August 19, 2002
BRAIN FOOD FOR FAITH:
Singer/ songwriter Chris Rice
___By Greg Warner
___FRANKLIN, Tenn. (ABP)--Chris Rice is the Christian songwriter for the other guy--the guy who questions God, isn't sure about God's presence and cringes at the casual way people talk about holy things.
___"I write a lot of times as if I'm not a believer, because I want to free people to ask questions," he explained in a rare interview.
"I want my music to make sense to those who doubt it and draw them toward faith."
|CHRIS RICE thrives on singing for children, youth and non-Christian adults--not the typical audiences of successful contemporary Christian musicians. His adoration among children was forever sealed with "The Cartoon Song," but his usual fare probes the darker side of doubt.(FaithWorks Photo)
___That desire stems in part from his own experience with doubt.
___"When I was growing up in high school, almost every youth speaker ... would say things like, 'If you didn't feel the presence of God here tonight, there's something wrong with you.' That's a common phrase in Christian circles. I hear those phrases, and I want to set people free who don't experience it that way."
___Rice, the Dove Award's male vocalist of the year in 1999, has learned to live with his questioning heart. Along the way, he has become one of the most unlikely stars in Christian music. He's a recording artist who shuns publicity, a songwriter who doesn't listen to music, an amateur theologian who doesn't read much.
___Each summer, he chooses to lead music at youth camps rather than tour Christian music's big venues. He's more comfortable around children or in front of a group of secular college students than he is around adults, particularly Christians who expect him to behave and perform a certain way.
___As a songwriter, Rice is part poet, part prophet, part evangelist. He teaches about God's time in "The Power of a Moment," pricks the Christian conscience with "The Face of Christ" and comforts skeptics with "Smell the Color 9," the title cut from his last vocal album.
___"'Smell the Color 9' came out of a desire to say, 'I don't experience God the way a lot of people say it works,'" he explained. Its lyrics include: "And I'm wondering why I've never seen the signs they claim to see. Are the special revelations meant for everybody but me? ... Sometimes finding you is just like trying to smell the color nine."
___"I get in a lot of trouble for that song," he admitted. "But I'm trying to say, 'If you don't experience those things, your heart of faith is still pounding and that's what is important.' Jesus never said, 'You will feel me with you always, you will hear me with you always.' Jesus said, 'I am with you always.' If you have an experience with God with your physical senses or not, that doesn't make him less real."
___Rice records for Rocketown Records, the label started by Michael W. Smith to cultivate songwriters. He and Rocketown worked out an arrangement that allows Rice to place top priority on his ministry to youth and college students, even though it means he is unavailable for promotional appearances and media interviews.
___"For the last couple of years, I've spent probably 250 to 300 days a year with these high school and college students, sometimes junior high, usually in a camp setting or retreat setting," the singer explained.
___For several years, Rice has been working with the same church groups and campus organizations, scattered from California to Florida, sometimes leading worship and other times speaking.
___Rice's popularity with children was sealed forever--to his perpetual chagrin--with "The Cartoon Song," in which he ponders the profound theological question, "What if cartoons got saved?" He then impersonates cartoon characters singing "Alleluia!"--or in the case of Fred Flintstone, "Yabadabadooya!"
___Nevertheless, his reputation as serious songwriter has survived "The Cartoon Song."
___On the other end of the spectrum, Rice endears himself to his older fans by voicing not only their deepest love for God but also their toughest questions. Turns out that's also a sure way to irk some Christian music fans who expect their stars to defend the faith.
___Whenever he performs in public, inevitably someone comes up to ask why he parades his doubts for all to see.
___His response: "There are millions of people in this world who wonder, 'Is God there?' I can't write just for you, sir. I have to think about all these people. And it doesn't mean that my faith is slipping or I'm questioning or doubting. I want to include the whole spectrum of faith in what I do, which is hard to do when you're on a Christian label, distributed in Christian stores."
___Pushing the envelope is rewarded when he sings in front of non-Christians, Rice said. "I see them nod. I see them thinking, maybe for the first time, about this important stuff.
___"I feel like some of the most important places and some of the most rewarding places where I sing are for unbelieving audiences. Maybe (I'm singing) for a fraternity party and I know maybe 5 percent are believers. ... I'm singing my songs in front of these guys and I'm thinking, 'This is what my music is for.' And I get really excited about it."
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