Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mars Hill story outttake here!

My opus on Team Strike Force, the worship band at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, is in the current Blender. I'm happy with the piece but of course I had much more material than I could use. One thing that got left out was a section on Tim Smith, Mars Hill's worship pastor, and an extremely swell guy who helped me a ton with my research.

Below is the little section on Tim. Insert into your copy of Blender right after lovely Andy Myers says "God put me here." Or just ignore this post if you have no interest in why Christian rockers do what they do.

“Let’s try ‘Amazing Grace,’” Tim Smith murmurs into the microphone in the center of Mars Hill’s big stage. The band rehearsing is the Mars Hillbillies, an Old 97’s style outfit that revamps old hymns honky-tonk style. The lanky, blond, soulful Smith is their leader and the worship pastor for the church. A goateed church kid from Beaverton, Oregon, Smith is that rare person who actually became more stylish by getting saved.
You can almost hear the eyes roll onstage when he calls for the world’s most popular hymn. “Maybe we can do “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” snips Billy Hatcher, a Memphis-born, 26-year-old amateur actor and pedal steel guitarist whose arrival a year ago gave the Hillbillies a new burst of cred. He zips out a few lines of that martial chestnut. Tim sighs.
Billy sarcastically sings “America the Beautiful,” but Tim soldiers on with “Amazing Grace” and soon the band’s with him. Billy picks up on Tim’s ska-tinged rhythm line. As they take the verse into a gospel swing, Tim breaks out into a chuckle. “This song can really be molded to anything,” he declares.
Later, sitting in a black-upholstered booth near the church’s snack bar, Tim describes his evolution toward Christian cool. His childhood was typical of many of the Mars Hill crowd: he grew up within a traditional suburban megachurch, indifferent to his surroundings, until Christian pop and the teenage church scene drew him in. “I was totally indifferent until I hit youth group in high school,” he says. “Something clicked then. I totally embraced Christian culture. Youth group is how they get us hooked!”
Tim sanctified his typicallly adolescent tastes by getting into heaven’s metal: Stryper, Petra, Mortification. “Then I got an acoustic guitar,” he says. That led to praise and worship, with its simple choruses, and similar experiences like Benedictine chanting and Lutheran hymnody. Tim also immersed himself further in church activities, leading Christian rock-climbing on the weekends and going to services at a Portland bible college that included hours of singing. At 22, Tim took a job at a Lutheran church in St. Louis, relocating there with his high school sweetheart, Beth. “That’s where I hit the wall,” he says.
“When I moved I realized I’d been living in a parallel world,” he continues. “I found myself asking, what do I really believe in all this? I still loved Jesus, but some of the people around me were driving me insane. We were in an upper middle class suburb, newly married, no one around us was remotely our age. It was totally lonely and very hard.”
Tim met Mark Driscoll at a conference in New Mexico where one of the Mars Hill bands played. He liked Driscoll’s “Gen X” preaching style and loved the music. A few months later he and Beth moved into Driscoll’s basement in Seattle. Mark bought Tim an electric guitar, got him voice lessons, and found him a slot in one of the worship bands. Tim flourished. “I also went to a lot of shows,” he remembers. “This was when Death Cab and Modest Mouse were playing two hundred seat venues.”
Mars Hill showed Tim how to enjoy life as a Christian. “I can be in the world without necessarily being exactly the same as the world,” he explains. “I’d been raised in this suburban context where you go somewhere called ‘church’ and have some interaction, but it’s completely isolated. That’s how I was raised. My parents had no friends; we kept in touch with some families from church, but nothing substantial.
“Mars Hill changed my heart on everything,” he concludes. “Within a year and a half, I became a homeowner, and a father, and a pastor. It was a major period of time.”
Now Dad to three young girls, Tim is happy to be one of Mars Hill’s few on-staff musicians. Whether he’s living as much “in the world” as he says is a matter of debate – his sixty-hour work weeks don’t leave much time for seeing shows. But he’s convinced that his ministry makes him more open than most Christians.
“There’s a passage in the book of Jeremiah where the nation of Israel is been carried off into exile in Babylon,” he explains. “A lot of Christians feel like that’s where they are – we’re in this godless, somewhat barbaric nation, and we’ve got to set up our own little thing to guard against the evil influences. But what God says is, have children. Settle down. Seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon, because if it’s blessed, you’ll be blessed too.”


Blogger Anthony said...

I have been working on a book about American Venacular Christianity for most of this year, and have done a large chunk of research on Mars Hill.

Most writing about this subject has been snarky, inaccurate and basically silly. I am glad, and impressed, with the level of care, delicacy and research that you have put here.

Thank You

1:08 AM

Blogger jimmy said...

that's cool man. Thanks for the article. I was surprised at how complimentary the blender article was! Good stuff.

grace and peace, jimmy

10:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well done article.


5:10 PM

Anonymous Jessica said...

I really liked your story as well. Matt and Jeff and those folks are so incredibly sweet--I wish they were still more a part of secular indie rock scene, we could use them.

7:32 PM

Blogger Mike said...

It seems to me that Seattle is a good place to be a Christian and also a rock've got Pedro the Lion, Damien Jurado, and others who are good role models in integrating one's spirituality into a secular music scene. I, too, would like to see some non-snarky Christian music writing (and have attempted it myself on occasion).

10:47 AM

Blogger stephy said...

I wonder what the Pedro the Lion and Jurado fans would think about how Dave Bazan & Damien have renounced Christianity.

10:54 AM


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