Friday, May 20, 2005

Christ and Culture

Last night I turned the television on in the bedroom and then went to check my e-mail. The wife called and I ended up sitting in the den talking to her while mindlessly playing 4-5 games of Free Cell in a row (I've become quite good). You see, I have a nightly television ritual to wind down the day: two episodes of Whose Line is it Anyway? on ABC Family, then switch over to Cartoon Network for Futurama and Family Guy. Well, as I was on the phone I wasn't paying attention to the TV. On ABC Family after Whose Line is it Anyway? we get Christian Broadcast Network, a 'news' show hosted by self-endorsed political prophet Pat Robertson. I walked back into the bedroom and discovered my error. 'Oh no,' I told my wife, 'Now the Nielsen people are gonna think I was watching it.'

Before fretting about the cable ratings' opinion of me, I was leafing through a book of guitar chords and picking around. This particular book had a lot of songs in it left over from college days when I was in a praise band. I got to thinking about what makes Christian music 'Christian.' The lyrics, right? How else are you going to know, besides maybe check the liner notes to see who the band members thank (but then again, lots of gangsta rappers give mad props to God, too). I've seen this debate around the internet and among friends of mine, who have varied opinions on the quality of Christian music. If the song is just three chords and 'Jesus is good, Jesus is great,' well...don't expect a Grammy nod, let alone the interest of the general populace, or even a remote section of the populace. The counter to this is, 'Well, it's not about the music.' If you are in a band, chances are you're playing music. So it IS about the music, and that's not a valid excuse for writing unoriginal lyrics with no soul. Of the few Christian bands I still pick up on occasion, maybe half of them reference God and Jesus in every song. The rest describe life in general, a situation, a feeling, a problem, and they may not get to 'Jesus is the answer' by the last refrain. Maybe the way that Jesus is the answer hasn't yet come to the singer as s/he is wrestling with depression or the loss of a friend. Maybe they're even temporarily in a place where they can't bring themselves to talk to God yet because they're just so angry at Him.

That's real live faith, and that's the kind of Christian music I like. Jesus is good, and Jesus is great, but if that's all you're telling me, I begin to wonder about the depth with which you go through life. Or perhaps you just needed one more song to tack on the end of the album before shipping. Either way, it's not a positive thing.

As a joke, I started working on a satirical praise song a while back. I began writing it as a commentary on all the reasons a lot of my 'liberal' friends don't like praise music. This post has inspired me to take up that task again. It has awkward, almost unsingable sentences full of 'inclusive' language and in the middle the singer has to stop the song entirely to explain a lyric so no one gets the wrong idea. I hope it turns out well. But even if it doesn't, I can always say it's not about the music anyway.