"Musicians, like anyone else, have spiritual questions," Scotty Smith, a pastor and counselor to many Christian musicians in Nashville, told CCM magazine recently. "Spirituality is becoming a viable part of the human experience. The question isn't, 'Is there a God?' but 'Which God?'"
The question appears to have cropped up even among young rap artists, whose lyrics--not to mention lifestyles--are usually considered anything but spiritual. The late Tupac Shakur turned to an evangelical minister for guidance before his death in in a drive-by shooting in 1996. Sean "Puffy" Combs and Joseph "Run" Simmons of Run DMC consistently consult their ministers in matters of business as well as spirituality. Such a practice, they say, brings a needed balance and meaning to otherwise pressure-filled lives.
Hezekiah Walker, pastor of Brooklyn's Love Fellowship Church, who counsels Combs, says celebrities don't need a moral watchdog, but a voice of reason. "I'm there to be straight with them, to be honest and that's what tends to make them come back to seek salvation or spiritual depth because you're being truthful with them." As a pastor, he says, he hopes these artists "grasp the truth on their own and hold on to it."
Combs, who appeared at a hearing this week to prepare for his trial on gun charges, wouldn't be blamed for checking on his minister's availability. But Walker says Combs seeks him out in good times and bad. "Puffy calls periodically to check in and ask me to keep him in my prayers," says Walker.. "He doesn't just call me when he's in a jam. . I've been able to see Puffy's spiritual growth from his first album to his second. He's getting more in tune with his experience with Christ."
Even for artists who make their living espousing spiritual values--those in Christian music, per se--staying spiritually in tune is just as essential. The Young Messiah Tour, a sort of Christian Lollapalooza, has included pastors, like Smith, who not only offered prayer and guidance to the artists but went on stage to talk to the crowds. Christian-chart superstars Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Steven Curtis Chapman have been known to take a tour chaplain along as part of their staffs. Others stay in constant touch with their church pastors back home when on the road.
Christian artists, too, seem to be looking not for a moral cop, but a reality check. "I'm not out there to be their God, to tell them what not to do," says Michael Guido, 15-year veteran tour chaplain who has traveled with Christian groups like Michael W. Smith, dcTalk and Jars of Clay. "Neither am I there to tell them what they want to hear." Guido says his role is that of a servant, not an icon of spirituality. I'm out them to provoke them to jealousy for a more intimate relationship with God. I'm there to be a facilitator, a negotiator, an ambassador for Christ. I'm there to be available."
That kind of spiritual support and moral accountability is important, these pastors say, because the least amount of the cult of celebrity can be a great test of their faith.
"It's an unreal world-the lights, the glamour and the applause," says Guido. "You leave the venue after the concert and look yourself in the mirror and know that you're not all that. Ten-thousand fans don't come into your room at night to tell you how great you are. You lay on that pillow with real life problems. You're insecure. You're pride takes over. You're just a little boy in big man's clothes."
Some have speculated that the preachers themselves get wrapped up in the celebrity, and that profit more from standing close to the stars than the stars themselves. But Walker denies that his relationship with Combs is self-serving. "It's not about public relations," Walker says. "I would never exploit their talents or their confidence in me as a pastor. Whoever it is, Puffy, Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, whoever, my role is basically just being a spiritual help to them, just being there with open arms to assist them. I don't do what I do for publicity.
Getting wrapped up in material things, or in the celebrity lifestyle," Guido seconds, "is like trying to save a sinking boat with a drill."
Some may worry that spiritually grounded musicians may be worse musicians. It's a truism that good music, like all art, is born out of angst, self-doubt and suffering. But take heart, music fans, that angst and suffering will always exist, even among people of faith. Or to quote John, Paul, George and Ringo: we all "get by with a little help from our friends."