This afternoon, for the first time in a long time, I listened to Christian radio. And tried to figure out why Christian music is so boring.
I often say to people that Christian music tends to be very samey – melodies, lyrics, production, voices, everything. There’s nothing particularly awful about it, apart from the occasional awkward line that doesn’t quite rhyme or doesn’t sound quite as good on a record as it does in your head. It’s mostly inoffensive but not particularly original pop rock; in fact, it’s all really quite nice. Perhaps that’s the issue.
It’s understandable that as children of God we wouldn’t want explicit content in our music, and we wouldn’t want to conform to the world in terms of letting fads shape our music. We might rightly want to have Christ at the centre of our songs. But if the end product is “inoffensive” and “nice”, I really do wonder about the state of Christian (pop) culture – which is a whole sub-culture of music, movies, novels, festivals, activities, even language.
What does our pop culture say about our culture more generally?
Are “inoffensive” and “nice” the markers of our identity as the Church?
Is “inoffensive” and “nice” attractive to anyone?
What about those of us who aren’t “inoffensive” and “nice” and don’t want to be?
I don’t think Jesus was inoffensive or nice. He was – and continues to be – pretty controversial, actually. He was a radical, He was passionate, He was totally counter-culture, different. He reached (and reaches) out to those of us who are offensive to the rest of society (lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes), those of us who aren’t very nice people at all (the greedy Zaccheus, the competitive John and James, the doubter Thomas, the rash Peter). When He reaches us we do change – it’s a beautiful transformation, but we don’t suddenly become pleasant, straight-laced, boring, people. (Or do we?).
We don’t all fit the mould:
And most of our lives don’t come out like this:
In fact, I think if human beings were cookies, we’d often feel a little more like this:
It seems to me that this sub-culture, apart from not being reflective of the majority of Christians, can also serve to alienate and exclude those in the Church who don’t fit the mould that our popular culture projects (white, middle-class, nuclear family, PLUS no swearing, gentle tones, perpetual smile, clothes that make you blend in without revealing too much, “God bless you”s on your lips, saying grace before each meal, etc etc. Oh, and good-looking. Plenty of weird-looking but talented famous people in the secular mainstream; no weird-looking Christian artistes). Does the fact that you don’t know who Relient K is make you a bad Christian? Does the fact that you don’t always feel like singing sweet songs about how God made your life amazing mean you’re not “holy” enough?
We often relate Jesus and the gospel to a message of love. Love is not nice. It’s hard. It is Jesus on a cross for our sins. The Christian life, should similarly be one of love, of Christlikeness – but it’s hard too, a daily struggle. It’s just the beginning of eternal life, and it’s beautiful walking with God. But it doesn’t always feel like that. He should be the heart of our music, I can see that argument. But I write about going through difficult times, and I don’t always finish with a squeaky clean happy ending; I write about how I feel about certain boys; I write about all sorts of things. I believe we can glorify Him with our creativity without mentioning Him in every line; or even in any part of the lyrics of the song – I can honour Him without always explicitly naming Him.
I’m not an expert, so I’m not going to say that quality Christian versions of different genres don’t exist at all (this article highlights a few alternative Christian artistes/bands) – but I definitely haven’t heard any of it on the radio, or anywhere else. What I long for is that we, the Church, as a community (through music) share more honestly about the Christian life, nurturing and exploring the creativity He has given us.
Some interesting articles to get you thinking
This interview with Trey Pearson (of Everyday Sunday – a band I’ve never heard of) is insightful, and explains part of the reason why Christian music is so, well, boring.
This article isn’t on the same topic exactly, but it is about the Christian sub-culture and the way we look at it vis-a-vis the mainstream.
PS: Y’know I think I’ve heard more variety in Spanish-language Christian music – from Christian funk, hip-hop and rap to reggaeton (clean lyrics, of course). I wonder why that is.