Catholic artists reminding us the church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners
You probably saw it floating around on Facebook:“Bono’s Advice to Christian Musicians: Get Real.” He said he found “a lot of dishonesty” in modern Christian art, comparing it against the raw, brutally honest emotion of the Psalms. “I would love if this conversation would inspire people who are writing these beautiful…gospel songs, write a song about their bad marriage. Write a song about how they’re pissed off at the government. Because that’s what God wants from you, the truth.”
He’s right: Contemporary Christian music is rife with shiny-happy-praise-the-Lord songs. It is often a better depiction of the “museum of saints” than the “hospital for sinners” that is the church of God on earth. Which is why the following artists are even more of a rare jewel.
Here are five Catholic artists who know how to “get real”:
His latest album is called Square Peg in a Round Hole. It’s the perfect title: Kevin McGoldrick is everything you wouldn’t expect from a Christian artist. He sings about coffee and Nashville with the same ease with which he honors the Virgin Mary and lifts his voice to Jesus. And just when you think you’ve pegged him into a musical genre, the track changes and so too the style right along with it. And perhaps most surprising of all: underneath the beanie, scarf, and sweater he often dons, he’s wearing clerics. Fr. Kevin is a Catholic priest.
This guy gets it: He gets what it is to be human and what it is to be Christian. And that being Christian means being more human, not less (read Gaudium et Spes 22). “The secular is meant to permeate the sacred. If you’re singing a song about the human heart it doesn’t have to have the name of the Lord in it. Beauty is its own end. Beauty does not need an apologetic. What’s the answer to the question, Why do something beautiful? Because it’s beautiful.”
Read more about Kevin McGoldrick on his website.
Above Earth’s Lamentation was a bit of a turn for the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter known for her worship music. The entire album is a journey through grief. “There are certainly parts of the journey that nobody wants to walk through. But to live means we will have to walk through that part of the journey at some point in our lives,” says Sarah. “Grief was one of those parts of the journey for me that I definitely did not want to walk through, but that’s where I found myself.”
A far cry from Job’s “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord,” the album doesn’t gloss over the tremendous loneliness that accompanies grief, and the doubt and the anger the singer felt towards God. Hart shared in an interview,“Sometimes when people are walking through grief – and it can be grief of anything: addiction or divorce or death – and I think a lot of times our Christian answer is to put our arms around someone and say, ‘It’s gonna be okay. Now get over it.’ In truth, these are big, gaping wounds that, if we are believers or not, still take so much time to heal.”
There is a time for everything under the sun, and Kevin Heider’s The Spark weathers the myriad of seasons of the human experience. When I went to select a song from the album for our article on the indie-folk/rock artist, I found myself at a loss. With the exception of “The Great Flood” – which will forever be one of my favorite Christian songs, I was worried the others would ruffle some feathers among our readers. They were darker, rawer, more “human” than most of the songs we feature at Cecilia Music. Which, of course, only gives more credit to Bono’s claim: this isn’t the norm for Christian music, and it makes some of us uncomfortable.
We can choose to insulate ourselves, becoming those “starched Christians” Pope Francis warns about, or we can step outside of ourselves and face the world around us. It’s not an easy album to listen to. Yes, there are a couple love songs and a saintly Irish drinking song, but the rest of the album carries us to the peripheries: slave labor, war, depression, doubt, loss. But, lest you despair, the album turns around the title track, “The Spark”: “What amazes me about this oft-ignored reality is that despite man’s tendency towards evil, towards his ‘self,’ I can still see his capacity for and I still have hope in his ability to do good. And this reminds me of something that my mother always said when I was growing up. She always said: ‘Don’t let the glimmer of gold shine brighter than the spark in your soul.’”
Read the lyrics (which are pure poetry), buy the music, and book a show with Kevin at his website.
Army of Me
Vince Scheuerman and his band “Army of Me” were on the cusp of success: they began touring internationally alongside the likes of Dave Matthews, OAR, and The Used; their music was playing on mainstream stations across the country; a video was in rotation on MTV; and they were signed to a major label. In a matter of days it all came crashing down. Scheuerman lost his voice, and with it his label and his band.
After a long, dark journey, the singer would eventually recover his voice and decided to return as a solo act. His latest album Searching for You is a reflection of that journey: “When you’re at the bottom, you realize that you’re not in control. But in the silence, when you place your trust in Someone who can help you, peace sets in.”
Scheuerman is Catholic, but you won’t find the artist’s albums on any contemporary Christian music playlists. The quote (probably falsely) attributed to Martin Luther aptly describes Army of Me: “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, buy by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” We need Christian artists who inspire us with their hymns to God. We need Christian artists who “get real” and carry us through hard times. And we need Christian artists leaving “hints and guesses”in the secular world, who “speak to the heart of humanity, to touch individual and collective sensibilities, to call forth dreams and hopes, to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement” (Benedict XVI, Meeting with Artists).
While the internet is busy debating the suitability of the chart-topping singer President Obama deemed “could not be a better role model for his girls,” I wish a lot more women would instead turn to Audrey Assad for inspiration. She got real with her recent #barewithme instagram campaign, asking followers to share bare-faced photos “so we can view God’s image bearers – beautiful just as they are.”
But we’re here to talk about her music, which, if you listen to her latest album Inheritance would appear to be exactly what Bono is criticizing: dishonesty. And if you listen to her speak about her life and her faith, the duplicity only seems to compound. The singer, who described her experience of this earth borrowing C.S. Lewis’ term “shadowlands,” has been very open about her doubts, her darkness, her ups and downs.
So why a hymns record? And how does that make our list of “real” artists? In her own words:
“I need, desperately and truly, to make this project. This is a gift (I hope) to the Church, but it is also a medicine from God in this hospital we call the Church that I can spend my time singing things I so often struggle to call true. I say a lot at my shows that I write songs to preach to myself, because I need it the most. Making a record of hymns will be a way in which I can, once again, nail the stakes of my tent down a little deeper into the ground, arm my heart with words of life, and say to the black vacuum of unbelief, you will not have me.”
Do you agree with our list? Who are we missing? Let us know in the comments below.