On Katy Perry and Jesus
Some time back, there was a mild social media scuttlebutt over the fact that a Katy Perry song was played at a Christian women's conference. Those in attendance were upset that a "secular" song was played in a Christian setting. They argued that it was not the setting for such a song; that the conference was a time for worshipping God, not the culture.
I didn't grow up with "worship music" per se. I grew up in a church where very old hymns were sung from very old hymnals, led by very old choir directors. While I liked their familiarity and grandeur, they never really moved me. I liked Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie. I loved the Beatles and Elton John. Those were the artists I connected with. Church hymns? Fine for an hour on Sunday. But for the rest of life? Give me the hits of the day.
It wasn't until years later, when I started to seek and follow Jesus as an adult, that I listened to "Christian" music. I attended a church that used guitars and drums. There wasn't an organ in sight and the person leading didn't have blue hair. (Well, sometimes they did, but not quite like my old choir director's hair.) I liked singing God's praise in melodies and words that I heard so often on Christian radio I knew the lyrics by heart. I could just close my eyes and lift my hands in worship.
And yet, I never made the distinction in my mind or heart between "Christian" and secular music. When I gave my life to Christ, my world got bigger, not smaller. God was no longer relegated to an hour on Sunday. I saw signs of His presence in the leaves on the trees and in the song of the sparrow. He was in church and in popular songs. Once I decided to follow Jesus, I saw Him everywhere.
In order for art to be God-honoring, does it need to mention His name or be specifically about Him? Or is there room for songs, paintings, books and poetry that never mention Him and yet somehow still stirs our souls? What about songs that just make us feel good? Is there room for those in the Christian panacea?
I've never heard Elton John declare that he is a Christian. But every time I hear his song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight", I think of Jesus Christ. I remember the One who saved my life; the One who came in and swept me up in His love and invited me to follow Him, trust His goodness, and enjoy grace. And it's the words of Elton John that reminds me of this. Was Elton thinking of Jesus when he wrote it? I have no idea. It doesn't really matter. When I hear it, I praise God.
When I attend a Christian conference, I expect to hear Christian-themed music and messages. I expect that it would be an experience that affirms, develops, and lifts my faith. I would hope the Gospel would be shared at some point. And if we jump to our feet when a Katy Perry song plays? That just sounds like fun.
We are called to live in this world, but not be of it, which means we are not to derive our significance, our morality, our identity, or our reasoning from the culture. We do not let the winds of politics, popularity, or trends influence our beliefs. We are to build the foundation of our lives on the solid rock of Scripture and live that out to the best of our ability; reliant upon His Holy Spirit to lead the way. There are times when we will be in direct opposition to what most of the culture is doing because we follow Jesus. There are times we will need to stand firm in the truth of the Gospel and fight against injustice and evil.
I'm just not sure Katy Perry is who we need to stand against.
I must remain humble enough to admit that God will use all kinds of mediums to reach His children. If I didn't know better, I would never have imagined He'd provide a pagan prostitute to help His chosen people conquer a city, but He did. I wouldn't imagine He would ordain a murderer to be His ambassador, but He did. I couldn't have imagined He'd invite me, a neurotic redhead, to write and speak of His grace, but mystifyingly enough, He has. If He can speak through a donkey, I'm pretty sure He's not limited to Christian music to move the hearts of women and men.
Not all art is created by people who believe in God, let alone desire to honor Him in their endeavors. Some art is downright hostile to Him. And yet, He has ordained every life and desires every person to come to Him. Jesus Christ died for Katy Perry and Elton John as much as He did for me. So why would it be a surprise that I see glimpses of Him in the things they bring into this world?
Katy Perry isn't a threat to our faith. The God who created her gave her talent and allowed her to sing in such a way that she moves a lot of people. And for those who don't like her music? There is another song just around the corner. But I hope we can widen our worlds and widen our hearts enough to see God at work in ways we might not expect.
May we live in such a way that we see others as God's children, deeply loved, even when they don't give a fig about Him. And in the artistic offerings to this world, may we be aware that, whether intended or not, they can offer us glimpses into our shared Creator.
May the songs we listen to, the art we enjoy, and the things that surround us remind us of a God who can show His glory in the most unexpected places. May they bring us joy and cause us to dance and sing out loud. And whether we hear it on the radio, in church, or at a conference, whether we want to sing Ten Thousand Reasons or just Roar, may we lift our hands and worship God alone, who reigns over it all.