Category Archives: Money

You Cannot Serve Both Music and Money

Hey there, TWOG readers.

I enjoyed posting some thoughts on this blog last week and I think I’ll do it more often. I also have a blog about drums and music, and I frequently post there as well. Below is an article I wrote last year on that blog, which I thought the TWOG audience might enjoy. The post deals with the broad topics of “art” and “music,” but I definitely had the more narrow focus of “Christian music” in mind when I was writing.

You Cannot Serve Both Music and Money

“Capitalism kills art.” – Desdamona, Minneapolis hip hop and spoken word artist (via Facebook)

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 16:13)

Over the years I’ve thought a TON about the correlation between art and commerce, and those of you who read my blog regularly are familiar with my interest in the collision of music and industry. At this point I’m starting to arrive at the conclusion, perhaps better phrased as a question: Could it be that art and commerce, though inseparable in the 21st Century, are actually enemies?

Here’s my thesis: Introducing the possibility that your art will/could produce a financial profit irreversibly changes your headspace in making the art, therefore altering the end product.

Example: this article from Somali poet K’Naan.

Art is all about the headspace – what one is AIMING for. Why create? Why pursue art at all? Most artists will tell you it’s kind of like the combination of birthing a child and speaking your mind. It’s simultaneously something you want to say and need to say, while also being painful and even dangerous if said incorrectly or at the wrong time. What if nobody thinks your offspring is cute? What if speaking your mind leaves you at odds with your friends and loved ones? (Bear with me as I rotate metaphors.)

In the current landscape of music, the motivation to accurately and genuinely convey an artistic message crashes uncomfortably into the desire for approval from one’s audience. But what/who is your audience? What are you aiming for from the outset? This is the crux of the issue, and my theory is that it is more difficult than we might imagine for an artist to intentionally cater to both an artistic audience AND a market audience. In fact, it may be impossible. And I’m not using “artistic audience” to refer to a gathering of people who only listen to indie rock and only wear vintage clothes. I’m talking about speaking your message to those who wish to really hear your message (an artistic audience), as opposed to speaking a message to those who only want a certain kind of message from you (a market audience). Can both targets be simultaneously aimed at?

This is not to say that artistic success doesn’t sell. Many artists have set out to convey a message that they really believe in and found to their surprise that the market also enjoys the message. But that is almost beside the point – what the market is buying has never really been about art. Commerce is based on pleasure and enjoyment – preferring one thing over another and spending your hard earned dollars accordingly. And sometimes the market takes great pleasure and enjoyment from unexpected places.

Sharp-shooting metaphor: One cannot, with the same bullet, hit two separate targets… unless perhaps those targets are directly in line with each other. But then you would have your aim set only on the first target, which would be the only target you could even see, and the second target would be an after-effect. I’d submit that the order of those targets, in order to hit both, MUST be art first, with commerce hiding behind it. The commercial gamble of the artist is to aim toward the artistic goal, not knowing whether commercial success is hiding behind it.

Summary so far: I want to suggest that one does not (maybe even cannot) land on a both commercially successful AND artistically successful statement by directing one’s aim toward both artistic and market audiences simultaneously.

If you replace the word audience with “master” you can see where Jesus was going with the New Testament quote I included at the top of this post. Jesus digs a little deeper into the hearts of human beings by using hard-hitting terms like “hate” and “devoted,” but the point still stands. Jesus says his followers must choose who they will serve, the Kingdom of God OR the Kingdom of Economy. Interestingly, only a few chapters earlier in Luke, Jesus also teaches this:

“And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”(Luke 12:29-31)

Worrying about wealth/provision isn’t your job, but is rather God’s job. Focusing on serving God’s Kingdom is a better use of time, and God promises to take care of the other department. Could it be that this is also true for the artistic/commercial tension in music? Aim for the artistic target, and the commercial target will be added unto you.

The Sierra Leone Chronicles (Part 3)

beach1.jpg February 14 (Sierra Leone, Day 4)

I am so tired this morning!  Jet lag took hold yesterday and I was dragging all throughout the day, and then I was unable to sleep until early this morning.  I was tossing and turning until about 2 a.m., and then slept on and off until shortly before 8:00.  But I am thankful to have fallen asleep finally.  I had trouble controlling my thoughts and fears last night—whether because of the malaria pills, lack of sleep or whatever else.  But God is good and answered my prayers for some sleep.

Today we’re going to Simon’s newest church plant (he’s planted over fifty churches!), meeting with another local pastor, and then going to the beach.  I’m getting a little anxious to actually get to work! But I’m sure in retrospect we’ll be thankful for these two days to acclimatize.

It’s Valentine’s Day today.  I ordered flowers for Leslie before I left and they should be delivered today, but I feel badly that I won’t be there with her.  She’s hanging with some single ladies this evening, so at least she won’t be alone.

