This opinion piece was written for my Writing for Media & Public Relations graduate course. Originally submitted on 12/5/2016, it fits into my media kit by providing an argument for how songwriters can use their music as a form of hospitality and provide refuge for those seeking hope in the midst of a war-torn world. *Photo (c) 2017 Unsplash.com.
In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton describes how the world is both an ogre’s castle to be stormed and a cottage to take refuge in. He upholds the idea that life can be a paradox. In the same way, art also appears to have two purposes—either to provoke an unsettling response about the state of the world, or to provide a place of refuge within in.
Different types of people need to hear different types of messages. For example, people who have a hard time believing life is really as harsh as the news paints it need to have their foundations shaken up a bit. And people who have a hard time believing the world can be a safe and kind place need to be nurtured. Each brings their own personal experiences into these assumptions. This isn’t good or bad. It just is.
Many people have mocked the work of Thomas Kinkade, “painter of light,” in recent years, due to the belief that his art doesn’t evoke a response or tell an interesting enough story. Instead, it’s stagnant, offering an idealistic view of the world like you might find in Utopia or the Hallmark channel. One clever artist even created parodies of the quintessential cabins being invaded by Star Wars characters and depicted one thatch roof exploding in flames. Clearly, artists who advocate this war on idealism want, and need, to be reminded that the world can be a terrible place. Others who are more sensitive to life’s brutality desperately need to believe that these Kinkadian cabins exist. Although people engage with art from such different backgrounds and worldviews, I believe art is ultimately at its best when it stems from a place of hospitality and offers its recipients refuge and hope for the journey.
Songwriters have a unique platform for demonstrating hospitality. Just as a family might take in refugees for the night—offering trust and a solid meal for the journey—an artist has the opportunity to invite people into their song for three and a half minutes. Outside those boundaries of lyric and music is a war-torn world filled with noise and chaos. But inside the reaches of these songs, musicians relay their own experiences with the best interest of their audience in mind.
One music artist that does this well is Colony House, a youthful rock band with beautifully honest lyrics tinged with hope. In the song “Moving Forward,” front man Caleb Chapman provides a passionate and trustworthy voice for those whose hope needs nurturing:
As this dusty road now settles
And I see what lay before
Every tear that held a broken dream
Is now shattered on the floor
And now bursting forth in splendor
Are the blossoms of second tries
Because dreams that bear the mark of love
Are dreams that never die
He is, in a way, offering the weary traveler a place of refuge from the chaos. But these words aren’t just for the one who views the world as largely unsafe; they’re for us all. For what are we if we are not laden with tears and broken dreams?
Another example is Sara Groves, a woman who writes piano-laced melodies out of a place of deep commitment to family, faith, and the redemptive work of creativity. In “Add to the Beauty,” she opens her door to us and points our eyes upward:
And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside
There is, of course, validity to the perspective that art should sometimes provoke a less settled response. Many songwriters prefer to paint more candid images of life as we know it. This can educate us. It draws attention to something we may not want to look at. It can tear open our guarded assumptions like the Death Star in a Kinkade village. Or it can just plain entertain, as sensationalism and Marvel movies have continued to do each year.
In college, I remember one of my philosophy professors showing Powerpoint slides of pieces of artwork that made us cringe. Whether garish or irreverent, these pieces were intended to create a reaction that led to a deeper social, political, or religious statement. There is definitely a time and a place for this.
Songwriter Josh Garrels paints one of these candid pictures in his popular song, “Farther Along“:
Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man died, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because he loves em’ both
We’re all cast-aways in need of ropes
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen
Where did I go wrong, I sang along
To every chorus of the song
That the devil wrote like a piper at the gates
Leading mice and men down to their fates
Yet, even here, the song takes a turn for the optimistic:
But some will courageously escape
The seductive voice with a heart of faith
While walkin’ that line back home
There’s so much more to life than we’ve been told
It’s full of beauty that will unfold
And shine like you struck gold my wayward son
I believe this secondary purpose of art has a valuable place in our lives. However, the best response after this sort of provocation seems to be: but the story doesn’t have to end there…
Because art holds transformative power, it can inspire people who interact with the world very differently to seek a common goal: the pursuit of hope. There’s just something about walking into a home and sitting down to a piping hot bowl of stew that makes believing in hope a lot easier. If a songwriter can offer that hospitality to a listener in the span of two to four minutes, well then, that’s quite a gift.
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