Beautiful words from "unclean" lips: finding spiritual light in unexpected places

Andy Rau

I'm generally a stick-to-the-classic-hymns sort of guy when it comes to church music. But I've got a secret dream that one day I'll show up at church on Sunday morning to be greeted by the church choir singing this:

It's a praise song called "Get Ready for Love," by the usually gloomy Nick Cave. (Read the lyrics if they aren't clear in the video.) When I first pressed play on this album, I was braced for another dozen or so gloom-and-despair ballads of the sort that characterize many of Cave's albums. I wasn't prepared for an out-and-out praise song that might have been lifted out of a modern worship songbook. I'm not the only Christian taken aback by the above song. (I won't presume to judge the state of Cave's heart—he identifies himself as a Christian, albeit of a variety that most evangelicals would find pretty unorthodox.)

It's always a pleasant but slightly unnerving thing to stumble across a point of spiritual light in a place, or from a source, that you weren't expecting. Any Christian who's listened to (to name another example) Hallowed Ground by the Violent Femmes is familiar with the mental questions such discoveries prompt for believers: is the artist being sincere or sarcastic? If the lyrics are praiseworthy when read literally, does it matter whether the artist is being sincere? What about Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," which sounds like a prayer when Johnny Cash covers it and sounds like blasphemy when Marilyn Manson does the same?

What do you do when confronted with expressions of faith from artists whose body of work as a whole contradicts that message? I haven't found a single answer that works, although in general I try to take such expressions at face value. And lurking behind this question is another, more troubling one: if an artist's sin-filled lifestyle makes it hard for me to accept their scattered expressions of faith... isn't it also offensive that I, a sinner, sing praise songs on Sunday morning that sometimes contradict my behavior during the week?

I'd love to hear your thoughts—and your own examples of unexpected light found in otherwise dark places.

(Bonus link: an idea for a church service based around the music of Nick Cave, if you're feeling really adventerous. And if you're prepared for the inevitable visit from the church elders the next day...)

Topics: Music, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Art