Having a little coffee now up on the roof of the guest house, an area of the guest house that I just discovered this morning.  I can’t believe how pleasant this is—just to have a place to sit and read besides in my small room.  There is a nice breeze and actually a beautiful view of the west side of the city.  This will be a wonderful place to relax, read, meditate and pray.

Reading: Amos 1-9

I read Amos when I was in Azerbaijan as well.  It’s always sobering to read it in place like this in a way that is very different from reading it at home.  There is no book in all of Scripture that hits rich people, blind to (or even guilty of) the plight of the poor, over the head harder.  The portrait of judgment on these people is absolutely horrifying:

Therefore thus says the Lord: “Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.”
(7:17)

In short, we will be doomed to the same conditions we have put people in (or, at least Israel was—and our God remains hateful of the oppressive wealthy and ardently supports the poor).

One other very interesting passage is found in 8:11-12:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.

This may refer to the exilic time, or the intercanonical time, or to later times (perhaps now), or all three.  But what a horrifying thought—that the wickedness of God’s people may result in him refusing to speak to them for a time.  God, save us from ourselves.

The Deceitfulness of Riches

mr1This is mind-boggling to me:

“PHOENIX—Star slugger Manny Ramirez rejected yet another offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers announced Thursday night the outfielder’s agent Scott Boras had declined a $25 million, one-year contract with a $20 million player option for 2010.”

Reportedly, Ramirez is still waiting for a team to make him a “serious offer.”

“…Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” ~ Proverbs 30:8-9

NPNR: A Fascinating Idea

neitherpoverty.jpgThere was a very interesting idea in the conclusions of Blomberg’s Neither Poverty Nor Riches.

And here’s what I know: I know there are readers of this blog who have the resources to get something like this going at New Hope Church or at your own church. So, why not?:

Tom Sine tells the story of a church in Seattle that decided to raise funds so that the young first-time home buyers could pay cash outright for their property. There Christians then contracted to pay back to the church what their mortgage payments would have been to fund further ministry and create more home-buying opportunities for other church members. When one considers that the average Westerner spends more on repaying a home mortgage (principle plus interest) than on any other single lifetime expenditure, it is tragic that more Christians are not seeking to replicate this model (250-1).

NPNR: Conclusions and Applications 2

neitherpoverty.jpgFurther applications from Neither Poverty Nor Riches by Craig Blomberg, including some interesting personal practices of Blomberg himself:

First, is wealth is an inherent good, Christians should try to gain it. If some of us succeed more than the majority, our understanding of it as God’s gift for all will lead us to want to share with the needy, particularly those who are largely victims of circumstances outside their control.

Second, if wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it.

Third, if stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give. Over time, compassionate and generous use of their resources will become an integral part of their Christian lives.

Fourth, if certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income (i.e., most readers of this book!) will work hard to help at least a few of the desperately needy in our world.

Fifth, if holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches, and organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances

There is a danger of speaking too autobiographically in a context such as this, but lest my own motives be misinterpreted, or lest people simply wonder what kind of lifestyle I myself lead, I think it is important to share at least a few of my personal circumstances….

I was challenged early in my adult life by two different pastors, one in the US and one in the UK, who each gave 25% of the total income back to the Lord’s work and let the fact be known, not in any arrogant way, but simply to encourage others that is could be done. …I have become convinced that the concept of a graduated tithe [giving at a higher percentage the higher one’s income] is both biblical and foundational for contemporary Christian stewardship. …This was our fifth consecutive year of topping 30%, following the principle of the graduated tithe.

…I do not assume that others making the same amount as our family would in general be able to give as much away. But when the American Christian average of total giving per family is below 3% of per capita income, surely we can do considerably better! I am convinced that a substantial majority of American Christians…could at least tithe if they made it a priority. And I am confident that many of my suburban friends could do even better than that.

…So how does one do it? Obviously, by not spending money on things so many Westerners do. We must remind ourselves and our children regularly of the lies, half-truths and pagan values on which is based the advertising that bombards us daily. With relatively minor hardships, our family has freed up considerable funds by doing with less of many items that most Westerners routinely take for granted. We have refused to go into debt for anything except property and education, bought cars only that we could afford to pay cash for, bought other goods in bulk, at discounts, at garage sales and at thrift shops. …We have not heated or cooled our home quite to the extend that most North Americans do, or amassed the number of nature of clothes most Westerners seem compelled to accumulate. Even as simple a decision as not to eat out with the astonishing frequency of so many of our acquaintances has freed up enormous amounts of money.

…Ronsvalle and Ronsvalle have demonstrated that the amounts of money theoretically need to eradicate world poverty could be amassed simply if all American Christians would tithe.; every other existing Christian ministry could still continue to be funded at its current level. …There is so much more that we could do without ever coming close to reversing positions with the poor….

‘Give me neither poverty nor riches,’ prayed the writer of the proverb; but, since most of us already have riches, we need to be praying more often, ‘and help me to be generous and wise in giving more or those riches away'” (247-253).