Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"K-LOVE Challenge" Day 2: Why I don't like contemporary Christian music (aka my one negative nancy post for the series)

Don't know what the K-LOVE Challenge is? Check out Day 1 for an explanation.

Alright. So. In Rule 4 I gave myself permission to write exactly one post about what I don't like about Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) before I try to enter into a space of non-judgment and curiosity.

And here's the thing that I want to say right up front. There is one very clear, very obvious, reason that I don't like CCM. It's the most important reason. It's really simple:

I just don't like it.

I don't like it the same way some people just don't like country or just don't like folk or just don't like bluegrass.

To me it all sounds the same, like everybody is running their guitar through the same effects pedal and all the male vocalists learned to sing either from that Creed guy or from "Everything I Do"-era-Bryan Adams. Michael Gungor, himself no small player in the CCM genre, says that he can always tell a Christian radio station from a secular one within 3 seconds without hearing any lyrics. What annoys me about that is that there is all sorts of great music out there that I think speaks to faith and searching and justice and joy--you know, Christian music--that doesn't fit in the CCM mold and so won't ever be found on K-LOVE. And conversely, I've already heard several songs on K-LOVE that I originally heard in worship at Crossroads and loved. It's just the radio version I can't stand. Take the same lyrics, and even the same tune, and have our funky little band at Crossroads jam on them a bit, and I love it. (The two songs I'm thinking of are "Your Grace is Enough" by Matt Maher and "Everlasting God" by Brenton Brown and Ken Riley, if you're curious).

I really want to emphasize this point--that the main reason I dislike CCM is because I just don't enjoy it that much--because I would bet that a whole, whole lot of the criticisms of CCM are really based in that. A matter of different tastes.

And honestly, there are worse things, right?

I mean, I'm going to follow this with a list of some more substantial critiques, but ultimately what separates me from a lot of "on the reg" CCM listeners is the same sort of thing that separates me from most HOT 99.5 listeners--we just have different preferences. Nothing to do with more sophisticated theology or worldviews. Just different.

And that is something we can all learn to deal with, I think.

With that said, here are a few more substantive critiques. With each of these, though, keep in mind that I don't listen to a lot of CCM--because, as I said, I don't much enjoy it--and so it might be that, over the course of the K-LOVE challenge, I will be dissuaded from these points. I'm pledging myself to keep an open mind (Rule 4):

1) "Christian" vs. "secular" dichotomy. I think a big thing that Jesus did is challenge the separation of sacred space from the scandals of "secular" life. The New Testaments shorthand for that is, "eating with sinners." The idea that there is "Christian stuff" that needs to remain separate from "secular stuff" is a little bit problematic, I think; so I'm a bit suspicious of a whole industry built around that.

I heard from several people in response to my post yesterday who talked about how jarring they find the rest of the radio world with songs about sex and drugs, etc. Fair point. If I ever have kids, I'm not exactly going to rush them to Kanye. There was a great Onion article recently imagining what Eminem would do if he found out his daughter's boyfriend liked his music that I think makes the point well.

But there's two problematic assumptions there. (a) "Secular" means "promiscuous sex and booze and negativity," when in fact secular music has heartbreak and falling in love and lamenting and breaking free of difficult circumstances and struggling with depression and and and....Well, a lot of things that I've needed to have music for in my life; and (b) If there are things going on that we don't like, we shouldn't make music about them. The thing is that addiction and abuse and sex have all sort of been around for awhile, and so has music, so there will probably be music about them.

The danger here is as old as Christianity. It's called gnosticism--the belief that the material world is bad and that salvation means escaping the corrupt material world to a purely spiritual realm. So if we can create purely spiritual areas of life, like radio stations and bookstores, separate from the dirty, ugly, broken world, we're better off. And the thing is that, for me, Jesus is God in solidarity with that dirty, ugly, broken world. Not cordoned off. But radically present with.

2) By "Christian" we mean "positive." K-LOVE's tagline is "positive and encouraging." There's no room for lament. It's ok to tell a tough story, but it has to have a redemptive ending. So what if your cancer doesn't get miraculously cured? What if you don't reconcile with your drug addicted brother before he dies? What if your depression just keeps coming back? Do you have space to share your story on K-LOVE? Does the music that plays on the station give you that space?

And what about really tough parts of our faith? Like, what about the imprecatory/enemy psalms? You know, like the baby killing in Ps 137? What does K-LOVE do with that?

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with being positive and encouraging. Faith should certainly offer positivity and encouragement. But there is more to faith than that--there is struggle and lament and sacrifice--and I wonder if those aspects of faith are honored by CCM or K-LOVE.

Which brings me to

3) Theological same-ness. Again, don't get me wrong. I don't want my worship music to sing like a theology textbook. (Brian Wren, I. Am. Looking. At. You.) But is there a diversity of theological viewpoints available in CCM, or is it all 4-points evangelicalism? Give me about 30 days and I'll tell you...

4) King. It's a related point to the last one, but in particular--can we sing a song that doesn't call God "King"? Like, just once? There are other words that rhyme with sing. Like ring. And amazing. And bring. And thing.

The thing is, I'm not just trying to be gender-inclusive here, although that is important to me. I also just don't care about kings at all. I don't owe allegiance to a king. I don't care about the royal family. So the idea of Jesus as King isn't that powerful to me. When the first Christians said, "Jesus is Lord," they were saying, "Jesus, and not Caesar, is Lord." But I feel like when we sing of Jesus as a King, it's just a nice worshipy thing that we're supposed to say. What does it mean? Since none of us has an earthly king with any real power, what does it mean for us to say that we have a king in heaven?

5) Blood. I hear things like "covered in your blood" in Christian music and I wonder what meaning it holds to the listener? There's a lot I could say on this point, but for now, I'll just say: if I don't hold to substitutionary atonement theology, is there anything out there for me in CCM?

Ok! That's it! No more being critical-mc-criticizer 'til I've finished The Challenge!

Currently playing on K-LOVE: "Mountain of God" by Third Day

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