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The Easter Number One?

When I was a young Christian, I wanted contemporary Christian music covered on Radio 1. When they covered the Greenbelt Festival, I was delighted. I wanted them to play Christian music, but I was embarrassed at the infamous attempt by Christians to get the band Heartbeat into the charts with their song ‘Tears From Heaven’. It was when well-known evangelical-charismatic preachers started saying it was the right thing to do that it was obvious something was wrong. It wasn’t their area of expertise, and one of the campaigners, Colin Urquhart, had one of his offspring in the band. I still wanted Christian music on ‘secular’ radio, but never understood just how much the BBC had to chase the coat tails of the commercial stations. Nor did I understand the irony of getting what was or should have been a counter-cultural message to have a mainline hearing.

Skip to my mid-thirties. I’m in my first appointment as a minister in the town of Hertford. A bunch of us are running youth worship events in the town, in church halls, a disused shop and eventually in the local night club, Zero. We call our event ‘One@Zero’. Some of our number have been going down to Littlehampton in Sussex to witness a youth worship event called ‘Cutting Edge’, led by what was called the Cutting Edge Band. That band morphed into Delirious? The teenagers at our event and we leaders followed them with interest and enthusiasm. When they started releasing singles in order to get into the charts, we all went and bought them. In fact, Hertford’s local independent record/CD shop, Tracks, used to supply a weekly Top 10 sales chart to the local newspaper. So we piled in there to buy them in the week of release. When ‘Deeper’

was released and made number 20 nationally, it was number one in the Hertford chart.

As they released more singles, we bought them. They had a few more to make the lower end of the Top 20, roughly comparable with other cult bands of the time. Nevertheless, the influential Chris Evans infamously refused to book them for his hit TV show TFI Friday, and Radio 1 still shunned them – something Q Magazine covered sympathetically at the time. It got to the point that the band called one of their albums ‘Audio Lessonover‘, an anagram of ‘Radio One Loves Us’. The singles eventually stopped, and they concentrated on their huge influence on the contemporary worship movement with evangelical-charismatic Christianity and beyond. I guess Christians shouldn’t have been surprised the band didn’t become the hoped-for darlings of the Smash Hits crowd. But you live and learn.

Or do you? As Steve Turner says in his poem ‘History Lesson‘:

History repeats itself.
Has to.
No-one listens.

Because it’s happening again. Only in a different way, powered by social media. The principles of Clay Shirky‘s ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ are being applied by Christians. Facebook groups have sprung up, not orchestrated by Delirious? (who recently split up, anyway), but by fans. The first one I saw was called ‘Anyone up for getting a No. 1 for Delirious?‘ The founder, Steve Jeffery, describes his motives this way:

So some dude managed to get Rage Against The Machine to No.1 for Christmas. Is anyone out there up for doing the same thing for Delirious? If you are then join this group. You need to download the track between the 29th Mar & 3rd April, the track will be History Maker, will all need to buy it from iTunes (or other download outlet) in the same week.

Please only join if you are actually going to commit to spend 75p on iTunes to make this happen. Spread the word and join now! I think it would be a great gift from us fans back to the band if we can make this happen!

You can see the social media connections. This is a people movement, like those who couldn’t face another saccharine X-Factor winner having the Christmas number one, and who successfully gave Simon Cowell a bloody  nose by supporting a Rage Against The Machine track.

The second group – with, at present, more followers – is called ‘Christian music topping the UK charts!‘ This too is motivated by the people power of social media, as they make clear:

Although this initiative has not derived from the band I have been in touch with their record company (Furious Records) and they are more than happy for this initiative to take place and are excited to see how it unfolds!

Those two campaigns are specific, and apparently time-limited to getting people downloading the track ‘History Maker’

during Holy Week, so that Delirious? get the number one slot on Easter Day (which may not be commercially significant in the music industry, but obviously is for Christians).

To these must now be added a (so far tiny) group with a longer aim, ‘Christian chart music for a year‘, who say

Christian music seems to be lacking from todays chart – yet there is some cracking stuff out there. We intend to try and push for at least one christian artist in the UK Top 40 every week for the next year. We’re not bothered about number one’s.

We want to inspire debate. To have DJ’s questioning why they are playing christian music. For people to talk to each other about their beliefs. To see churches swell with people who are curious. To say that we have a voice and that we are being marginalised. This could be an icebreaker to openly talk about your faith with someone else.

Approximately 5000 people buying the same track in a week will secure us a top 40 hit. Please help to spread the message of Jesus.

What can I do?

1. Press the “Become a Fan” button up top there.

2. Tell all of your Christian friends. (Click “Suggest to friends” to the left)

3. Post your ideas and suggestions in the forum (click the “Discussions” tab)

4. Support the single of the week

These are interesting reasons. Despite my background in remembering past failed campaigns, I don’t want to say anything cynical, especially since some of these campaigns are attracting young Christians and I don’t want to be negative in a way that damages their faith, or alternatively so puts their backs up they become obstinate. Instead, I would invite discussion around a number of themes.

Firstly, how are we going to engage in the proposed debate? It is a laudable approach, though – better the conversational approach in an Internet campaign, I think. Therefore the debate needs to be peaceable, not confrontational.

