Friday, January 8, 2010

Does she know how you told me you'd hold me until you died/But you're still alive.

I can feel my street cred slipping away as I admit this, but I've listened to quite a bit of Christian Contemporary Music. Rebecca St. James, Sara Groves, Nichole Nordeman, Bethany Dillon, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys ... Yup. I'm no stranger to it.

It started because a friend gave me some CDs for Christmas: Nichole Nordeman and Sara Groves (the Nichole Nordeman CD was her last one called Brave. The second song on it was called What If, and dealt with her asking a non-Christian "What if you're wrong." To her credit, she didn't do this in a "if you're wrong you'll go to hell" way. She asked in a sense "what if you're wrong and you're missing out on this great source of love and peace?" But I didn't miss the implication behind giving me this particular CD).

I ended up discussing my impressions of the CCM (hah! I even know the abbreviation! So long, street cred!) scene, and the artists I was aware of. And I pointed out that the artists, and thus the music scene as a whole, really misses on a big part of the human existence.

Anger. Rage. Bitterness.

There are a lot of songs that contemplate the mysteries of God, or praise God for His multitude of qualities, or marvel over how God could even offer humanity salvation, or how great heaven is or how great God is. There are songs about how awful the singer is, or everyone as a whole is.

But I've yet to come across one song that just rages at the universe. Whether it be for a cheating guy, or a broken heart, or death, or any sort of social awareness.

There is no Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know in the CCM world. If my friend's reaction to this was anything to go on, it will never be allowed. You're supposed to be a changed and forgiving person when becoming a Christian.

And that's fine. But for a group of people that hope to connect with humanity as a whole, how can you possibly do that when you don't touch on a big part of the human condition? When you don't touch on something that a lot of people experience? If everything is all happy or sorrowful (though I haven't heard any of those, other than the "Jesus suffered an agonizing death because of me" sort), and never, ever, ever goes near anger ... how are people going to fully relate? How are people going to think you can really understand them, or reach out to them?

Because that was my reaction upon the music I heard. This music doesn't encompass my human experience. Someone like Tori Amos or Bruce Springsteen does. Why? Because the latter artists are allowed to be human. They're allowed to be dark, to have the wrong thoughts and explore those. To be bitter or angry. To be angry in a justified way. In the CCM world, you're no longer allowed to be angry at any wrongs done to you. For as God has released His anger over the wrongs you did to Him (which are much, much worse than anything ever done to you), so must you release yours at the wrongs done to you.

Another great angry song? Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say) from Jesus Christ Superstar. But if there won't ever be a CCM version of You Oughta Know, there *really* won't ever be a version of Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)

But the singer in that song just nails it. It sung by Jesus, the night before the crucifixion (blogger note: no pun intended by the verb 'nail' in the earlier sentence) and he's just raging at God, over how God wants him to die. It's exactly how you'd expect someone in that situation to behave, and you can literally hear the rage in all the words. Justified rage, not whiny rage.

In fact, I'll post the best part of the song:

But if I die,
See the saga through and do the things you ask of me,
Let them hate me, hit me, hurt me, nail me to their tree.
I'd want to know, I'd want to know, My God,
I'd want to know, I'd want to know, My God,
Want to see, I'd want to see, My God,
Want to see, I'd want to see, My God,
Why I should die.
Would I be more noticed than I ever was before?
Would the things I've said and done matter any more?
I'd have to know, I'd have to know, my Lord,
Have to know, I'd have to know, my Lord,
Have to see, I'd have to see, my Lord,
Have to see, I'd have to see, my Lord,
If I die what will be my reward?
If I die what will be my reward?
Have to know, I'd have to know, my Lord,
I'd have to know, I'd have to know, my Lord,
Why should I die? Oh why should I die?
Can you show me now that I would not be killed in vain?
Show me just a little of your omnipresent brain.
Show me there's a reason for your wanting me to die.
You're far to keen and where and how, but not so hot on why.

26 comments:

Andrew said...

I have been out of the Christian Music scene for a long time. But way back when, I did listen to bands like Over the Rhine, Violet Burning, Mad at the World,the 77's, Undercover, and Daniel Amos. I always felt they took a more honest look at life and faith... but you would never hear them on Christian Radio or see them on the cover of Christian Magazines. I don't know if they have the 2010 version of those bands out there now, but in any case... I am sure one would never hear them on "K-Love". It seems all the Christian market can produce now is pop-worship.

OneSmallStep said...

Andrew,

**It seems all the Christian market can produce now is pop-worship.**

Not just pop-worship, but purity ring pop-worship.

Current CCM also seems very structured to produce an emotional reaction, to make sure that the listener feels something that makes them feel they've felt the presence of God.

Xander said...

Anytime you have to label something as contemporary, you know it is going to be different. Christian contemporary or secular contemporary, I don’t really care for either. I need something faster. I have been listening to Blindside lately.
You won’t ever find Christian music where the artist just gets down and wallows in the emotions. It could start off like that. Talking about how life sucks and nothing seems to be working out, but in the end, it will talk about overcoming the negative emotions.

atimetorend said...

