Randall Wallace, one of our nation’s best storytellers (screenwriter for Braveheart), spoke the truth this last month at the National Prayer Breakfast. He reminded us that who we are is shaped by our parents, our culture and our choices. But at the same time, the truth is this: we are created by a loving God who, when we turn to Him, can help us become the person He created us to be. To overcome our failures and our frailty. To find blessing in suffering. And to bless others in theirs.
One person at my table earnestly said “I didn’t know he was a Christian writer.” I winced. Did my guest see Wallace’s We Were Soldiers, play his Titan Quest or tune in to his Dark Angel? I know what he meant, but Randall is more than he meant. Randall is what God created him to be. A truth-teller, no matter how hard the truth is to tell.
The conversation reminded me of one I had years ago with the singer Bono. It’s a topic this legendary artist has explored with others as well. In preparation for a meeting with contemporary Christian music (CCM) artists to talk about global AIDS, he wrote me a note: “If the truth sets us free and it does … Why aren’t Christian singers allowed to ring true?” What Bono meant, of course, is that the Church often stifles the creativity and voice of an artist to conform to its own sense of propriety and (in our American context) “family friendly” fare.
Later at the meeting, Bono remarked to the group that they probably couldn’t put Song of Solomon (one of only two books of the Bible which does not reference God) to song and sell it in a Christian bookstore. Why? Not enough Jesus’ per minute. Too sensual. Not “on message.” But as the Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which, Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ ”
If this is true, why aren’t some Christian artists allowed to speak to the whole of the human experience? To all of creation? As he usually does, C. S. Lewis put it succinctly when he wrote “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.”
We need more stories and songs that “tell the truth,” as Walker Percy wrote in Signposts in a Strange Land, especially about the human condition. True stories that transform lives and societies. More Uncle Tom’s Cabins and less “little books about Christianity.”
Last weekend we had dinner with several seasoned as well as some emerging artists before going to hear The Civil Wars perform, who have been at the top of ITunes for the past several weeks. The duo’s lead singer, Joy Williams, was at one time categorized as a CCM artist. When they performed at an event we hosted recently, one person remarked how diverse the material was, despite the fact of Joy having been a “Christian artist.” Again, I bristled. Perhaps she was true to her calling then, and is just as true to her calling now. What is most important, though, is that she is true to who God created her to be.
Joy Williams and The Civil Wars rang true. Randall Wallace spoke the truth. Bono told the truth. Sadly, some “Christian artists” aren’t always allowed to tell the “whole” truth. Only some of the truth.
Till All Can Ring True,