Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Christian music: a Bing Dynasty editorial

I had what would have been the beginning of an interesting conversation with a really sweet young lady from my faith community today. I totally surprised her by saying in a very matter-of-fact way, “I don’t listen to Christian music.” The look on her face was one of complete shock, like I had just said the most alien thing in the world (and perhaps to her I did!). And so, I figured that I should take the time to set the record straight on where I stand regarding the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) scene.

To start with, I want to point out that I am have learned/am learning that it’s not my place to judge people who do enjoy CCM—if that’s the music that inspires them and points them toward a better understanding of God and their faith, more power to them. What I struggle with is those that look down on me for my lack of interest in that scene, that somehow I am less assured in my faith or not as “holy”—that is a bunch of B.S. that I put no credence in. I thought I should start by setting the record straight on that.

Anyone one who knows me even a little knows that music is extremely important to me—it’s one of the few things that I can and will speak and debate confidently because I have strong opinions about it. Music heightens my awareness of creation and beauty—I find it a very healing and inspiring art form. That being said, I need music to reflect my reality and this is where CCM fails miserably (for me, anyway). Its oft-prevailing happy-happy, saccharine “every day with Jesus is better than the last” mentality (to quote an old hymn title) does not mesh with me in the least. Being a Christian has not made my life easier or resolved things for me, in actual fact it has created more conflict and questions about the world, my place in it, and the way I am to live. What I find in CCM is messages that just don’t resonate with me on any level, messages that are not realistic portrayals of an authentic Christian life or the life that I live. I ask questions, I am a searcher, and I don’t need or want trite answers from the music I listen to. Therefore I NEED to listen to musical artists who are actually wrestling with life’s questions and struggling with doubt rather than glossing over them with smiles and synthesizers. Secondly, CCM artists are marketed no differently than Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, or Jessica Simpson—sure, the messages are different but the presentation is still the same. The artists are almost all airbrushed supermodel material with perfect white teeth and perfectly-styled hair—completely and utterly phony. Go into your local Christian media outlet if you need more proof. I struggle with this a lot, for obvious reasons.

My final reasons for finding Contemporary Christian Music so unappealing is the fact that it is always trying to ape secular music (but it’s always years behind!). I recall walking into a Christian media outlet and seeing this chart that said “if you like (fill in the name of a popular band) then you will like (the Christian equivalent)—how ridiculous! The fact that you can flip through your dial on the radio and IMMEDIATELY know when you’ve hit a Christian station is a huge turn-off—it all sounds so glossy, shiny, and sterile. As a musician myself I find the quality of the musicianship and the level of creativity, with few exceptions, to be completely pitiful. As far as I am concerned, CCM is not art, it is product. I have very little interest in something that I perceive to have little or no artistic merit/integrity and that only speaks to a very select and insular subculture within our larger society. To be brutally honest, I find CCM to be extremely cheesy and incredibly boring to listen to. If that offends any of my readers, I apologize, but that's how I feel.

Contemporary Christian Music lends real credibility to one of my favourite sayings: "Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective" because the moment you use the word "Christian" as a way of describing or categorizing, you are automatically ghettoizing the object in question. As I said earlier, CCM appeals almost exclusively to the faith community--essentially, it's preaching to the choir. It uses a set vocabulary (which many have dubbed "Christianese") that excludes and alienates the larger culture and because of that, I have no real use for it or interest in it. C.S. Lewis once said "we don't need more Christian books, we need more Christians writing great books" and I think the same thing can be said for music.

The above represents my opinion only and is not meant to offend nor to persuade anyone to my way of thinking at all. I just thought that I would lay it out there because I keep having the same conversation about this topic over and over. Now, I have a document to which I can refer people... ;)

13 comments:

James Kingsley said...

well put matty.

has anyone ever suggested that you should start writing christian music reviews (he said with tongue planted firmly in cheek)?!

seriously though, the use of "christian" as an adjective is one our collective achilles' heels. the sooner we live the noun together, the better...

gillian said...

ahh yes, "Christian music"... thinking that maybe your disgust is with not with Christian music but with, as you put it, the CCM scene.
As one of my favorite writers, Madeleine L'Engle put it: "Christian art? Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. If it's bad art, it's bad religion, no matter how pious the subject."
She elaborates that any art which gives glory to God is "Christian" art, regardless of the state or identity of the artist.
Food for thought... its where my thoughts have currently been :)

Ryan said...

