Great post at Musings of a Hardlining Moderate about schmoopy Contemporary Christian Music:
I’m fond of the criticism that too many worship songs today fit the “Jesus is my boyfriend” genre. It’s no longer a matter of narcissitic, trite lyrics chalked full of superficial reflections with questionable theological implications. As Southpark rightly lampooned, many of our worship songs are now almost completely indistinguishable from any other love song, both in content and tone. They seriously make it sound as if we want to cuddle with Jesus, kiss Jesus, and make love to Jesus. In more gentle terms, N.T. Wright has called them “teenage love songs” about “falling in love with Jesus.” Either way, ChristianMingle.com has proven the point by seamlessly using these songs in their commercials. I find this implicit, widespread conflation of spiritual and sexual in our worship songs to be incredibly creepy. To be clear, I’m not saying that this is wholly without precedent–biblical or otherwise. Look no further than Hosea and his unfortunately-named, promiscuous wife for a vivid illustration of this. Moreover, I agree with Rob Bell that we need to explore the infinitely complex relationship between spirituality and sexuality. I’m not pulling a Sheldon Cooper here. What I’m saying is that our songs need a greater degree of complexity, reflecting the fact that we’re using human relationships as a metaphor.”
Good points all. Around the same time I did e-interviews about Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) with Ben and Claire, I asked Thomas DeFreitas of The Crystal Tambourine for his take (awesome surname, by the by). I felt he, being a prolific poet and coming from a Roman Catholic background, would provide an interestingly different perspective. Here’s what he had to say:
1. How long have I listened to Christian music?The hymns at Mass are my primary “Christian music” — they range from the hymns of Wesley and Watts to contemporary (’70s, ’80s) songs by Marty Haugen and the like. Let’s say 21 years.2. CCM — which genre?I liked the duo (long since disbanded) called The Miserable Offenders, a kind of folksy soft-rock. But I’m tempted to say that my favorite types of Christian music are Gregorian chant and Christmas carols! Oh, yes, and I admire the late Sister Thea Bowman, who had the voice of an angel.3. Do I listen to secular music?Indeed I do. Some of it by artists who are not particularly disposed to view Christianity favorably (the Smiths). But mostly, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s pop. Beatles, 5th Dimension, Carpenters (I’m so old); Proclaimers. I like people who can sing, who can carry a tune. I like some jazz and some neo-soul. And, in a much different vein, I am overwhelmed by the incredible talent of Rhiannon Giddens and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Am not especially a hip-hop fan. And when I listen to country, I get the impression that I’m missing out on something good by not listening more often.4. How long have I been a Christian?Arguably, since I was baptized in 1969! But I was away from the church through most of adolescence, and returned in October 1991 under the influence of Thomas Merton. So let’s say more than twenty years!5. Do I go to church regularly? Yes.5a.What type(s) of music at church? Many! Eighteenth and nineteenth century hymns; “Panis Angelicus”; “Morning Has Broken”; “Gather Us In”; some Broadway-ish stuff that I don’t much care for; and some disarmingly beautiful ’70s songs, “Gentle woman, peaceful dove, teach us wisdom, teach us love” (to the Blessed Virgin Mary). Then we’ll hear “Holy God, we praise Thy name” — very heterogeneous!6. How important is music to me?More than moderately important. Life is dull without it! I like to sing in solitude, and in front of crowds occasionally (can you say karaoke?). I like a good song lyric. I like composing song parodies on occasion! But I can’t read or play music, really — the “hook” is the lyric, for me.7. How do I listen?CDs or YouTube. I’m very much behind the curve technologically.8. Do I have a favorite artist?The Beatles; 5th Dimension; Carolina Chocolate Drops; the Smiths — I’m all over the map. Dusty Springfield! Elton John before 1983. Oh, this is a very partial list; I’m overlooking scores of people. Cat Stevens. John Denver. Van Morrison. And a seventeenth-century composer named Allegri who did a sublime musical setting of Psalm 51 in Latin!9. Type of Christian?A Roman Catholic.
10. Am I a singer or musician?See above! Apart from karaoke, I really don’t sing. And musically, though I have a recurring dream that I can play the guitar as well as Segovia, I’m quite inept.Oh, I missed a question!What would I say to those who believe CCM is weak or lacking artistry? It’s possible that a lot of schlocky music gets made in the name of Jesus! But there’s plenty of good stuff, too — across genres. I mean, “makers of Christian music” could feasibly include artists as different as the Miserable Offenders, Kirk Franklin, Olivier Messiaen, Arvo Pärt, and innumerable country and gospel artists!Anything I want to add?Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions!
No, thank you, Thomas! Also, see below. 🙂