Music from the fringes of faith: Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers are welcome

An antidote to contemporary Christian music
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Music from the fringes of faith: Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers are welcome

Unread postby musicmonkey » Mon Dec 28, 2015 9:32 pm

"Hang the blessed DJ because the music that they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life"The Smiths

Those words by Morrissey have been my mantra since I first heard the song Panic in my youth. My musical journey has always been deeply personal and continues to be a major driving force in my life today.

"Music should blossom from Christianity as vows from love. It is the poetic expression of reality as experienced by the Christian, not the expression of Christianity forced into poetry... to sing at all is to praise the God who distinguishes us from all things songless." — 5 Reasons to Kill Christian Music

This reminds me of Hawksley Workman's song, Sweet Hallelujah:

There is none so fine a place to greet Him
To dance before the morning sun is to please Him
To dance a dance so gracefully, to praise The Man so clumsily
Sweet, sweet I just have to dance Hallelujah, sweet Hallelujah
Hallelujah, sweet Hallelujah

I grew up in a Christian family and although my parents were never very musically inclined, they had Christian radio on in the house and in the car most days. My father liked the Bill Gaither Trio back then while my mother preferred old German hymns. I remember my parents giving my older teenage brother a Petra cassette to dissuade him from being influenced by secular 70s/80s rock music. Petra's sound in the 80s was similar to Foreigner, Styx and Journey, my brother's favourite music at the time. He scoffed at Petra's attempt to clone rock music and never played that cassette. My older sister got an Archers cassette since she was more into soft rock and disco like Air Supply and Bee Gees. She didn't play it much. I was the baby so I got children's music like Music Machine.

When I finally got old enough to start appreciating music, it was mostly top 40 on my brother's car radio. I felt such a paradox and remember when it dawned on me that everybody's looking for something. I remember going through an older cousin's music collection during a holiday visit and not recognizing any of the artist's names. I recall a few Sandi Patty and Steven Curtis Chapman albums and being really confused by this Christian music thing. It was weird and the album covers looked so cheesy. The song titles were all super-religious but they weren't exactly traditional hymns that my mother enjoyed. I went to a Christian high school and one day one of my teachers began praising the messages of the band Tears for Fears. I felt so relieved that he hadn't drank that Sandi Patty kool aid (and for the record, the squeaky clean Sandi Patty got divorced). He was the first Christian adult that I had met that approved of my taste in music and really encouraged the class to look closer at the messages of pop music. It was one of the sparks that ignited and validated my lifelong musical journey!

Now I've totally dated myself here, but hang in there, this is another chapter in my lifelong thesis paper. In all the years since Christian music became a corporate industry headquartered in Nashville, nothing has really changed. The Christian music formula is to emulate popular music by lesser quality singers/songwriters and musicians and substitute Christian, family-friendly or inspirational lyrics often with a "new country" sound due to Christian music's corporate ties with country music's capital. And it just goes on and on, generation after generation. Forget Petra, there's now Christian versions of Katy Perry and Colbie Caillat with 12 million views on YouTube! And hey, tobyMac even does his best Jason Mraz impersonation on the song but I digress. Copying a successful formula and adding super happy "Jesus-is-my-boyfriend" lyrics isn't art. Some of the saddest songs in the world say so much and I'm suffering enough to write this down.

The fullness of life that Paul wrote about in the New Testament isn't always uplifting and encouraging. The Old Testament is full of things that aren't exactly "family friendly". Life has has both joy and sorrow. Life also has a lot of pain - physical and emotional, especially in old age. Faith has periods of fear and doubt. We are sojourners in this valley of tears. But fear, pain, tears, sorrow and doubt are things that the Christian subculture tends to avoid like an ostrich with its head in the sand. If you think you're having a bad day, watch this for an hour and count your blessings! The world is a mess!

In a 2014 article at Christian Post, Contemporary Christian Music's Sinking Witness, Chelsen Vicari writes, "If we swop [sic] the lyrics of a Taylor Swift ballad with some of today's contemporary Christian worship songs, no one would know the difference." She goes on to say, "Others have noted the 'Jesus-is-your-boyfriend' style worship songs clogging the airwaves of contemporary Christian radio and Sunday morning worship sets lack depth and reverence to the Almighty." I couldn't agree more.

