Poet turns to spoken word to convey Christian message

By Meghan Hendrickson

Christians have made themselves “selfishly holy,” Micah Bournes, a traveling artist and spoken word poet, said in Chapel on Monday (MP4 video).

Bournes spoke to students about using holiness to engage rather than retreat from culture.

Bournes said his message was inspired by a lecture he once heard from Dr. Michael McDuffee, his former theology professor at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

“God is not concerned about making you holy in an isolated way,” Bournes said, quoting McDuffee. “Holiness is always unto another.”

It is important for Christians to be set apart from culture, but not be segregated from it, Bournes said.

Bournes first stumbled upon spoken word poetry, which he now uses to engage culture, a few years ago when he visited an open mic event in Los Angeles.

The difference between writing poetry to be performed and writing poetry to be read is like the difference between writing a book and writing a screenplay for a movie, Bournes said.

He said he had “never been in any context where people were so spiritually and emotionally naked before complete strangers” until the open mic event.

Bournes said he discovered the more personal someone’s spoken poetry is, the more relatable it is, because the performer is being transparent and honest about his or her pain.

“I found myself at this unChristian event feeling very connected,” Bournes said. “Although I didn’t agree with all they had to say about life and spirituality, and though they didn’t all agree with each other, the vulnerability was beautiful and everyone was at least listening.”

Bournes said it was in the midst of listening to the anger, hopelessness and confusion presented that evening that he discovered an environment in need of Christ.

“I realized the subculture of artists and poets (which often greatly influence the rest of culture) was a mission field primed and ready to be engaged with holy art,” Bournes said. “Sadly, we are too busy being selfishly holy in our corner making Christian art and Christian music and writing Christian poems.”

Bournes said he is calling Christian artists to create “honest art.”

“The Christian experience is not nearly as clean and shiny as our songs and poems would suggest,” Bournes said. “There is greater pain, greater struggle, greater sin and the greatest grace that overcomes it all.”

Ryan Richardson, associate chaplain and director of worship, said Bournes is a positive force at Baylor.

“He speaks unapologetically about holiness and sexual purity,” Richardson said. “He utilizes Scripture to prove his argument that God’s plan for us is to remain pure and to wait for that person with whom we will share our lives.”

Richardson said he was amazed at Bournes’ delivery, poetry and compassion and is someone he hopes will return to Baylor Chapel.

Monday was the first time Jared Slack, coordinator for worship and Chapel, heard Bournes perform live.

“Micah has far exceeded my hopes,” Slack said. “His lecture in Chapel was engaging, relevant and disarming.”

Bournes shared one of his spoken word pieces with Chapel students. The piece, titled, “What the Back of His T-shirt Should Have Said,” discusses sexual purity.

Bournes originally wrote the poem to share at an open mic event at a bar in Chicago called Weeds. After graduating from Moody Bible Institute in 2010, Bournes spent every Monday night of that summer at Weeds sharing his spoken word poetry — what he deems to be “holy art.”

Bournes’ definition of holy art has two parts. First, he said he thinks any art (whether holy or secular) must be honest and transparent.

Second, he said he believes what makes art holy is the holiness that lies within those who believe in Jesus Christ and view life through the lens of the gospel.

“As believers, we are set apart,” Bournes said. “So if our art is honest and is from who we are, then it’s holy.”

Bournes said someone might listen to the poem he shared in Chapel and not consider it holy because of its sexual nature, but he does consider it holy because he is using it to glorify God and promote purity.

“I’m sitting here talking about sex and orgasms,” Bournes said. “I classify this as holy. It’s set apart to glorify God. The message is distinct.”

Bournes said Jesus is the example he follows in using holiness to engage culture rather than segregate himself from it, and shared both a warning and a challenge to Christian students in Chapel who may want to use their holiness to engage culture.

“The believer who is weak and immature in the faith should indeed avoid situations which would lead them into sin,” Bournes said. “But the more like Christ you are — the brighter your light — the deeper you should charge into the darkest haze of this world.”

Bournes performed more of his poetry at Common Grounds on Monday night.