In the summer of 2011 I took a 6-week sabbatical to explore “God in the Creative Process.”
Part of my exploration included interviewing creative people.
That July I attended Kindlingsfest on Orcas Island in Washington State. Kindlingsfest was created by Dick Stuab who has become a friend and creative sounding board for me. Dick is an author of many thought-provoking books and had a syndicated radio program in Chicago. He now is the Pastor at East Sound Community Church where the international Kindlingsfest is held.
The Kindlings is a movement inspired by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers and a diverse group of gadflies and friends called The Inklings, who met in an Oxford, England pub each week for lively conversation and friendly disputation. We think such discourse should be intelligent, imaginative and hospitable. Our aim is to rekindle the spiritual, intellectual and creative legacy of Christians in culture.
At the 2011 Kindlingsfest I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite musicians, Michael Card. Michael has produced 30 albums and sold more than 4 million albums. He has written 19 No. 1 singles, including the well-known El Shaddai and Emmanuel, and won several Dove Awards. Michael has also authored 23 books, including Gold Medallion Book Award winner A Sacred Sorrow.
Sitting on the edge of the stage with Michael, one warm July afternoon, I enjoyed the following conversation. PART 1
Preston: Did you always SEE YOURSELF AS CREATIVE?
Michael: No. Not at all.
I grew up in an area where I was surrounding with people way more creative than I was.
P: I read your story about how you got involved in music
M: I never had this heart connection with music. I’ve always been very UTILITARIAN with music.
I grew up with people who were world-class players. I saw real musicians and that wasn’t me.
I love music, don’t get me wrong.
P: While listening to you this morning, it clicked with me. You see MUSIC AS YOUR VEHICLE.
M: Yeah. And that is a weakness.
I think it is a legitimate thing to say that I have not focused enough on the music.
I should have written better music. I always focus on the words.
P: I’m not going to editorialize on any on this. (I have always enjoyed Michael’s music but his words are what really move me.)
P: WHO ENCOURAGED your creative process?
M: Bill Lang, my pastor. (That morning Michael told us how Bill asked him to write a song for the morning message. This was a first for Michael.) But it’s always been writers. (Dietrich) Bonhoeffer was huge. “Christ the Center” totally changed my life. When I realized the music could be about Him, then I got really excited. In so far as it is about Him, that’s what makes me excited. Otherwise, I’m really not interested.
P: WHY do you create?
M: It’s a call. The call is determined by the COMMUNITY.
When I was a part of that little African-American church, those people together helped me discover, this is what my gift was, this is what my calling was.
A lot of people think they have to figure it out by themselves, but I was really blessed. I understood fairly early that people who loved me and listened to me helped me determine my call.
Bill Lang said, “You have a gift for music.”
And I said, “OK, if you say so. I’ll do it.”
P: So community was essential.
M: Yeah. ALL REAL CREATIVITY COMES OUT OF COMMUNITY.
Even the Trinity, right? Creativity always comes out of community.
And again, our image of the tormented artist struggling with the muse … that’s bull. That’s not how it works.
P: What is the RECURRING THEME in your work?
M: INCARNATION. It’s the answer with a capital A.
This Person appears on the scene and He doesn’t answer anybody’s question. He gives Himself as the answer. Which really messes with people’s minds.
People are wanting answers and Jesus gives them Himself. They want signs, they want Him to explain Himself and He will not do that.
P: Yeah. A checklist is much easier than asking for transformation.
M: Yeah. Right.
P: Is there a POINT OF VULNERABILITY as you create?
M: I think for me the vulnerability is when you SHARE it, when it goes PUBLIC.
I don’t feel vulnerable when I’m doing it.
There is a degree of vulnerability when you are in the studio and you play the song for these great musicians for the first time.
But again, we have community, we have such good relationships.
I know the weaknesses that are in there, that are invariably there, they will make up for them.
Yeah, the vulnerability comes when it goes public.
Of course the worst thing is when people say nothing. Over the last 4-5 years that’s been my experience. I’ve come out with a record and nobody says anything. That’s been real hard. Yeah, that’s hard.
P: What do you do with that? You can’t do anything.
M: It’s very discouraging.
Well again, I go to my community. The people that I really trust, they think it’s good work. So I’m good with that.
P: So community becomes more and more important. The birth process …
M: It’s everything. It’s everything.
The UNQUALIFIED ACCEPTANCE … THAT’S WHAT I NEED TO BE CREATIVE. I need people who love me more when I write a bad song. And that’s what I get.
And I had that in this little black church I was a part of. Thelma Baker … we had women deaconesses … If I wrote a bad song she would love me more. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Thelma.
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