I just don't get Christian radio especially as 2016 is around the corner with streaming music services on every smartphone. Who listens to the radio anymore? Who is their target audience? It's never been me. Some Christian radio stations let listeners vote on the songs they want to hear based on their own very limited playlist typically generated by Billboard's Hot Christian Songs, rather than asking their listeners for input into new music. They could at least try checking out some of the artists at The Drop by Relevant (although they're largely cheap imitations of some of today's top indie bands only with better album artwork and higher production values). Sometimes I wish I was in charge of music programming at a Christian radio station but something tells me I'd be fighting a losing battle and rocking their boat too much. I guess they cater to a specific aging audience and I believe that both cable television and radio will eventually be replaced by streaming media services catered to more niche-market tastes. Hopefully the music posted in this forum is discovered by many more like-minded people in the coming years. I look forward to that day.

But back to Christian radio. Something strange happens around Christmas. These Christian radio stations go full-on Christmas around-the-clock and in an attempt to appeal to their often middle-aged Christian female listeners, they include golden oldies from Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee, Perry Como, and The Carpenters to name a few plus Christmas songs from more contemporary mainstream pop artists like Michael Buble, Faith Hill, and Mariah Carey. If you know a Christian woman over 50, go check out her Facebook profile. I bet she likes both Casting Crowns and Michael Buble. This "Jesus-is-my-boyfriend" thing is so bizarre to me! At least Elaine gets it.

A question that continues to weigh heavy on my heart is that if these Christian radio stations are willing to play traditional holiday songs like Let It Snow, with romantic lyrics like "When we finally kiss goodnight" and various other songs about traveling through Pennsylvania for Christmas, or songs by Mariah Carey who was on the cover of Playboy magazine several years ago, then what exactly are the standards in determining which songs they play? I like to believe that their heart is in the right place, but I sense a terrible double standard. Christian radio seems to allow some secular Christmas pop music and/or romantic 'Jesus-is-my-boyfriend' songs that appeal to their middle-aged female demographic but they pretty much blacklist lesser known Christian or faith-based artists who make a humble living outside of Christian radio or perhaps are a bit too worldly for the church and too churchy for the world, never mind artists who do not claim to be Christian but have songs that are aligned with Biblical truths. How about some old school soul gospel? Or to quote C.S. Lewis, "What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent."

"What’s needed is the best music in the world to be written by Christians, that the world might know the validity, depth, and truth of Christianity as an experienced reality, not as a deluge of cliches set to pop-music, working to negate the meat and bone of this rich, all-encompassing religion. If your music is bad, and you’re praying that God will do something great with it, stop praying and make better music."5 Reasons to Kill Christian Music

If you've read this far, this forum is for you. Last year a buddy of mine shared that he needed to let go of what other people are doing and just focus on doing what he needs to do. He said "We are accountable to the conscience God gave each of us and we all have different things that inspire us."

If "contemporary christian music" inspires you, that's great for you but I hope you take a lesson from my Christian high school teacher and look closer at the meaning of the songs you listen to. Do they encourage social justice here on Earth? Do they acknowledge that we are sojourners in this valley of tears? Are they more than mediocre? Do they have depth? Do they have reverence to God? Or are they just feel-good-pick-me-uppers and cheap imitations of today's pop culture?

If you're an orphaned believer or a skeptical dreamer, I hope you are inspired by the music I curate here. By all means, feel free to add to the list, share your favourites, browse the archives, and join in on the discussion.

Lastly, if you are a music director at a Christian radio station, please consider adding Daniel Martin Moore to your playlist. He's a young man from Kentucky and he has an acoustic album of traditional hymns.

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Re: Music from the fringes of faith: Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers are welcome

Unread postby Rickster » Fri Jan 08, 2016 7:43 pm

Well said. I have never found music to be a driving force in my faith, perhaps because of the poor quality of most of it. But then again I live more in my head, and God has usually moved me more by profound ideas than with music. I find most of today's worship music rather banal. Copying bible verses with a little of the author's own religious language isn't very creative. Nor does it speak to the very real human conditions of the twenty first century. But I am getting a little intellectual again. Anyway, I like the music I have heard from your selections. It's real. It acknowledges the reality of not knowing everything, it faces the pain of life, and it empathizes with all our fellow travellers. Good word.

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