Secondly, let’s tease out the concern about Christians having a voice and the fear of being marginalised. That is an ongoing worry for many Christians, and is being heightened by the looming General Election in the UK. Will we be listened to? We have a right to be heard as members of a democracy. What we don’t have is any right to special status. Indeed, Jesus warned that only a few would take the ‘narrow way’, and the biblical images of exiles, of strangers in a strange land, are uncomfortable ones that we may have to embrace (without that in any way meaning that we should be silent). If the campaign becomes one about Christian rights, I think we can be sure there is a real sense in which we will not gain a hearing, because we will alienate people – just the opposite of what is desired.

Thirdly, if this is to be an icebreaker, let’s make sure our conversation is ‘seasoned with salt’.

Fourthly, let’s think about what constitutes good Christian witness. It won’t simply be Christian music in the charts – and especially at a time when the charts are less and less important. It will be about the kind of people we are. We still – even more – need to earn the right to be heard. We all need to be ‘history makers’ by our loving involvement in the world, so that people care about what we say and sing about.

Sabbatical, Day 78: Susan Boyle

Let me be the last blogger in the world to comment on the Susan Boyle phenomenon. This is the famous YouTube clip, with now somewhere around thirty million viewings in a week:

Visible Measures has more detailed stats. That clip is more popular than the Iraqi journalist throwing shoes at George W Bush, Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin, and Barack Obama’s victory speech.

And here is the 1999 recording she made of ‘Cry Me A River’, uncovered by the Daily Record and thought to be her only CD recording so far:

She’s being reported on even across the Pond in the Huffington PostMashable speculates she might be the biggest YouTube sensation ever. And so on.

The core of the story is, of course, that she is a forty-seven-year-old single Christian woman who has ‘never been kissed’. Her appearance is not one that displays conventional beauty. Some have taken to calling her the ‘hairy angel’. Even the official website admits the judges had probably made up their minds negatively about her before she began singing. However, they were then blown away by her voice. Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden were on their feet before she finished her audition song. Simon Cowell added his imprimatur at the end. 

My thoughts? First of all, in my experience, the Christian church has got Susan Boyles tucked away all over the place. Whatever we have by way of cheesy worship bands or choirs filled with members who remember when they had strong voices, we also have a collection of people with Susan’s kind of talent. Not only in the sense of her singing ability, but also with their commitment – like her – to quiet community work that benefits not them but those they serve. Like Susan, it may be to elderly people who don’t matter in the demographics of the advertising world. But they are there, and as Christians we should celebrate these people – their talents used in the service of God, both directly in worship and through love of neighbour as expression of love for God. 

Secondly, the Huffington Post article linked above refers to her as an example of the meek inheriting the earth – so appropriate, considering her faith, and so pleasantly surprising from such a renowned secular liberal source. The writer and commenters celebrate the triumph of someone on the grounds of raw talent rather than image and physical beauty. So let’s think about that.

For one thing, yes, this is the way God sees people – God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance. How refreshing to see that the wider world is hungry and thirsty for such an approach.

For another, it ought to be grounds for repentance in the Christian music industry. View the CD sleeves from major stars in the Contemporary Christian Music field, especially from the States, and there’s little doubt good looks are required alongside the musical ability. Of course, they will be dressed modestly, because we wouldn’t want to think any of it was about lust, would we? That only happens when someone wears revealing or provocative clothes, doesn’t it? Yeah, right.

But I also wonder how long this will last. Britain’s Got Talent is the sort of TV show that works symbiotically with the tabloid newspapers of this country. Tabloid culture has got form in this area, and it’s not promising. It’s only sixyears since Michelle McManus won Pop Idol. Not being the conventional sylph, she was an outsider. However, she won. There was widespread public sympathy for a large woman. However, nineteen months after winning the contest, she parted with her management company, and said she believed it was to do with her weight. Not only that, sections of the popular media turned against her, and her weight became the reason to poke fun at her.

I think someone needs to be ready pastorally to support Susan Boyle whenever the populist tide turns against her. For knowing the cynical nature in some of our media, I fear it is inevitable. Once they have sold newspapers to those who love her, they will want to sell copies to the other camp and not lose them.

…………

Finally, how wrong can you be? A few weeks ago, I wrote about a family service in a church where a lot of long words were used. Today, one of the Sunday School teachers told me he had the same impression of that service. However, after reading my blog post, he asked every single child what they thought of that service. Every single one of them replied that they thought it was great. They were taking on board much more complex thoughts than either he or I had anticipated they could.

Let’s hope I’m wrong about the fate of Susan Boyle, too.

Links

Here are some of the destinations where I stopped on this week’s digital travels.

The ten worst predictions of 2008 (an American flavour, but not exclusively so).

A Japanese guy plays ‘Angels from the realms of glory’ on … broccoli.

Forgotten someone’s name? Use these tricks.

A nice sympathetic piece on the Salvation Army in The Guardian.

Rowan Williams – the Church of England could disestablish, but only for the right reasons.

Christian Aid are getting relief into Zimbabwe.

What are they playing at? Westminster Abbey adds Hindu snowmen to Christmas displays.

In a week when we face the lousy possibility of a sickly version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ becoming the Christmas number one thanks to the X Factor, the first winner of that show, Steve Brookstein, says this:

Simon Cowell bought the rights to Christmas. From now on it’s called X-mas.

Heaven help us all.