Last night, I re-read my own postings on this series, and while I had planned on making this installment more focused on what I’ve been driving toward, I feel like I need to explain further:
I was born in April of 1964, and that makes me 48 at the moment. I don’t know what the average age of the players I see in church is, but whatever that average is, I’m fairly certain that I’m either not in it, or I’m on the high side of that average.
When I was younger, I had a very interesting “conversation” with my father about music. He is not musical at all, and never really understood how and why I was- and, to be fair, I don’t really know why either. My mom played a little piano (always the same tired pieces- there was some Edvard Grieg piece that she kind of knew…..) and my paternal grandparents were somewhat musical, and my entire family was really more geared to classical music. In this “conversation” my father was telling me that the music that I was listening to was “just noise” and that it “made him nervous” and he just didn’t understand this “rock ‘n roll, heavy rock” thing. The music I was listening to that started this conversation was Supertramp…….hardly “heavy rock”……but let’s not go there. Yet.
All through the years, every new piece of music and composer of music has met their detractors. J.S. Bach met them. W.A. Mozart never got credit during his lifetime- he was viewed as a rebel, and his genius was only really recognized after his untimely and early death at age 35. Acceptance for new art forms is never when they are first released in any fashion- and that has been borne out from the likes of Henry Purcell, through the Baroque period of Bach and Vivaldi, the classical revolution of Beethoven and Brahms, the 20th century movement of Edgar Varese, Igor Stravinsky and the early jazz and blues movement. The Beatles were hated by the establishment of the day, and are now revered by our current establishment. At the forefront of that hatred has always been people of my current age who don’t understand the youth of that particular’s cultures need to push things and find new things- and, invariably, people who lead the charge against whatever is the newest musical form’s raison d'être decry it as the fall of society and the world is going to end because of it – dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria – except of course, it never does. And it never will. (Not because of that, anyway.)
So, what this old codger is trying to say is that just because there is no apparent desire in the church today for excellence or originality in the music of the day – that does not mean that we’re all marching towards a precipice of total and unrecoverable disaster. No one is gonna die from this, and I’m 100% sure that God will continue to be glorified in what is delivered. I’m also not trying to say that I, nor anyone in my age bracket, has all the right answers here, and that if you don’t listen to us, you are doomed. Nothing of the sort.
BUT: (and you knew that there was one)
This time, in this particular incarnation of societal revolution, there is something that actually is more malevolent than you might think: and that is that as a society (and like it or not, the church is part of that society) we are getting more and more lazy in our objectives, and paying less and less to really important things. This is especially true in the current forms of pop/secular music (most notably rap where it is acceptable as a practice to steal from others – oh, sorry – I meant “sample”) but I’m not concerned about that- or am I?
Here’s why the pop/secular thing is important to note – pop/secular (non-Christian) music has become so pablumized and diluted as an art form that it almost isn’t recognizable anymore. There’s a lot of reasons for this- “pro-sumer” recording gear; lack of originality; lack of knowledge on the part of producers; lack of knowledge on the part of record companies; the downslide of record company’s influence on listening trends; pirating; illicit and illegal music sharing; the “loudness” wars from mastered digital recordings – the list goes on and on and on. On top of that, today’s mark of influence is met out by reality TV shows like “American Idol” (or, as I like to call it, “American Idle”) where the people who “compete” honestly and really don’t have any talent. (With the notable exception of Carrie Underwood) No talent? What do you mean? I’ll quote the latest Bobcat Goldthwaite movie, “God Bless America” on that:
“They don’t have talent. They have good pitch, and they are relatively clean. They’re non-threatening to little girls and old ladies. They have the ability to stand in line with a lot of other desperate and confused people – but, I assure you, they are talent free.”
As this character, Frank, waxes on about why there is no talent, and why this is bad, he makes the following statement, too:
“This is the same freak show that comes along with the collapse of a mighty empire.”
(Here’s the whole speech- the video is NSFW and there is language, so be careful)
While some may bristle at the method of Bobcat’s overly violent delivery, he has it right. What we are seeing in these types of programs and what we are listening to is a freak show delivered at the end of a mighty empire. And, because the church – now – wants so desperately to appear secular, this is doubly troubling. Or, it should be to every single Christian on the planet, because we are not supposed to be part of that “mighty empire”.
What? The church wants to appear secular? You think I’m kidding or I’m being hysterical?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the following phrases or paraphrases:
- “I love Coldplay. They’re my favorite Christian band.”
- “I know that The Doobie Brothers are Christians. They did that song, ‘Jesus Is Just All Right With Me’.”
- “Have you heard that Joan Osbourne song, “What If God Were One Of Us”? Man, that really made me rethink my faith.”
- “Sure Bono of U2 curses, but he’s an ambassador for Christ. Listen to his lyrics.”