Great post! Jennifer Knapp comes to mind, her music stood out in the CCM world for just the reasons you mention, she was able to sing a song about agony without ending it on a saccharine note. Of course that means she is gone from the world of CCM, and music and public life entirely it would seem.

atimetorend said...

On a more personal note, I mostly gave up listening to music at all my last years as an evangelical. It just wasn't acceptable to listen to music without "a godly message," and songs of angst and anger and doubt or any worldly pleasures were considered, well, "worldly." So if you don't like top style CCM or hymns or worship music, you're stuck as far as contemporary music goes. I remember feeling guilty for listening to a college radio station. Lots of NPR and talk radio in the car. Some freedom in Christ, huh?

Sarge said...

I used to know an old gink, a ribidly twice born person, who really disapproved of "contemporary christian music".

He really hated it all, was incensed that the hymnals were now incorperating "newer" music, and he went to an event which is in our area called "Creationfest" which is a weekend of christian music, camping, and very restrictive rules on conduct. And paraise, praise, nothing but praise. He thought he'd like it because of all the restrictions.
Boy! Was he, uh, "disappointed"!

The old imbecile said that he didn't know what was WRONG with people, the old Lowell Mason hymns were good enough, and he didn't appreciate people wanting to "tear things down and change things".

I opined that there was probably an old guy, just like him, 'way back when, who said the same thing when they got rid of shaped note songs for the Lowell Mason stuff. And it probably was the same way when shaped notes supplanted something else, and on back as long as there's been christian music.

He said all he knew what it wasn't "real" christian music and his god didn't approve of it.
I observed that this alleged deity of his liked the same music he did.

He thought about that, and was quite impressed by this take: Him and god! Yeah! They shared the same taste in music!

Do you laugh or cry when idiocy like that confronts you?

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

**Christian contemporary or secular contemporary, I don’t really care for either.**

The only time I listen to contemporary/pop music is really when working out, as it gets me through a long run. I have no standards when it comes to workout music. :)

But for actual listening, and enjoying the music, I usually trend towards artists that never even make it on the radio. Vienna TEng, Charlotte Martin, Blackmore's Night, Black Lab ...

OneSmallStep said...

Atimetorend,

Actually, Jennifer Knapp recently returned to the music scene. She's recorded a new album she hopes to release in 2010.

**I remember feeling guilty for listening to a college radio station. Lots of NPR and talk radio in the car. Some freedom in Christ, huh?**

I know. It both portrays Christ as not that powerful of an influence in the first place, as well as not any sort of actual presence at all. Is the believer truly overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, or are they just clinging to some facts? Because if listening to NPR can "overwrite" what Christ has done, how "there" is he truly anyway?

OneSmallStep said...

Sarge,

**The old imbecile said that he didn't know what was WRONG with people, the old Lowell Mason hymns were good enough, and he didn't appreciate people wanting to "tear things down and change things".**

I just try to really appreciate the irony when confronted by that, considering the guy is worshiping and following a God-man who pretty much was known for "tearing things down and changing things." It's why a whole new religion called Christianity popped up.

atimetorend said...

Actually I meant I listened to NPR to avoid the prohibition on worldly music, NPR was deemed border-line acceptable. But your point stands just the same. My bad.

Cool about Jennifer Knapp, though that might take you onesmallstep closer to losing your street cred! Not yet I think, unless you can tell me off the top of your head what's going on with Carmen or Amy Grant nowadays...

OneSmallStep said...

Atimetorend,

I'm pretty sure I've thrown my street cred out the window, then ran over it with my car a few times for good measure. ;)

I don't think Amy Grant would disqualify me, though. She had some secular music that I really liked -- it was some of my first music ever. Like her album "Heart in Motion."

I'm not familiar with Carmen, though.

kerrin said...

OneSmallStep,

I share your thoughts about CCM. My initial reason for disliking Christian music when I was a teenager was more intuitive: it just didn't seem genuine!

Anyway, it's been almost two years since I interacted with you on the interwebs. And, well, I wanted to come back and say that after a lot of study in philosophy and thought I am now a universalist. Thanks for putting up with our back and forth (I wish I saved those discussions because that blog is no longer in existence).

Now, I'm eager to read all of your thoughts here. Could you recommend any good books related to universalism?

Cheers,
kerrin

Sarge said...

I am an atheist, have been since age five, but I enjoy going to Sacred Harp shaped-note sings.

I don't care about the words or what's behind them, but it is pleasing to my ear, and I've met some very nice people. There are at least two Sikhs, a Hindu, three Islamists, one atheist (moi)and a sprinkling of Jews who also attend.

One of the Islamic gentleman told me that a colleague (not Islamic) asked him why he went, and he said,
"I love the music, the company is good...and they have chocolate chip cookies"!

And, damn good ones, too!

Xander said...

I have never seen a ban on music at my church. Kind of a foreign concept to me. I can see not listening to chants that are trying to conjure Satan or something, but I cant imagine that having much of a beat anyways. Secular music isn't all bad, even if it isn't always uplifting. I limit how much I actually listen to, because I can see a change in my mood, depending on what it is. Too much Seether and I am a bit irritable.

