12.08.2009

Music + Evangelism

Have you heard of Noisetrade?

Take a quick look at the sidebar on your right; as of this posting, it includes a Noisetrade widget for The Bewildering Light, a Christmas album by the Chicago band So Elated. The widget allows you to download the entire album by either paying what you want or emailing five friends. Artists can participate free of charge, and their fans can then access the widget codes and add them to their own sites - as I did with this one. It's a way for under the radar artists to gain listeners through viral communication. It was founded by Derek Webb; he had noted a substantial increase in merchandise and ticket sales after he shared Mockingbird in a similar manner a few years ago.

Let me break into this moderately boring description of a cool music website by gushing about how much I love The Bewildering Light. I can't stop listening to it. It's a perfect blend of traditional Christmas carols arranged in a sort of understated lo-fi indie style (think Iron & Wine), and then a handful of original songs that dig deeply into the stories of Advent. I am especially smitten with the song "Zechariah and the Least Expected Places," and took the time to transcribe the lyrics this morning because I'm pretty sure I'm going to quote them in my sermon on Sunday:

Jerusalem and the holy temple filled with smoke
Zechariah shuns the news from the angel of hope
Stuck behind an incense cloud of religion and disappointment

God keeps slipping out of underneath rocks
in alleys off the beaten path
Open both your eyes.

Prophets and kings and poets can contribute their work
just like eggs in a nest are alive with the promise of birds
But the Lord of Creation will not be subjected to expectation

God keeps slipping out of underneath rocks
in alleys off the beaten path
Open both your eyes.

Elizabeth, barren, her knees black and dirty like coal
her consistent prayers float to the sky and revive her soul
God we will wait though we don't understand your redemptive story

God keeps slipping out of underneath rocks
in alleys off the beaten path
Open both our eyes.

I love it. Love it. And I highly recommend that you trot off to Noisetrade or use the widget to add it to your own Christmas music collection. Pay what you want or pass the good news along to five friends.

Okay, were you paying attention to that little spiel? That was me being completely open about my passion for something I like, and encouraging you to check it out, too, just in case you might also like it too.

That was me being evangelical.

I've been evangelical about music ever since I started listening to it. When I was in elementary school I was even a little snide about it; I distinctly remember arguing that Tiffany was way better than Debbie Gibson. I've prided myself in the number of Over the Rhine converts I've created, by slipping impeccably chosen mixed CDs to the right person at the right time.

Back to Noisetrade. Derek Webb emerged from the evangelical Christian world. Nowadays he seems perhaps a bit post-evangelical; he certainly doesn't fit into the old school definitions of an evangelical. Many - though not all - of the artists on Noisetrade are also Christians, although very few are on "CCM" labels. I started to say that only some of their songs are overtly "Christian," but I realize that's misleading. There are a few traditional hymns and contemporary worship songs on Noisetrade, but there are also a lot of songs about love, loss, doubt, and justice. One download is a compilation by artists who did an Art Music Justice tour together.

It makes so much sense to me that evangelicals (or post-evangelicals, as the case may be) would extrapolate the very practice that defines them - a passion to share the good news - into the realm of music.

I know that I've learned a lot about evangelism from my willingness - no, my eagerness - to talk about the bands I love. Obviously there are cultural taboos and social niceties that make talking about Jesus at a dinner party slightly different than talking about Over the Rhine at a dinner party. But still... given how much I love Jesus, it's a wonder I haven't yet emailed five friends to gush about him lately.

After all, I have gushed about "Jesus in New Orleans," the Over the Rhine song.

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