You’ve simply got to be kidding me! Please, PLEASE understand that I’m not saying that a non-Christian “approved” song can’t touch you spiritually- I, personally, find Kansas’ “The Wall” to be one such song – but I know that these people who’ve said these things have almost no idea how to equate these things to actually internalizing them or thinking them through critically. How do I know that? Because I asked them. We as Christians – like the Bereans – are supposed to check these things out against Scripture, but now, it’s all about how we “feel” versus how we “know” – and that is extremely dangerous.
And, going further- in “Welcome To The Machine” – my last installment – I mention that every single smaller church who so desperately wants to be like Joel Osteen’s Houston Mega-Church – they’ve gone and turned their worship services into full fledged rock concerts and unless they’re simulcasting their pastor into 5 different satellite campuses, they aren’t really a player- and, really, all they’re saying is that “size matters”. (You can read into that however you like.)
I have a good friend – who is not a Christian at the time – who told me about 30 years ago that he found some of the Christian music I was listening to, to be the best produced, best written songs of the day. He found a great deal of comfort in the lyrics and the obvious passion that was being conveyed. He got saved, not by this music, but by the songwriters of the day’s ability to make their case intelligently and originally instead of some stupid, nonsensical “fan boy” sound-alike of some other ne’er-do-well secular group who had the audacity to just mention Jesus/God/Holy Spirit the prerequisite number of times. (Well, he got saved because of Jesus, but you understand what I mean.)
On top of that, artists like Roby Duke, Randy Stonehill, Keith Green, Phil Keaggy, Bob Bennett and a bunch of others understood that in addition to GREAT lyrics, that chord forms and chordal movement was a vitally important part of doing what they did. They weren’t afraid to write and perform music that had a certain amount of challenge –either melodically, chordally, rhythmically – and lyrically – instead of today’s “microwave” music. Consider this lyric – this is one that I wrote a long time ago for my band Crimson Fable, and the tune “Blue And The Gray”:
Do you feel better now, now that you’re “wiser”?
See that time still awaits you; a void, unnamed sorrow.
Go and wait for the day,
When no one needs tomorrow.
See a world full of “choices”,
Trading “moral” for “mortal”,
Who say they will bring a new day;
In colors mixing the fray;
The Blue and The Gray
I can almost guarantee that a lot of people who listen to “praise” music of today will read this and not get it. As the lyricist of this song, I can explain it: in the color spectrum, there is almost no difference between blue and gray, and yet, they are very different. Someone who says all the right things and even does a few of the “right” things may be selling you something that really isn’t the right thing. They will trade what’s really important and long lasting for something that isn’t, and if you lack the ability to discern the difference, you’ll be caught in The Blue and The Gray.
This is a Biblical precept, too. The Word warns us that there will be people who say they are of God, and really they are not. This deception comes in a lot of forms- some easy to discern and some not so easy – so, as Believers in the Risen Christ, we have to be diligent and keep our wits about us at all times – “Sheep in Wolf’s clothing” as it told to us. I am not saying that the people who espouse this new, lazy church and music are Satan- but I do say that this laziness is exactly the tact Satan uses to divert our attention from the real task at hand. Satan is not stupid enough to come up out of the ground and start yelling and screaming that God is false, for that is easy to identify and ignore or act upon. What Satan can and does do however is take away our ability to effectively show God in a true light and a true fashion, and eventually thwart our efforts so that WHEN he does show himself as the Anti-Christ in the last days, people are so wont to accept anything spiritual that they just will.
Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Am I just a guy who’s getting older and is railing against accepting his own mortality and relevance? Am I just a guy who doesn’t get today’s music or mindset? Am I wrong to think that all these efforts to reach the lost with Woodstock sized venues and simulcasts and guitarists who just can’t play without a delay pedal are being deceived?
What if I’m not wrong? What if what I’m saying is true, and all this fall-de-rall being stupid and self-indulgent while we ignore things like feeding the homeless in our own neighborhoods – or even more immediate – finding real and meaningful relationships and nurturing (feeding) our own congregations something more meaningful than just a poor imitation of some other community thousands of miles away is the wrong thing to do – what’s the worst that could happen? What if, instead of tweeting about church services to others (a very first-world thing to do) who have absolutely no vested interest other than to start imitating you, we start demanding more of ourselves –demanding more excellence and participation from those who serve in our communities – what if we did that instead? What’s the worst that could happen?
Let me leave you with this actual story: years ago, Paul and Jan Crouch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) embarked on setting up a world-wide television network with the sole purpose of tele-evangelizing the entire world. A truly noble concept. They went to great lengths of effort and money to set up one of the largest single networks on the continent of Africa. They waded through an almost endless sea of red tape and corrupt officials to do it, but they did it. Only one big problem: the nations and people they were broadcasting to had no televisions. Or electricity in many places. Or water to drink or food to eat. As a result of this, something that had all the hallmarks of a good and proper mission was an epic failure – not because their hearts were in the wrong place – but, because they didn’t CRITICALLY think it through, and they lacked the original concepts and actions that really could have made a difference.
We, as a church, are on that same path. And, that’s why I’m not just an old(er) guy who’s just trying to grind an ax. Wake up and check your 6.