with Christian Musician Jamie Barnes
Bands: Jamie Barnes, Sojourn Music
Websites: www.jamiebarnes.net, www.sojournmusic.com, www.silbermedia.com/jamiebarnes
QRD – Do you try to keep your faith life & musical life separate?
Jamie – That seems impossible to me. The word “secular” to me is a paradox. Everything belongs to God whether or not we acknowledge it. I can’t divorce what I create from my relationship with the Creator. I don’t create from nothing. In other words, the palette I paint from was filled up with elements that have been around longer than I’ve been alive. All music & its laws/math/etc. belong to God. With that said, sometimes I write music for different audiences. The last few years, most of my energy as a songwriter has been directed specifically to the church. Most of the albums in my catalog have more of a broad audience in mind.
QRD – When creating music do you feel closer to God?
Jamie – My feelings really have nothing to do with my proximity to God. If I can make a bit of a confession, often my intentions for creating music are anything but holy. Thankfully, my relationship with God is not based upon my creative efforts. I believe that the atoning blood of Jesus Christ is what brings me into the presence of a Holy God. Music is not a mediator. It is a tool & a gift. The connection I have is pure, undeserved grace. Even my best efforts are like filthy rags to a Holy God... as Isaiah 64:6 tells me. This is good news to me.
QRD – How has your music helped you grow as a Christian?
Jamie – Greatly. Music is a great way to meditate on truth, work out frustrations or an easier way to dialogue with God (pray). Singing truth out loud helps my heart resonate on a level that reading or talking can’t for me personally. It also helps me work out my doubts & fears. Sometimes the demo room becomes a prayer closet.
QRD – How are your faith & aesthetic ideas linked together?
Jamie – I could write a book on this sort of thing… but thankfully better thinkers than me have. A theologian I have come to admire named Harold Best has helped form a lot of my thinking on art & faith. I would recommend anything the man has written. In short, I would say that knowing the Creator helps me understand beauty more fully. He is the most beautiful & satisfying thing out there & every good thing points to a good God.
QRD – What has been your experience being a Christian in an underground “artistic” community? Have you experienced any negativity towards yourself regarding your beliefs?
Jamie – It’s been great, really. Most of the time I’ve received positive feedback or at least a mild level of respect. I think if I’m being sincere, honest, & gracious towards others while doing my craft that most others, no matter their faith, are open to hear my perspective. There have been a few negative things here & there... but I can’t say I’m surprised by it. There are lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to be a Christian... mostly because of harm caused by Christians. There is also a stigma attached to “Christian Art.” Probably because a lot of it is bad & seemingly is insincere.
QRD – How do you reconcile the idea of making “dark” music against the perception that Christians making music “should” be creating music of praise or trying to “save” people?
Jamie – If I’m not open about the darkness in the world & in my own life, then what need have I for a Savior? Theologian Thomas Watson wrote in The Doctrine of Repentance: “Til sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” An essential part of the Christian life is repentance & lament. The Psalms are a good example of that. A lot of them are dark & full of despair. Check out Psalm 88 if you don’t believe me. The world we live in is broken & thirsty for renewal. No sense in pretending otherwise. Of course, without pointing to the hope that exists outside of the ashes & sackcloth, you are only telling half of the truth. I think this is what frustrates me with the majority of Christian Contemporary Music. This is why Christian music sales plummeted after 9/11. It had nothing to offer anyone in terms of expressing sorrow. A huge missed opportunity by folks that are encouraged from scripture to “mourn with those that mourn.”
QRD – How do you feel about performing with & for people who have a completely different set of beliefs than you do?
Jamie – I think its great. I don’t want to be guilty of living inside of a Christian bubble. Christians should be out in the community & engaging culture, not locked up in the sanctuary.
QRD – What’s your take on bands that refer to themselves as Satanic or Pagan?
Jamie – I feel sad that someone would align themselves to something that brings nothing but death & destruction. I feel like a lot the stuff that is out there is just playing with it & totally unaware of what they are truly saying when they say “satanic” or whatever. I don’t think it’s cute, but it also doesn’t frighten or shock me. God crushes the serpent under His feet - not something I would want to be associated with.
QRD – What do you think of Contemporary Christian Music?
Jamie – Sigh. Sadly, CCM is just as much a business as any other genre of music. I work & record often for a church who has released albums for a major label in CCM in the past. There is some great & thoughtful stuff out there, but often it’s hard to find. I think Christians should be leading the way in creativity... it should be subversive, challenging, & setting the standard in culture rather than placating to it or trying to play catch up. I do think there are a lot of artists & theologians that are stirring up a bit of a renaissance in Christian Music & art. Check out what folks like BiFrost Arts are doing & what guys like Mike Cosper & Kevin Twit are saying. Harold Best, whom I spoke of earlier, once encouraged over dinner to do my best to hit the world over the head with my art. I’ve been trying to respond to that challenge ever since.
QRD – How did you become a Christian? Can you share your experience?
Jamie – I’ve been a Christian most of my life. I was raised in a small, non-denominational church that had a tendency towards legalism. Over the last 6-7 years, my wife & I joined a church that I believe to be sound in doctrine & that has had a tremendous impact on the community they live amongst. I work on staff now for that church & was in the process of being raised up as a pastor this year as a matter of fact. Simply put, without Jesus Christ I would be hopeless & my life would be an absolute tragedy. He became my reason for living & source of life when I finally realized that I was incapable of doing anything good on my own. I think this probably sunk in at around age 19 or 20, though I had been coloring Bible Story coloring books since I was a toddler. :)
QRD – Name a scripture that has personal significance to you & why?
Jamie – I can never get enough of Romans chapter 8. Paul eloquently & dramatically lays out the bottom line of Christian hope there & I need to hear it daily. Recently, the poetry & rawness of the Book of Job has been encouraging & I’m thinking about basing my next record on that text.
QRD – How have traditional music & hymns influenced your music?
Jamie – Greatly. Hymns were some of the first songs I learned & they seem to be the songs I keep coming back to. The lyrical depth of some of the tunes by Isaac Watts, Horatius Bonar, & John Newton are just unparalleled. My latest recording, The Mercy Seat EP has a few hymn re-writes on it... specifically “Approach My Soul” & “Absent From Flesh.”
QRD – Would you like to be more involved with playing praise music?
Jamie – I lead a church every week. I love it. I love hearing people singing the gospel back at me with everything they’ve got. It’s located in Louisville, Kentucky & we have about 2,500 that attend regularly on Sundays.
QRD – Would you like to try your hand at writing traditional praise music or hymns?
Jamie – Once again, part of my latest projects released through Sojourn Music. You can find out more about it at www.sojournmusic.com or on iTunes.
QRD – How do you respond to people making statements like, “I thought you were too smart to be a Christian?”
Jamie – Ha. I don’t know. Don’t think I’ve ever heard that verbatim. But, there is probably a huge opportunity for a great conversation there. Hopefully, I wouldn’t respond in a dismissive way.
QRD – Anything else?
Jamie – Uh… don’t think so. Great questions. Thanks for asking me to chime in.
Other QRD interviews with Jamie Barnes: