Sufjan Stevens — a Christian musician who is often criticized for not explicitly saying God’s name in his music

Nothing is Sacred

My name is Jon Knauss, and I’m a music student at Lancaster Bible College. I have been a part of the intersection of Christianity and the arts for as long as I can remember. I am a songwriter, I’m in a band called Kilo Lima, who just recorded our first album, and I’m an illustrator. I have seen first hand what the arts world can be, and I have tried to find my place in it so many times. If there is anything that I have learned from meeting artists and other musicians and bands, it’s this: nothing is sacred.

Definitely try and hear my heart in this. I am not saying that nothing is sacred, God is dead and we killed him, or that we can do anything we want…I just don’t believe that a line between sacred and secular really exists. We, as Christians, often like to draw hard lines about what is sacred and what is secular. Our sacred art is often depictions of pastoral themes, everything symmetrical and pastel, and a doe eyed, blonde boy we like to call Jesus, hanging peacefully on a cross. Secular art is anything that either bucks that trend, or doesn’t involve Jesus. We like to think that it’s half and half, but it’s not. There is far more secular art than sacred art. There is far more “secular” music than “sacred” music. So, using this logic, it is safe to assume that God only works and is only represented through the small percentage of sacred expressions we have.

Quite a box we have put God in. To put it in the words of Robin Williams “Great cosmic power! Itty-bitty living space” (Aladdin).

Get it?

I’ve been reading through a book called Sex and Money by Paul David Tripp, and he said something that I have been dwelling on for awhile. Granted, I am taking this slightly out of context, but this is what it means to me. Tripp says, “God exists and is the center of all things” (28). If God is the center of all things, then how can sacred and secular be divided if He is the center of everything. We have this idea in our head, a terrible dichotomy, that sacred means good and secular means evil. The Mona Lisa is secular, but is it evil? The Quran is considered holy, but is it good (due to my beliefs, I do believe that this book is not holy and is about a false god)? “But Jon, that’s a dichotomy, and you just said that God is the center of everything!”, yes, and no. God is the center of everything, but evil cannot come from him (Psalm 5:4). However, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). In the sense of God cannot be in the sight of evil, and is only good, that is the dichotomy, not if something is sacred or secular, but is it good or bad?

A lot of us know what Burning Man is, it’s a music festival where all different kinds of creeds, colors, and lifestyles come together to celebrate art and music, and is usually known for it’s drugs and experimental culture. However, Brian Schaefer had something different to say. He, a practicing Jew, went to a Shabbat service at Burning Man, saying that “‘The idea that Shabbat can be expansive and exploratory and experimental is why it’s a perfect fit for Burning Man,’ said Alessandra Wollner, one of the organizers and a member since 2011. Like Burning Man, she said, Shabbat is a chance to be ‘wilder versions of ourselves, more loving versions and more enlivened versions.’” People even came to the Shabbat service that weren’t Jewish. They were fed, they sang together (specifically noting the song “A Change is Gonna Come”), and even included ASL in their service. Schaefer has this to say about the sacred and secular “Mixing a secular song into Shabbat is a friendly nod to the non-Jews in the crowd, and builds a tuneful bridge between ancient prayer and today’s world”.

If God is evident with the Jewish people at Burning Man, where else has He been evident that we have deemed secular? A man played his cello in a bombed out street in Iraq, a day after a car bomb had exploded. He is Muslim, but in that moment, what he did was sacred, and I believe God worked through that act to bring hope to the people of that area. There are many more examples that I don’t even think I could recount. Think of how many times a song not mentioning God has brought you to tears because of it’s truth. That’s what I am talking about here, that God is in what speaks truth, and that bridges our dichotomies of sacred and secular. God is the center of everything, therefor, He bridges our gaps. When I say nothing is sacred, I mean that God is sacred, and what he works through becomes sacred. God is redeeming and making things holy everyday. It’s kind of his schtick. It’s our job, as humans, to let it happen and let God work. Our human plans cannot stop God from being the center of everything, and sometimes in our best efforts to thwart Him, he shines brightest. Strive for truth, not the idea of sacred or secular. Only God makes the sacred, we cannot.

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