This is the first installment of my series on Christian rock. Read the introduction here.
Carman was where it all began for me. Before my family discovered Carman, Christian music was tedious, church was boring, and there’s an excellent chance I would have looked for entertainment in secular culture. After Carman, being a Christian seemed exciting, like something I wanted to do for myself rather than just something I did because it was my duty as a member of my family.
Compared Michael Jackson, Carman was not fantastic. But, at least in my case, Jackson was not really the competition (although I had heard “Black or White” at school and it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard) (proper school, that is, before I went to the ACE school). Carman’s competition was Graham Kendrick and Don Francisco, and had I known the term and been allowed to use it, I would have told you that those guys sucked balls.
The first Carman song I ever heard was “Radically Saved”.
Today, governments are worried about the radicalisation of young Muslims and the Government spends millions on anti-radicalisation programmes. In 1991, I (aged six) began to think of the term as a badge of honour.
Of course, this was the beginning of the ’90s, and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (as the cartoons were called in the UK) had popularised ‘radical’ as a slang term meaning ‘cool’. So, yes, when Carman said ‘radical’, he certainly meant it at least partly in the Ninja Turtle sense. He certainly didn’t mean to incite anyone to become a suicide bomber.
(Incidentally, on Carman’s longform Addicted to Jesus video, which I might still have somewhere on VHS, he did describe himself as “a musical terrorist” for God, language which looks pretty ill-chosen from where I’m sitting.)
Still, I attended church services weekly where we described ourselves as radical, and preachers looked up ‘radical’ in the dictionary, observing that it meant “of or going to the root; fundamental”. We were radicals not just in the Ninja Turtle sense. We were radicals because, unlike those other wishy-washy Christians, we were the true roots of Christianity. We were fundamental. And yes, we were extreme. We were, as Carman sang elsewhere, “going 100% with Jesus because 99 1/2 just won’t do”.
I also began to think of “fanatic” as a badge of honour too. I thought I’d got that from Carman, but looking back through my old tapes, the only reference I can find in his lyrics is in “We Are Not Ashamed“, which says “We’re looked upon as outcasts/ fanatics they may say”. Maybe that’s where I got it from. One way or another, I saw being a fanatic as a good thing. “Nothing here can change my mind” sang Guardian in “Long Way Home“, because no good can come from being open to that possibility.
Regardless of what Carman meant, there are now Christian musicians who proudly proclaim themselves fanatics, like “Fanatic” by the Christian rapper Lecrae.
Christian extremism doesn’t get the press that Muslim extremism does, because there is no Christian equivalent of 9/11 or 7/7. And, I’m certain, none of the Christian singers I’ve talked about would endorse violence in the name of Christ. These were not incitements to terrorism. They were simply exhortations to be totally committed to the Christian life. No thought for the cost, no turning back, no thinking about what you’ve left behind.
As Carman sings at the end of Radically Saved:
The world thinks we’re crazy.
Our friends thinks we are crazy.
Our family thinks we’re crazy.
But we are just what?!
We are just radically saved!
It didn’t matter that we saw little of our extended families. It didn’t matter what we sacrificed in this life, because the reward would be so great in the next. Nothing mattered, except being saved, because what gains a man to win the world but lose his very soul?
If you’re not a believer, you might ask, “What if you’re wrong?”
But that question wouldn’t have made any sense to me, because I just wasn’t wrong. I knew. I was certain. I knew it I knew it I knew it… until one day, when I didn’t know anymore.
And then I had pretty much nothing.