I've been reading Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell and thought he summed up my feelings pretty well:
"It is possible for music to be labeled Christian and be terrible music. It could lack creativity and inspiration. The lyrics could be recycled cliches. That "Christian" band could actually be giving Jesus a bad name because they aren't a great band. It is possible for a movie to be a "Christian" movie and be a terrible movie. It may actually desecrate the art form in its quality and storytelling and craft. Just because it is a Christian book by a Christian author and it was purchased in a Christian bookstore doesn't mean it is all true or good or beautiful...Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective." -p. 84I mentioned last week that I'm pretty picky about the Christian music I listen to. This is partially because 7 years working at The Christian Bookstore made me a more cynical consumer. Oh, the stories I could tell you. (I probably will at some point.) However, I've also learned to be critical of the lyrics- are they theologically sound or trying to manipulate me into having an emotional reaction?
I'll never forget an on-line writing group I was in several years ago. The word prompt that day was Bamboo. I don't remember all that my dear friend Andy wrote but I'll never forget the ending. Everyone (rather, all the bamboos) was singing to their Bamboo leader: "It's rising up, all around, It's the anthem of Bamboo's renown." Substitute Bamboo for "the Lord" and you have the bridge to a popular worship song. It was in that moment that I examined the lyrics and questioned what they really meant. Take away the music and the song didn't seem to make as much sense.
Talk to anyone who has led worship before and they'll tell you that certain songs are chosen because of their ability to evoke certain responses. This is not to say that they're bad songs or that you can't have a valid response. I just take everything with a grain of salt now. You can bet your bottom dollar that, even now, I can't listen to the aforementioned worship song and not think about Bamboo.
To be clear, I'm not anti-Christian music. My first concert I was front row at Twyla Paris. And I was excited! "The Warrior is a Child" would probably choke me up if I heard it now. I still have my Jesus Freak album by DC Talk, for old times sake. I would listen to Amy Grant whenever I was home sick from school. I'm proud to say I saw Jars of Clay before their first album released (they opened for PFR) and everyone went nuts over them. I went to Life '95 and DC/LA '97. The first thing I ever won was an autographed CD from Michael W. Smith. This is my musical heritage and I'm nostalgic about it, even if I no longer listen to those artists. I also recognize that people are still ministered to by these artists and so many more. To each their own.
Just as there came a day that I no longer cared for NKOTB and Debbie Gibson, I'm not the blind Christian consumer that I used to be. My time at The Christian Bookstore exposed me to worthy artists and helped me develop a sense of what I look for in my music, books, and more. I compare what I'm reading and hearing to see if the Bible backs it up. Like Bell says, I examine whether this improves the craft, whether the storytelling is there, or whether it just has a "Christian" label.
I appreciate quality more when I find it. I adore Shane & Shane, Bebo Norman, Telecast, and Audrey Assad, and a few more. Their music brings me closer to God. I've found that my time of worship with God is richer for it. My response to music is more authentic, revealing my place before God and my reaction to His grace.
Have you ever thought of Christian music as art? Which Christian artists are you drawn to?