It’s tough sometimes to explain to other Christians what I do.
I write kid songs, but not the Vacation Bible School sort. No, my songs cover such important spiritual ground as “Sylvia Sue Had to Go Poo” and “Someone Ate my Pizza.” Rather than abhorring the world, my songs wonder what would happen if two fat women ate the world.
When I explain how I feel “called” to silliness, I get either blank stares or scowls. “Wouldn’t your talents be better used by God if you wrote scripture songs or worship music?”
To be honest, I’ve wondered that, too. Maybe God will push me there again. But for right now, God has called me to be wacky.
I’ve been a songwriter from the time I was 12. When I discovered one could write a song with just three guitar chords (and the truth!), I started writing. Yes, they were awful, as all first songs ought to be. I remember trying my hand at Christmas songs, praise songs, dance songs, and even a few schmaltzy love songs. This led me to a very, very short career in Christian music. I signed with Eden Records in the early ’90s, and toured full-time for about three years, part-time for another four. I wrote my own songs and met beautiful people. I love those years, and I believe my songs touched lives.
But then I hit a dry spell. No, I hit the mother of all dry spells. From 1996 until 2006, I could not write a serious song. I tried everything that used to inspire me. I read spiritual books from spiritual authors. I read scripture. I even stayed mostly awake during sermons. Gospel icon Bill Gaither spoke once of having a five-year dry spell. Apparently, dry spells happen—even to the best. But 10 years? I began to believe I had lost my gift. Or worse, perhaps God had forcibly taken it away.
However, throughout the dry spell, I found I could write silly songs. And so I did. I wrote songs about spitting out windows and kissing pigs. I churned out profound pieces about slugs and potato bugs.
“What’s going on, God?” I remember asking. There’s not a church in the world that wants a has-been (maybe a never-has-been) Christian songwriter singing about going to the zoo or becoming a pirate.
And that was part of the problem.
The only venue I could imagine for myself was a church because, well, that’s the only venue I knew. I was attempting to write songs for “venues,” for “audiences,” but not songs about what I saw, how I felt, what I experienced, and what I imagined. The silly songs, however, all stemmed from things I saw, felt, experienced, and imagined.
I got up the courage to record my outrageously wacky songs for a CD called Something’s Rotting in the Fridge. Upon hearing it, some public school teachers from my church said, “Why not come to my classroom? My kids would love to meet a real songwriter and poet.” (Was that what I was?) And suddenly I got it.
Perhaps God wanted me to go where no worship song may go—into public school classrooms, libraries, kids’ museums, and zoos.
This year, I will make 170 appearances. At nearly every show, I am announced as a songwriter, a poet, and a professor at Union College (a Seventh-day Adventist school). Because of that, I meet hundreds of families who ask about where I worship and why.
My songs are simple, singable, and silly. There may be deeper meanings hidden beneath them, but I’ve not found them. However, my songs reflect the little things about my life I love—food, fun, imagination, great friends, and, yes, good bowel movements. If you are honest, those things matter to you as well.
My songs are not Christian—not to say they are unchristian. But my music is a ministry. When I discovered that God can inspire creativity about rotting casseroles and hairy jelly rolls, I discovered that God is bigger than my little imagination.
When asked by songwriters for advice, I say this: Write about what you know. Write about what you love (and hate) about your life. The world is full of “Hallelujahs.” How about instead a song about getting the kids to school on time? What about a song about burning the lasagna—again? Why not write about your aging mom or your teenage son or your dislike of folding laundry? The best part is, if God is in your life, you’ll be shocked at how those songs become spiritual ones.
And never write for venues or for audiences. Write because God gave you a gift—and you would pop if you didn’t use it. Later on, let God find the venue and the audience. That’s His job.
Mike Mennard is an Assistant Professor of English and Communication at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.© 2017 - 2021 ASA. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.