Amen! Though I do like a few Christian artists, I definitely am not a fan of the whole CCM scene! Also, I have found that some music at Christian book stores (mostly of the alternative and hard rock variety) have almost nothing that makes them stand out as Christian anyways, other than that they are in a Christian book store and are typically generic and bad. It's like the band members said to each other, "Well, we aren't good enough to be sold at HMV, so let's make some reference to prayer or Jesus in one of our songs so we can be sold at the CBMC (Christian Book and Music Center).

Eric said...

Imagine how disapointed I am...

...to come here looking for a Coldplay review and instead find a review of CCM.

I listen to good music wherever it comes from, it just so happens not much good music comes out of CCM.

Anonymous said...

To your post and the comments, I can only add my 'ditto'.


Who would've thought our Matty would become a voice crying in the wilderness?

Randy

chris said...

Matt - you should read "Body Piercing Saved My Life" by Andrew Beaujon (music writer / critic for Spin magazine and I think the Washington Post). A great critique from "the outside" . Beaujon is not a christian, but writes with a degree of fondness and fairness as he slices through the hypocritical crap in the phenomenon of Christian pop / rock.
I got it out of VPL - you've got to find it buddy. Good reading.

http://books.google.ca/books?id=G4YXKhs7nWsC&dq=body+piercing+saved+my+life&pg=PP1&ots=DysTeoMq1b&sig=9obagAwPjhPX0RPl6GnjkTYQc0E&hl=en&prev=http://www.google.ca/search%3Fq%3Dbody%2Bpiercing%2Bsaved%2Bmy%2Blife%26ie%3Dutf-8%26oe%3Dutf-8%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26client%3Dfirefox-a&sa=X&oi=print&ct=title&cad=one-book-with-thumbnail

James Kingsley said...

i agree with chris: beaujon's book is required reading for anyone as passionate about music and jc as you my friend...

i read it earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it.

impactmatt said...

How I miss your music/christian rants... hmmmmmmmm! Brings me back to a happier time!!! I think you should be a christian music critic... I would die laughing! Tell me how you feel about Christian merchandise!!! :)

Anonymous said...

If you have such a hatred for christian music, why are you in the worship band? (including some of you that have commented) Seems kind of hypocritical, don't you think?

The Renegade Librarian said...

No.

Tangira said...

... Oh ' Anonymous ' one, if you're going to say that then you must Identify yourself... C'mon now, out with it !

I'm with the rest of you guys. Being quite eclectic when it comes to music, CCM aint my scene....

"If you have such a hatred for Christian music, why are you in the worship band? (including some of you that have commented) Seems kind of hypocritical, don't you think? ".... I would also have to say, " No ".

... C'mon anonymous, out with it !!

Peter Tyrrell said...

Not being a Christian myself, I don't even have to pretend to respect such gooey glop and those who peddle it. I unfortunately find that the maudlin got-all-the-answers saccharine superficiality extends to pretty much every church service I've ever attended. Many is the time I've wanted to walk up the center aisle and knee the minister in the balls for offering easy answers to life's thorny questions.

Anyway, back to CCM. It's not even Biblically relevant. When you read the Psalms, they're full of agonizing and doubt. So is the rest of the wisdom literature in the Bible. And find me a biblical protagonist who doesn't suffer, sometimes horribly at the hands of the LORD or his agents, sometimes through no fault of his own. Life is a struggle, faith is something clung to through storm after storm, the meaning of it all is elusive and hard to grasp. If I have one prayer, it is this: O God, above all else, let christians be *real*.

Dance lover said...

Very interesting
I'm adding in RSS reader