OSS - Kind of folky there. Interesting stuff though. Die hard runner? You always have to have a standard for music. Even if you are zoned out, listening to that stuff perpetuates the machine that cranks out formula based music. Don't we already have enough songs that sounds alike?

Laura said...

I like a couple of Natalie Grant songs. "Held" is about agony and grief. "The Real Me" is about how people are fake but God sees who we really are. Even though I don't believe in God anymore, I think that those songs come close. Though angry songs? I don't know any Christians songs about rage and anger, but I didn't read all the comments so maybe somebody else did.

societyvs said...

Word verification - rapper (lol)

I listened to a lot of the Christian music scene also - and some of it was pretty damn good (lyrically - and at times).

I was a big fan of Keith Green - he expressed a type of love and forgiveness that really was foreign to me as a teen. Later on I began to like Steve Taylor and his observances of the world and Christianty (which actually includes critiques!).

This introduced me to what became my introduction to darker music in the Christian realm (punk music!). It started with MxPx and eventually was into bands like Crux.

Which showed me that musical expression, even in Christian circles was being limited and needed to 'break out'. I moved on from the scene but still like hearing the songs from Taylor and MxPx (now and then).

Now I listen to a lot of rap - which makes the word verification ironic.

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

**Die hard runner? You always have to have a standard for music.**

Not when it comes to running. I have stuff from Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears to Disturbed and Metallica.

OneSmallStep said...

Laura,

**I like a couple of Natalie Grant songs. "Held" is about agony and grief. "The Real Me" is about how people are fake but God sees who we really are.**

Having read the lyrics to "Held," do you feel that they're used to kind of excuse God? Or do you listen to it mostly for the intent of the song, and touching upon hard topics?

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

**Which showed me that musical expression, even in Christian circles was being limited and needed to 'break out'. **

Agreed. My favorite artist is Vienna Teng. She so deserves to have radio play, and be rich.

OneSmallStep said...

Kerrin,

It depends on what you're looking for in the books themselves. Books that have a theological universalism viewpoint are Thomas Talbott's "The Inescapable Love of God" and Gregory MacDonald's "The Evangelical Universalist."

Books on a more personal nature, and describe how life events lead them there are two books by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland "If Grace is True: Why God will Save Every Person" and "If God is Love: Rediscovering Grace in an ungracious world."

Laura said...

hm, I hadn't ever thought of it that way. When I heard it, it was in my days as a Christian when I was questioning my faith pretty hard. It was the only thing that helped me. People, prayer, and the Bible didn't. So from a Christian perspective, I would have to say that I listened to it for the intent. But even though it's still in my iTunes, I haven't heard it much since deconverting. I don't know what I would think of it now, really, if I listened to it objectively. Mostly, I just think back on those times and am glad I got out. It was the only song that, to me, seemed to touch on the stuff I was going through without shying away from those difficult questions. But yeah, I guess it could be viewed that way: just as an excuse for God for why he's not listening. :S :)

OneSmallStep said...

Laura,

I can see why it would touch on things that don't often seem to be mentioned.

But lyrics such as "Who told us we'd be rescued/What has changed and/Why should we be saved from nightmares/We're asking why this happens to us ... That the promise was that when everything fell/we'd be held."

Or "If hope is born of suffering/If this is only the beginning/Can we not wait for one hour/Watching for our Savior."

Just come across as telling believers you were promised that God would be there, not that He'd actually do anything physical, and how can you even ask when Jesus suffered much more than you ever will.

Lorena said...

Christianity in general tends to take a person out of the "world" and put one into a closed cage.

I think the issue is not particular to music and can be blamed on the Christian fundamentals. The relationship is with God. We are only supposed to have relationships with each other (and the universe) through him.

Ideally, that would lead to unity. But since there is no god out there to make the taunted connection, then we end up disconnected.

The awful thing is that even after de-converting, it is hard to connect--at least for me. One doesn't get rid of habits and ways of thinking and behaving overnight. In fact, some stuff goes with us to the grave.

Laura said...

I agree with you, but I do think that it is a step up from most Christian music. At least there is the acknowledgment that not everything turns out okay in some ways. Personally, I found it comforting at one point in my life, but that doesn't mean everybody would or that it makes perfect sense (we are talking about Christian music, after all, haha!)

I think it was based on a "Footprints in the Sand" kind of interpretation of the Bible: that sometimes God allows us to go through hard things, but that doesn't mean he's not there. I know you get into a bunch of philosophical problems in that area, but from a Christian perspective, it can help. It did me and I still like it. Probably more for the memory than the actual message . . .

atimetorend said...

"Actually, Jennifer Knapp recently returned to the music scene. She's recorded a new album she hopes to release in 2010."

Hey, guess who is going to be seeing Jennifer Knapp in March... :^)

Sabio Lantz said...

"I can feel my street cred slipping away as ..."

Fantastic ~