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Place in this World

September 28, 2010 4 comments

…or the dilemma of Christian music in the 21st century.

This is a response/reflection to my friend Jay Brown’s tripartite blog entitled: “The Problem of Christian Music.”  Before you read this blog, I invite you to read his blog, comment if necessary, then return for my response.

The Problem with Christian Music – Part 1
The Problem with Christian Music – Part 2
The Problem with Christian Music – Part 3

And now my response…

1.  Sacred vs. Secular categorization is a dubious construct.  I’m sure Jay will agree with me here, at least in part.  There are no clear boundaries when looking at communities of faith and culture to determine what is “Christian”  and what is “non-Christian/Secular.”  The word secular comes from the Greek saeculum, which literally refers to the time period or age when an event occurs.  If we look at the term secular in this way, then we’re living in a Post 9/11 age or saeculum.  Secular later came to mean someone who is not bound by monastic or clerical vows, or simply put, part of the laity.  It was only later, through the philosophies of Marx, Feuerbach, and Nietzsche (thanks in part to Hegel’s dialectic) that God was sent packing.

In other words, clear sacred and secular boundaries don’t exist.  It’s all part of the leftover modern obsession/compulsion, where we need to neatly categorize everything.  You don’t have to look far to find God outside of the church, and that’s actually where God intends us to go…but I’ll save that for a later discussion.  And it won’t take you long to realize that there is still the Ananais and Sapphira strain of DNA left in the church.  Google “church scandal” and you’ll see what I mean.

This is all a verbose way of saying that there is a messy (a)theism going on both in churches and in culture.  There is nothing you can point to and say, “A-ha!  That’s distinctly Christian.  Look over there!  That’s devil music.”  You’ll be disappointed every time.  I’m not  saying that if you listen long enough that you can witness God moving through the music of Marilyn Manson…or maybe you will.  What I am saying is that it requires “eyes to see and ears to hear”  to find God amongst the bang and the clatter.

2. Christian radio has a target audience.  A 2008 survey by Dunham+Company found that the typical Christian radio listeners are women 45-54, Pentecostal/Charismatic, living in the south (Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida), politically conservative, and 71% attend church regularly while 10% never attend church.

In a breakdown of preferred programming, 56% listen primarily for music (predominantly women 18-44), 40% prefer teaching or sermons, and 16% said talk was a primary reason to listen to talk radio.  Of course, this all adds up to more than 100%, but we won’t be too picky with Dunham+Company.  While Christian radio does need more variety in it’s programming, it seems that the core audience is happy and that a large portion of Christian radio listeners also want sermons and teaching as part of the programming.

I don’t listen to Christian radio, which is fine because K-Love isn’t going after progressive Christians or “cultured despisers.”  They’re broadcasting for people who pay the bills, and rightly so because it’s a business.  If you don’t like it, change the channel.

3.  Christian artists find themselves theologically homeless.  There are ultra-conservative websites that attack Christian musicians for being too “worldly” and not having enough mentions of God or Jesus, and when musicians “crossover” (again part of the dubious Sacred vs. Secular borderline) they are accused of selling out to the principalities and powers.  Meanwhile, progressive Christians and cultured despisers critically pan or wholly ignore music that is created within the Contemporary Christian genre, and instead listen to mainstream artists (U2, Bruce Springsteen, etc.) that have songs immersed in spiritual themes.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen to U2 and Bruce Springsteen.  Their music is refreshing and speaks to our religious core like no praise and worship song ever could.  What I am saying is that it’s time for progressive Christians to (re)engage Christian musicians and artists, to descend from atop the ivory towers and high horses, to shed elitism and pretentiousness…to listen.  I speak for myself when I say that I’ve been given eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear.  I’m with Jay that Christian music needs to reboot, but we can’t demand that musicians write better songs if we won’t listen.

4.  Progressive Christians need to (re)engage mass media.  As one who has mocked Christian radio and television programming incessantly for the better part of 7 years, it’s time for progressive Christians (including myself) to think creatively about mass media.

I’m not suggesting we take to the channels and airwaves and become the Keith Olbermann answer to the religious right, although that would be interesting.  There needs to be an influx of forward thinking, sane yet interesting Christians in radio and television.  And don’t get me wrong, with the advent of social media (blogs, twitter, youtube, ustream, podcasts etc.) anyone can have a voice , but there are few blogs and podcasts that have the weight of radio and television.  You can’t tell me that TBN is the best we have.

I’m suggesting we take the parable seriously:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

There are many other thoughts brewing in my mind, but they are still fragmented at this moment, so I’ll pause here and leave space for your thoughts/comments.  But before I do, I’ll ask that you pray for this man because he’s

“looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world,
my place in this world.”

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