-we-go-again. Even when we all know what should be done. We're all armchair politicians at heart. We have a crack at the theory. We fancy we could settle the Argument. Yet our world-view rhetoric is couched in the safety of spiritual platitudes. We are lulled. What I would call the romance of inactivity. Sadly, Christian music does little to reverse the trend. You see, the idyll is shattered when we have to get up and do something, when we are challenged to face the reality of what the media relentlessly pump out at us. Whether we are moved to feel rage or compassion, imagine what it would be like if we all put feet to our opinions and beliefs.

Yet few of us are touched; and at least part of the blame lies in our unquestioning acceptance of the status quo. Which is why, in Christian music, there are precious few latter-day Dylans; few who jangle our nerves. I have never understood why so much contemporary Christian music seems to abdicate its responsibility to the world it seeks to redeem. Kingdom issues are reduced, for the most part, to a formula, which acts as a panacea to the masses. The business of conversion is left to those who address the reality of the human condition without the smoke screen of jingoistic piety. But conversion to what, to whom? There is a classic example. While our media priests strut out their well-worn altar calls. Sting - in full native paint - cuts his arm and bleeds for his land-raped blood brothers in a South American jungle.

When he sings of Pinochet's lost sons and fathers, we are drawn into the awesome darkness of personal loss - and the guilt of our own silence. Stark, economic, incisive: somehow the armchair isn't quite so comfortable. When was the last time a Christian artiste did that to you? And when, clutching a fading photograph, he lines up with a thousand weeping mothers, his 'one day we'll sing our freedom' isn't hope misplaced; simply un-focussed. While the world waits for the dawning of a better day, we claim it now - and do nothing. Perhaps Sting's vision is not particularly uplifting, yet it was never more real. It mirrors Voltaire's observation that 'Life is a comedy to those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel'
The tragedy as I see it, however, is that most of us prefer to put our feet up and be entertained. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.