NASHVILLE - G. Thomas Walker is a country singer who also happens to be a Christian.
The good news is that he lives in the capital of country and Contemporary Christian Music. The bad news is that he's the wrong brand of Christian. Executives in the Protestant-packed CCM market flinch when they learn Walker is a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. Secular professionals quickly note that he writes more than the country-music quota of songs about faith and family. Meanwhile, Orthodoxy has no idea what to do with an American with a guitar.
"I'm stuck. My music is built on my faith. I can't deny that," he said. "But I have learned that I don't have ANYTHING in common with the CCM industry. . Whenever I listen to Christian music, I always reach the same conclusion: I don't want to listen to it. It's empty."
Walker reached over and started punching buttons on his car radio. Every one tuned in a country station.
"At least these guys aren't lying about what's going on in their lives," he said. "Life just isn't as simplistic as most Christian music says it is. . Country singers have to sing about real life. I want to do that, too. But where?"
Right now, Walker continues to follow a common Guitar Town strategy. He has recorded a disc of music on his own, while keeping his day job. Most of his concerts are for folks who don't quite know what to make of the music he calls "Orthodixie."
In one gospel chorus, Walker blends Bible Belt language with images of ancient traditions: "I have come to the faith of saints and angels, and I have come to believe in mystery, and through windows of heaven I see Jesus, reaching out His endless love to me." Protestants sing along, but few realize that the "mystery" is the Eucharist and that the "windows of heaven" are icons. He has even managed to write a country song about going to confession.
Walker would love to share his gifts with the Orthodox. However, musicians who want to bring Western music with them into Orthodoxy are about as welcome as chanting monks at the Southern Baptist Convention. Some musicians have even been rejected when they set Orthodox texts to hymn tunes that are familiar to millions of Americans. The cultural gap is just too wide.
"Orthodoxy doesn't know what to do with us. At least, not yet," said Walker. "We aren't going to be Greeks. We aren't going to be Russians. We aren't going to be Arabs. We're Americans. We want to be Americans who are truly Orthodox."
And the converts keep coming. Walker, for example, is the son of Father Gordon Walker, a Southern Baptist minister and Campus Crusade for Christ leader who was one of the founders of a group called the Evangelical Orthodox Church. Ten years ago, this small body of evangelists and born-again believers made headlines when it joined the Antiochian Orthodox Church.
Today, G. Thomas Walker is active in a Greek Orthodox parish, singing its ancient hymns with the help of phonetics sheets. While he revels in Orthodox worship, he still wonders if it was necessary to cut all of his ties to the sacred music of his past. He would gladly - as a skilled musician and committed Orthodox Christian - assist in efforts to learn what parts of American culture are worthy of use in Orthodox worship.
Walker poured his feelings into a song called "Standing Here," which is rooted in his church's tradition of worshippers standing during most of the service. The chorus: "Singing Holy, Holy Lord. Through the joy, through the tears, through the seasons of the year, with the saints and holy angels, I'll be standing here."
"Evangelicals just love that song," he said. "They love the images, but they don't understand them. The Orthodox understand the images, but not the music. They don't understand the music that reaches most Americans. ... I don't expect to see this gap bridged during my lifetime -- maybe during my daughter's lifetime or her daughter's lifetime. Maybe."