But using the prophet metaphor rings a bit hollow to me right now as when I read the stories of the prophets, certainly they lived a very different lifestyle than the self professed prophets I read on Facetagram today. In fact, when we look at the prophets from Scripture, we see that the prophet is not just a truth teller, but someone most of us would NOT want to be.
We were on our way home from Nashville. We had just found out our song Something to Hope For was being used in the new American Idol preseason campaign. We pulled over into a McDonalds somewhere near Bowling Green, Kentucky. This was 2010, so none of us had smartphones, and Wifi at restaurants was a relatively new thing. It took about 20 minutes to download, but Jim, Kyle, Brennan and I sat in a booth in the back of the restaurant and watched the commercial that would be played for millions.
We walked into Tom’s office. It was beautiful. It was large and had artwork and memorabilia from Warner artists. There was a black baby grand piano. Tom was confident, and slightly intimidating. Maybe he wasn’t, I was just intimidated by the weight of the meeting. You see, when you hear the term “big wigs”, this guy is who that is referring to. Except, this was the biggest of all the big wigs. The guy with the most power. The guy with all the superstar’s numbers in his phone. The guy who just sold his house for 18 million and is managing Tupac’s estate. This guy could put us in the best position possible to be a huge success, or failure.
Another method of eliciting affirmation is much less subtle. It’s usually posted as a question which would cull positive responses back to the poster. “If I was drowning, would you save me?” Of course people would, and would say so (those that would not likely aren’t Facebook “friends” anyway), but as these types of posts continue, only those who need to be an affirmer, a rescuer, end up replying. The posters are crying for positive feedback, needing to hear they are worthy, but over time elicit less of it. It’s a Peter and the Wolf syndrome.
We all do this to some extent, soliciting compliments in order to bolster our self-image. I write stories or essays or reviews and point people to them, hoping they enjoy it. I might not overtly be asking for someone to tell me they liked it, but isn’t that what we want, to hear we’re doing something worthwhile?
If you want to know what intimidation feels like, try walking into a studio where there are platinum Coldplay records on the wall. Where the walls themselves wreak of music history and legends. Where you run into big stars in the hallways. A place where movies have been filmed, and the best of the best have recorded. Again we felt in over our heads. All of this money spent on us. Could we deliver? Were our songs actually that good? They say art is found in the overlap of complete narcissism and crippling self doubt. Well, both of those emotions hit us hard that week.
When DC Talk finished back in 2000 or 2001, two things were true. First of all, they were easily the most popular Christian band of all time. Their last album wasn’t quite as outstanding as their 1995 hit Jesus Freak, but it was a solid album with ear pleasing pop tunes and slightly different influences shown within the album. When Jesus Freak came out in 1995, it is safe to say that the Christian world had been overtaken with some of the greatest music it had ever produced up to that point. DC Talk created an album for us to hold on to as “the best” Christian album most of us ever heard. Rock, alternative, rap and soul combined, I listened to it over and over and over, just being wowed with its content. Every play-through on my CD player created a concert like experience in my living room in Tucson, AZ.
The second thing that was true when DC Talk retired was the Christian music world was changing. Recording labels started to choose safe bets in regards to their music and “safe bets” meant worship music, including Hillsong United and Sonicflood, controlling the airwaves. Newer innovative bands like Switchfoot made a case for excellent “redeeming” music on a popular stage, choosing to avoid the Christian subculture of CCM and over time, the innovation that DC Talk, the Newsboys, and a handful of other bands ushered in crept away while the pop worship tunes of Chris Tomlin and such dominated the new Christian music industry, which had become a shell of its 90’s domination.
A few weeks ago a friend wrote me and thanked me for being a “voice in the wilderness”. He said that many feel like that, and that included those like himself who attend church regularly. “Honest discussions in the church are hard to come by in my experience”, he said.
One Sunday morning I sat on a red padded pew with bright stained glass all around me, and I worshipped. I worshipped when the horrible hymn droned on for every freaking verse. I worshipped when the children’s message focused on an age group that did not exist in the present group of people. I worshipped during the liturgical prayers that asked God to forgive the church corporately for their selfishness and pride. And I worshipped as the pastor spoke from the book of John on a passage I’d heard a million times before.
If you were to open N.T. Wright’s first book from his magnum opus series, “The New Testament and the People of God”, you would find the first 300 pages or so an instruction manual on how he reads and studies the scripture in 3 parts. He explains in great academic detail that he reads the Bible as Theology, History, and Literature. Ignoring any of these disciplines as one studies leaves the student with an incomplete picture of God’s word and the context in which it was written.
With this in mind, the reader of Wright’s biography on one of the most important and influential followers of Jesus is in for a deep and intense look at not only what Paul wrote to the churches, but why he wrote and acted as he did, and by those actions and writings, why his work spread throughout the Roman empire and beyond, effectively changing the world and it’s direction. The book is a drink of water to anyone tired of normal modern understandings of the Apostle focused more on proving an enlightenment based systematic theology It is an ode detailing the kinds of problems, solutions, and teachings, the great evangelist and church planter communicated to those small groups of believers he introduced to Jesus. “I believe that in our diligent searching of the scriptures we were looking for correct biblical answers to medieval questions.” Wright says as he gets down to the business of sharing the life of Paul with his readers.
As long as I live I’ll never forget the feeling of holding our record advance in my hand. There were two checks, one from WB, and one from CFA, totaling roughly 120K. We felt so important. We were also lucky to have Jon in our ear, constantly reminding us “you haven’t done crap yet so don’t get too ahead of yourselves.” We each got to keep around $10k, and the rest was spent on lawyers and record production. I banked my money and didn’t quit my day job.