BY: PAUL BRANDT
I grew up in an ultra-conservative, legalistic church from the ages of 6 to 13. A common
occurrence on Sunday afternoons was to go downtown near skid row and preach hell-fire and
brimstone sermons to people drunk on Listerine and home-cleaning supplies. I often wondered
why we didn't just bring them coffee and sandwiches.
Among the list of made up laws we observed:
- We didn't listen to the radio.
- We didn't have a TV.
- Organized sport was sin.
- Tattoos and piercings were sin. Unless you were a woman, then ear piercings were ok, but frowned upon. But you can't wear jewelry (so don't get caught).
- Musical instruments were not allowed. Especially electric guitars. It seems they had a special place on the sin/rebelliousness scale.
- Recorded music was a "no-no" unless it was The Gaithers, or Sandi Patti. (I would sneak into my aunt's basement to listen to her Elvis vinyls).
- Jewelry was bragging, so no. Just no (I chuckle to myself at this one especially as I envision my grandmother, the ultimate model of this church's submissive requirements, secretly buying baubles and trinkets from the door-to-door Avon lady, stashing it away in her bedroom drawer so my grandfather wouldn't know, and then secretly stealing us away when we visited to show us her contraband treasures).
- The wearing of blue jeans was a sin for women which could only be overlooked if it didn't occur on Sunday, assuming of course the sister in Christ kept her head covered, kept quiet, reserved all questions about her faith for her husband at home, and of course, the jeans weren't too tight.
When I reflect on this upbringing, I'm not bitter. I see so many positives which came into my life
as a result. The lack of television forced me and my sisters outside to play, it pushed us toward
reading, and nurtured our imaginations. The exclusive use of the King James Bible, the
subsequent exegesis from Strong's Concordance, and the constant Hebrew/Latin/Greek word
translations sparked my mind, and started my drive for poetry and prose. If not for the law I grew
up under, I would not have been exposed to many of the influences that continue to fuel my
I also learned that the ramming of messages and ideologies down people's throats rarely has
the intended effect. Coffee and sandwiches work better. The end game as Christ followers is
always to share the hope we've found, but we should be spirit lead in doing this. In all human
relationships, one must build up relational currency and trust before being afforded the privilege
of being able to share their ideas in a gentle and respectful way.
I remember when I turned thirteen, there was an awakening of Grace in our home. Yes, we
started attending a new church, and love came to town. And I got a guitar. The passage where
Jesus, grace incarnate, reveals that he didn't come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, came alive
to me at that time (Matthew 5:17).
Up until that point, I had been writing poetry. I was a word-nerd, reading the thesaurus and
"quotable quotes" books from the age of 6. I loved how words could say more than their sum
when you put them in the right order. Almost as soon as I started playing the guitar, I realized
what had been missing, and that the poems I had been writing were actually rudimentary songs.
Once the musical and instrumental outlet opened up, I felt God's calling on my life in a very
specific way. At 13, I prayed a prayer, and it went something like this:
"Lord, thank you for giving me the gift of music. If it's your will, please let me use it to point
people who don't know you to you. In Jesus name, amen. Oh, and p.s., please don't make me do music like Sandi Patti and The Gaithers..."
You can't blame me, I was 13, and I wanted to rock and roll...
In an ironic twist, about 16 years later I ended up doing a record produced by none other than
Gordon Mote, piano player for The Gaithers, but that is another story for another time. Suffice it
to say The Lord has an awesome sense of humour.
Even before I understood the subtle difference between a "Christian Country Music Singer" and
a "Country Music Singer who is a Christian," God called me specifically to be "in the world but
not of it," and to minister to the lost, bringing them the always relevant message of The Gospel
in a culturally significant way. Few in scripture did this better than the Apostle Paul. Check out
the account of Paul on Mars Hill in Athens when you get a minute. It's one of the finest
examples in the Bible of how to be on point with the culture without compromising (Acts 17).
I signed my first record deal with Warner/Reprise Records Nashville at 23 years old, and began
a career which has lasted me 20+ years so far, and taken me to the top of the US and Canadian
Country Music charts. It's been an incredible journey of faith, failure, perseverance, pain, risk &
Over the years, God has reminded me of my childhood prayer time and time again, holding
me accountable to my calling, and proving to me that he is the God who "...calls things into
being that were not" (Romans 4:17).
He created creativity.
He doesn't use man's ways to make things happen.
He is trustworthy.
The Bible, and our Christ-Following walk is made up of seemingly opposite ideas which play, as
"The Message" author Eugene Peterson puts it, in "dynamic tension" with each other.
The last shall be first.
To be great, get small.
To lead, serve.
The law is made perfect by grace.
Is my art too "Christian" for the lost to understand? Is it too "worldly"' to be of any heavenly
good? These are just a couple of the questions which plague Christian creatives.
The place where those opposing ideas meet, that tension point, is where we need to apply faith,
and to ask for discernment by the power of The Holy Spirit. Taking every thought captive, we
bring our thoughts, our emotions, our creations before The Creator, and lay them down like
perfume at his nail-scarred feet. In this moment of sacrifice we will be sure to see whether our
offering is acceptable to Him. And as workmen and work-women approved by God, I believe our
creations should be leading the way in the world, at the pinnacle of excellence and at the peak
of popular culture, compelling, prodding, resonating and pushing people towards a creative
force literally written on their hearts. When done right, art created by Christ followers should at
least have people asking what they believe, and hopefully have them falling to their knees
exclaiming "My Lord and my God." Interactions with God-inspired art always leaves the
audience with a choice; to respect and admit it as a reflection of Majesty and Glory, or to reject it
in preference for an imitation or aberration.
As creatives tasked to speak the language of the unchurched, ours is a sacred and sobering
calling. With each creation, photo, story, and song, we are held to the standard of Jesus, who
plied parables, engaged hearts, minds and audiences, and fished for men. The Creator of
creativity showed us how to do it perfectly. He was compelling in his delivery, uncompromising in
his message, and clear in his mission, and as Christ-following creatives, we should be too.