Music profile – Orphan No More


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Friday, January 15th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next: Redemptive Art!

Recently, Senior Correspondent Myrna Brown met a poet and musician who is using his art to heal some of the world’s problems.

MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: In the winter of 2019 nearly two dozen singers, writers, and instrumentalists packed the inside of a 250-year-old English barn, about 100 miles west of London. 

JOSHUA LUKE SMITH: Just imagine like huge timber beams that run all the way up and across… 

For Joshua Luke Smith, the converted music studio was an acoustic oasis.

JOSHUA LUKE SMITH: Just played the first chord and it was like, this is going to be good. 

MUSIC: [I BELONG]

The 30-year-old poet and producer is the founder of a music community made up of self-proclaimed “Jesus followers and industry disruptors.”

MUSIC: [I BELONG]

JOSHUA LUKE SMITH: We were at the cusp of the music industry changing from “go and get a record deal”  to “do it yourself.” So as we started doing it, we realized we could help other artists do it.

Orphan No More is that music community. Its name is lifted right from the pages of Scripture. 

JOSHUA LUKE SMITH: John 14:18, towards the end Jesus says to His disciples, “He says to them these men, I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” I remember reading that and thinking, that’s what my generation needs. What if it’s true that we are loved. What if it’s true that we belong? If that’s true, then so much of society’s deepest, most disruptive issues could be healed…

Using music as its tool and under Smith’s leadership, Orphan No More began the work of tackling contentious issues that plague both the United Kingdom and the United States. 

VIDEO: Allow me to share something I swear is true. That which we don’t know impacts people as much as that which we do…

Part of that process included creating the Check Your Blindspot project, a website to help fight racism. Posted on the site, a poem written by Smith with a provocative message.   

VIDEO: Take me for example. Educated, and yet unaware that my entire life I’ve benefited from a system that was never fair. It’s advantageous to be white. And when you’re not,  there are cultural connotations that minimize your rights. You can choose to look the other way, but as of this day,  you can never again say that you didn’t know. Check your blindspot!

Smith is a gifted communicator, a craftsman lyricist. But the passionate wordsmith is not the first to decry the evils of the culture. Does he practice what he preaches? I ask him.

MYRNA QUESTION: What’s your blind spot?

JOSHUA LUKE SMITH: Ah, good question. I married into a black family. I’m a white man growing up in a white family and now my relatives on my wife’s side are black. So I’m experiencing culture and history that is so different to mine. 

Smith and his wife of 10 years, Kara Ann, are new parents of a baby girl who he says will grow up with a multi-layered history.

JOSHUA LUKE SMITH: So my daughter’s mother’s maiden name is Robinson and her father’s name is Smith, right? Both British names. But they exist on both sides and so my wife’s and my heritage meets at a point and it meets in a place of injustice.

MYRNA QUESTION: Would you call that white privilege?

JOSHUA LUKE SMITH: Yeah, I find that term is, in today’s conversations, we have to keep defining our terms, and what we mean because people have different definitions, but I would. I would. As an Englishman in 2021 I have benefited from the same system that built slave ships.

MYRNA TO JOSHUA: I want to look at privilege more from a theological perspective rather than a philosophical one. For instance we all have at least one spiritual gift. But some of us have more and that’s a privilege. But the Bible tells us what we should be doing with those gifts, which is edification of the body.

JOSHUA LUKE SMITH: I think of Matthew 25, the parable of the talents. When he came back what he wasn’t impressed by is how much they had. What he was impressed with was the faithfulness that they did it. And so what I realized is the privilege of being able to write songs and doing a few other things, compared to somebody who says all I can do is get a glass of water for a thirsty man, at the end of days when I stand before Jesus, it will be treated with the same lens, which is were you faithful?

Last year Smith asked members of his music community to read a book with him from an author who writes about the black experience in England.

JOSHUA LUKE SMITH: And in one of the pages she says look, you might be reading this as a white man, thinking, I’m going to create space at the table for someone else, right? And she says well the step further is to give up your seat. I’m looking for spaces I can give up my chair…

MUSIC: [I BELONG]

That might sound good in theory, but Smith’s music collective may actually demonstrate the opposite. He’s not giving up his seat in the music business. Instead, he’s using his influence to make room at the recording table for those who haven’t had access to it. He’s using his experience, gifts, and opportunities to welcome and promote those who haven’t had those same privileges. 

JOSHUA LUKE SMITH: You can call it discipleship. We like talking about community just being with one another and helping each other grow more and more into our truest selves. Getting rid of the bondage, getting rid of the fear, getting rid of the shame and making incredible redemptive art out of that place.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Myrna Brown.


(Photo/Orphan No More)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Music profile – Orphan No More

  1. Craig Williams says:

    After listening to and reading this article, I found myself wondering, “What was the main point?” So I visited the website orphannomore.co to learn more about Smith and his group, where I found this nugget: “We are a creative community, learning to live and make as if everything we hoped to be true is; we belong and we are loved as we are not as we should be.” Hmmm, well, that really cleared things up! What a strong statement of … something!
    Much of the World article then headed into white privilege and racial justice. (The above quote, by the way, is posted beside a photo of a bunch of white people.) For a more complete view of what racial justice means to Orphan No More, I visited checkyourblindspot.co.uk (linked from orphannomore.co). There I found listed a couple of currently popular books about white privilege (which I have not read — Why I No Longer Talk To White People About Race and Think Like A White Man), along with a link to a White Privilege Checklist.
    Is World going to be promoting the false narrative of systemic racism and white privilege? Will there be other opinion pieces examining the premises of these topics from another viewpoint? I find the promotion of this whole subject to be divisive, as it fuels grievance-tallying and stokes its own type of racism.

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