Deep Enough to Dream
- 2004 9 Jul
Eight years into his career, Chris Rice seems to have it pretty well figured out. Eleven number ones, six Dove nods, a Dove Award for “Male Vocalist of the Year” and sales of more than a million units. Not too shabby for a self-described “introvert,” who still considers music a side venture.
In fact, it’s probably fair to say that Chris Rice never intentionally pursued a recording career. It was thrust upon him, and he found a way to make room for it. And after a while, like with some sitcom-generated Scandinavian third-cousin, who came for a summer visit and never left, he kind of grew to like having it around.
"Short Term Memories," a best-of retrospective laced with a couple of new cuts, now marks Rice’s seventh Rocketown Records release in eight years. It showcases all the reasons one of Christian music’s most understated artists has become a long-term commercial and critical success: poignant, accessible lyrics, good storytelling, colorful melodic sensibilities and an artful simplicity that compliments a deeply rooted faith. Chris’ songs feel like they’re a part of real life. And they are.
“In a lot of my songs,” Chris explains, “I’m just remembering the obvious, the innocence of childhood, the wonder of everything being new. You’re seeing things for the first time. You’re not jaded about stuff. You’re not accustomed to life yet. I still want to live that way. Even at my age I want to have my eyes open wide and have my breath taken away by a sunset. I’m not trying to be poetic; I just love discovery.”
Chris’ best lyrics have always seemed to move in two directions. Even as they’re reaching backward to those Eden-like images of childhood, they’re also pushing forward to catch a glimpse of the heaven to come. They wrestle with and celebrate the life that we know between those two extremes, balancing the nostalgia of what was with the promise of what will one day be. Songs such as “Clumsy,” “Home Tonight,” “Smell the Color 9” and his first single, 1997’s “Deep Enough to Dream,” struck a chord in our collective imaginations, reminding us that while we’re not there yet, we’re someday going to be.
“I imagine heaven will be ‘earthier’ in some ways than what we’ve been taught,” Chris says. “I think we’ll still have work and relationships and creativity and building things – all those things we’re created for – but it’ll all be free from any sinful motivation. Having that picture in mind should bring a better context to how we interact with each other here and with people who don’t believe. ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven’ is about advancing the Kingdom of God as much as we can now, not just waiting for that day when everything finally gets set right. We have opportunities; we have the Spirit of God; we have Christ in us; we have relationships through which we can make that happen to some degree even now.”
For Chris, having that knowledge also brings with it the responsibility to share it in a way that causes listeners to pause, consider and, perhaps, even rethink their assumptions.
“I want people to grow and expand how they look at the world, themselves and God,” he says. “In modern American Christian circles it’s easy to use the same old language and terminology. I like to knock that out of the way a little bit and try a different way of saying things so people have to engage their brains. Sometimes that makes the audience uncomfortable. Sometimes it makes the record label uncomfortable. But I think that’s one of the points of why I’m doing what I do: to help stretch people.”
Chris’ innate desire to stretch himself has provided the human nucleus for more than seven projects’ worth of engaging songwriting. Though he has invited his listeners to swim in some deep and perilous waters over the years, he’s always been the first one out of the boat. When he brings a problem to light, it’s usually a problem he’s noticed first in himself.
“One of the biggest blind spots we have in the church,” Chris observes, “is that we’ve got so many resources and even so much entertainment and religious paraphernalia focused on ourselves. All of that can get built up into an imaginary wall that separates us from our culture. We’ve gotten real comfortable behind that wall. But, ultimately, it can’t be about being comfortable and being around people who are like us.
“It’s really about Jesus leaving the place of ultimate comfort and becoming a servant and even becoming obedient to death, if that’s what it takes to reach souls. My biggest challenge right now to the church and to myself centers on our materialism. Where am I comfortable? Where have I defined my Christianity outside of what is truly biblical? And how do I step outside of that, even if it’s uncomfortable and costly?”
For 20 years Chris has invested his life in relationship ministries on college and high-school campuses, mentoring and discipling students. That ministry remains his focus even as he writes and tours. His songwriting and worship leading have always been grounded in that context. Through his daily interaction with students and his 80-show-a-year concert schedule, Chris finds himself consistently challenged and drawn outside of his comfort zone.
“I grew up with a feeling of fear about people because I had been told over and over again, ‘Don’t make friends with people who aren’t Christians because they’ll pull you away from your faith,” he explains, “In general, as the church, we seem to grasp the ‘Don’t be of the world’ part pretty well, but the reality is we’ve moved to a place where we’re nowhere even near the world. Instead of carrying God’s grace into our culture, we’ve created our own little subculture. And when the world pokes fun at our subculture, we think it’s persecution. It’s not. Persecution happens when someone’s reacting to the person of Christ. What we see is usually people’s reacting to our little subset of laws and rules and connections and commerce – how we do our stuff. I, personally, feel a need to begin to break free from that in whatever ways I can. I think it’s time to think differently about how we approach our faith in the world. We have to find a way to be human and let our faith express itself in our humanness while we’re involved with other human beings.”
At the end of the day, "Short Term Memories" seems to be more about that sort of human dialogue and shared journey and living faithfully than it is about pop music success. It’s a project that reveals Chris’ continuing maturity as a songwriter and as a man whose life is driven by the implications of his faith.
“When Jesus said, ‘I’ll give you abundant life,’ I don’t think He was saying that life would be a party,” Chris says. “I think it means that His presence, His involvement in every moment of our lives – through the painful times, through the easy times, through the good times and the hard times – is rich and abundant and full of life. It’s the presence of Christ in our lives that makes it abundant. We become bored if we just live our lives to be comfortable and entertained.
“To follow Christ is to live life with passion. Make the most of it. Enjoy it. Whatever you’re given to do, do it to the hilt. That’s how I want to live, and that’s how I want to encourage other people to live. That’s the last thing I want people to hear come out of my mouth when they’ve sat and listened to me speak or sing.”
© 2004 CCM Magazine. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Click here to subscribe.