Songs That Heal
by Tegan Marie Brozyna
Early in his career songwriter Steven Siler wrote for the pop charts with some success, but his craft—and his life—felt flat, empty. So he began to pray for greater purpose in both his music and his life, and one day he was approached by actor/singer Stephen Breithaupt about creating songs for a play Breithaupt was writing on childhood sexual abuse. Intrigued, Siler accepted, never suspecting at the time how many lives, including his own, would be influenced by the decision.
That play proved to be a turning point for Siler, who began writing songs that took both him and his listeners to a painful yet liberating place.
As the show toured, Siler started to see that sexual abuse "was not a niche issue" but something that touched the lives of millions of people, including his own family and friends. Suddenly abuse victims were approaching him and sharing how they recognized their own story in his lyrics. Counselors shared how the songs could be helpful to their clients. Siler began to sense that his gift could be more than just entertainment; it could touch, inform, motivate, and help heal its listeners. A first-time father to a new daughter, Siler was becoming sensitized to the vulnerabilities of children, especially girls, and he found himself increasingly convicted that men need to be a part of the solution to stop the exploitation of these daughters of God.
"Any Christian man who does not actively work to reverse society's misguided sexual commodification of women is complicit in the problem," says Siler. "But a man must first confess his own sexual sin, seek forgiveness (and professional help if necessary), and set up a hedge of accountability. Only then can he turn on the light in his church, mentor the young people, be a better husband/father, and make a difference in his community. For those who will embrace it, this is the great adventure awaiting Christian men in our time."
A good friend who was a prominent figure in Christian music and dedicated family man approached Siler one day and asked for help. Secretly addicted to pornography, this friend asked Siler to accompany him to a sex addiction meeting to help him face his demons and his shame. Siler agreed, and the two songwriters ended up processing the pain and healing of this man's situation through music and lyrics. Thus "Somebody's Daughter" was born:
You knit her together, your cherished creation, made her body a temple for the soul. Why can't I appreciate the beauty that your hands have made and maintain my self-control? 'Cause when I see only flesh, you're looking at her heart—there is so much more to her than meets the eye. I need to remember she's Heaven's own precious child, a person full of worth and dignity. When her beauty is defiled I demean us both and fail to see she's somebody's daughter…
The song eventually led to the creation of nine additional songs about pornography, four music videos, and a full-length documentary (Somebody's Daughter) featuring interviews with three men and a couple who speak about their journey to freedom from pornography. The film has become a powerful and much in demand tool for churches wanting to address the issue head on.
Armed with the belief that art should breathe life into dry bones, Siler launched Music for the Soul, a music ministry founded on the understanding that Jesus is a compassionate healer and that song "is one of God's greatest gifts of communication, with the power to speak healing straight to people's hearts where words alone can often fail." When Siler and his fellow songsters sit down to compose music and lyrics, they "put on the coat of pain" so that they can bring life to universal experiences. Each song is written to plot a particular stage of healing and is born of a process of prayer and dialogue with victims, families, and counselors. Music for the Soul addresses a broad range of issues, from the anguish of breast cancer to the challenges of raising special-needs children to the pain of eating disorders. It also makes music that celebrates marriage, encourages caregivers and those who grieve, advocates for peace in Israel/Palestine, and encourages military families who miss their loved ones. Their work educates even as it inspires.
Social justice and how it relates to sexual exploitation remains a central theme of the ministry. Siler and his colleagues work to bring this issue into the public consciousness and offer hope and healing to victims on both sides—to the exploiters as well as the exploited.
Siler's latest project is a song called "The Apology," co-written with Michael Cusick, a sober sex addict who now runs a ministry called Restoring the Soul. The song is a response to the sexism and wounding women have experienced at the hands of men. Siler and Cusick hope that the song will stand in the gap, facilitating healing for women who have been harmed but have never received an apology from those who have hurt them. They also hope it will prompt men who have caused harm, perhaps sometimes unknowingly, to consider ways in which their behavior has caused pain and seek to make amends. Plans are underway for the creation of a video that will help share the song more widely, offering opportunities for dialogue that will lead to awareness, understanding, apology, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
The sex presented by today's media and marketing, says Siler, are both "in your face" and "mean-spirited." It taps into the human desire to be loved but falls short of the mark by insisting that the body is the main vehicle for love, that one needs to be sexually active and attractive in order to feel "loved"—a dichotomized view of sexuality that inevitably leads to exploitation and abuse.
Siler's plain-speaking advocacy challenges the church's silence. Sex is a gift created by a loving God, but in a world that all too often perverts what is good, the church has come to view sex as unhealthy, ugly, or evil at worst and at best too messy a topic to be discussed in realistic and honest terms. Siler laments how Western culture—even church fathers like Augustine—splits the mind, body, and soul into separate spheres. Humans are made by God to be interconnected beings, and much is at risk when we ignore this fact. A skewed understanding of sexuality can break hearts, ruin bodies, and bring children to those who aren't ready or don't want to parent. As such it is a matter the church needs to address and correct; it is an "evangelical issue." The church needs to reclaim these issues for Christian dialogue, especially among men of faith.
Learn more at MusicfortheSoul.org.
Tegan Marie Brozyna is an artist, writer, and illustrator.
Read our interview with Steve Siler.