Gentle Fudge
religion, politics, current events, and other fashionable dinner conversation.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Rockin' Religion
Music is essential. It stirs emotion, it invokes memories, it translates groanings of the soul that words cannot express, it ascends to the divine and binds with human nature. In short, it is magical. And it has been a source of controversy for centuries especially in The Church. (Religious) Dualism separated the world into the Secular and the Sacred. Neither of the two were to intersect lest the Sacred become tainted.

Many preachers in the 50's spoke against the Devil's Music -- to quote Reverend Lovejoy "rrrock-and-or-rrrollll." It sparked unholy desires, they warned. It bred sin. Many churches today still struggle with the concept of "drums in church." I quickly fell in love with the blues and boogie stylings of the 40's and 50's, proudly baptizing my left hand into musical "blackness" on the piano, a style that was virtually non-existent in my white bread congregation. To this day, I consider myself the wooden spoon that stirs the pot.
Larry Norman put it beautifully: "Why should the devil have all the good music?"

Music is often the reason many show up at a church service. I wish it were more than that and we would decide to shake ourselves out of our spiritual comas and start going out and making a difference, but baby steps, I remind myself, baby steps. Everyone is at a different stage and has a different calling. Musically, many young-uns like myself are left wanting from the "contemporary" style and skip church for this reason. I began wondering why -- why is this style predominant? What happened to reaching the masses through experimental music and dynamic lyrics? Why have we retreated back into our xtian ghettos, locked away from reality? When did it become a bland soup of bouncy, repetitive cliches underscored with simplistic composition and stolen riffs and hailed as meaningful and life-changing, while any song that doesn't specifically mention Christ is tossed aside as worthless?

The average "contemporary Christian" music audience, I learned, are women 35-45. More in-depth research can be found here:
The research primarily focuses on xtian radio. It has some good history as to how this phenomenon has come about.

I had been raised on the somnolent sounds of early xtian "rock" music. Nothing against Keith Green. Great lyrics, great music. A true pioneer. As with Rich Mullins. And I love the music now; I've helped orchestrate some beautiful arrangements. But they weren't as kicking as the, ahem, secular artists of the day like Guns'n'Roses, Prince, or The Cure. If it was loud, fast, and edgy, I went for it. But my home church was musically dualistic, so we were strongly encouraged to shun non-xtian artists. To help fill the void, lists were created by xtian recording labels comparing xtian groups to secular groups: "If you like (said style & band) you will like (said style and xtian band)." The lists were often very inaccurate. The theory was that if we listened to only "good music," we would abstain from "bad actions" which allegedly stemmed from listening to "trashy" music. Guess what? It doesn't work that way.

"Contemporary" xtian music is a misnomer; it does not reflect current music in any way. It's at least five years behind the current trend and many styles are not welcome within the walls of the institutional church. I'd love to hear some thrash, metal, or even hard-core rap before the offering is taken up. 'Tain't gonna happen, I'm sure. And I'm not talking concerts, either. And I'm also curious about the need to label it "xtian." I've never heard other bands branding themselves solely by religious affiliation.

I read recently about a new church opening in England that plans to use U2 music during its services -- a "U2-charist" that plans to have a live band and around 500 worshipers. Interesting concept. As my "next step" brain works, I'd love to know what the church's main purpose is. If you ever dissect U2's lyrics, you'll see numerous links to faith, biblical references, and social awareness. Bono is a fascinating person and not afraid to speak about what he believes in. BeliefNet has an excellent interview.

Music is a tool, one facet, that can be used to express faith and belief. It doesn't matter what instruments are used. It doesn't matter what style we choose. It doesn't matter if we express our doubts, exasperations, or despair to G-d in addition to the praise-and-worship overkill. (Sorry, cynicism showing. Pulling up the socks...) We are human and life isn't pretty or safe. We were never promised that it would be.

And G-d doesn't need our songs. G-d is complete without us. But G-d takes joy in our joy, in our music and our desire for self-expression. So sing a new song. Even if it does include drums and requires you to reach beyond a coddled xtian audience.

NOTE ON THE PIC: If you'd like to learn more about how religion and music is reaching out across the seas, check out David Pierce and No Longer Music. Not for the faint of heart. Live what you love.

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posted by Sara @ 1:55 PM  
  • At 1:55 PM, Blogger Chip said…

    Excellent article, Sara, so true. I have had much the same experience with the sacred/secular dichotomy.

    There was a time when "christian" music was on the edge in the late 80s/early 90s.. Many christian Xers are still stuck in that era. The Seventy Sevens, Scattered Few, the Choir, et.. Much like classic rock stations abound, those were the classic "Cornerstone" days.

    Now CCM is a freakin artistic wasteland. Thank God artist/musicians of faith realized they didn't have to choose and rejected the sacred/secular divide. Much like U2, you will find believers in so many bands.

    Francis Shaeffer had a thing about art being in and of itself without morality. I think the morality most art is what we bring to it, not necessarily whatever the artist was saying. Just like C.S Lewis on poetry, it can be appreciated in two ways, as to what is said and to a thing that is made. It applies to music. Even if I don't agree with everything being said, I can still appreciate the song/music as a creative act.

    I wonder if I might link from my baby blog to yours. You can check it out @
    By the way, I'm buda @ the door. the link is att. to my screen name there now.

  • At 9:43 AM, Blogger Sara said…

    absolutely, you can post a link. I have checked out your blog and I like what I have seen so far. I post sporadically since my computer is usually what I can access at work and I should be, well, working. I don't like being chained to a desktop and the laptop at home is usually monopolized by the husband and his musical fetishes.

    Music is a tool and expresses so much, even if it doesn't always go vertical. We cannot always deny our physicality, which is why we are described as 'a little lower than the angels.' We have spirit, but while we are here, we feel, we hurt, we experience pain, and we experience separation from G-d. Through music, we cry these things out, we yell, we run away... and some xtians just don't get why we can't all be happy and get along, praising and worshiping all the time 'like we're supposed to'.

    And then the interpretation is whatever the hearer brings to the experience. Like a photograph, there are always two people as the audience -- the viewer and the photographer. The same with the music -- the listener and the performer.

    The final bit goes into the realm of 'mission': how can this be a mission field if you only preach to the same audience? How can you preach the same sermon to those who have heard this their whole lives, and not those who would seek it out for themselves?

    But that's another essay for another time.

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Name: Sara
Home: gypsy wanderer, United States
About Me: Those who know me find me stubborn, opinionated, open-minded, strong-willed, of some intelligence, and yet they still hang around.
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Love God. Love all. Serve both.

There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor. -George Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

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