on 'secular' music

Buddy, couldn’t agree more on the standards thing. Having personal standards that are biblically based is the crux of what I’m saying as well. I fight against “secular music is bad” not because I think it is all good. Rather, I am fight against the notion that we can put all music (or any other type of art) into 2 groups labeled “secular” and “christian”.

Personally, I’d rather see each piece of art judged on its own merit rather than lumping together most of the music industry as off-limits (specifically when someone is ignorant of what they are labeling as “bad”).

The flip side, of course, is that you need to use common sense when deciding what to listen to. If you know that 50-Cent’s songs almost always don’t fit your standards, then its probably not a good idea to listen to his latest single “Smack the Pimp who Snorted My Lines” in hopes that it will fit your standards. That’s just dumb. Talk to your friends about music, get opinions from people you respect and trust. Give something a listen and see what you think, judge the art against your standards. Be honest and stick with your convictions.

I much prefer this method as opposed to letting other people decide for me what i should and shouldn’t listen to. Especially if you’re talking about record executives, Christian bookstore music buyers, or Christian radio Program Directors. While some of these folks might be fine individuals, and many probably serve God, often their number one priority is not your spiritual welfare, More than likely it is selling records or increasing listenership.

And while we’re here, I’d like to know exactly how to define “Christian music” anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a great definition. Here are a few that I’ve heard, and why they don’t work:

If the band is on a Christian label, it’s Christian music. What is a “Christian” label? Are the folks who work for the label Christians? Probably. Maybe. You don’t really know. 8 times out of 10, that Christian Label is owned by a bigger “Secular” Label, so if you go high enough up the food chain, you are going to have to face the fact that there are non-christians making business decisions about the music on Christian labels. And while there are some bands that would prefer to be on a Christian label, the truth is many of them would rather be on a mainstream label, but it just hasn’t happened for them yet. And there’s nothing wrong with that. These bands are trying to make a living making music. Should a painter who’s a Christian only limit himself to painting the houses of other Christians and churches? That would be foolish, wouldn’t it? Also, if this label thing is your criteria, what happens when the band switches to a mainstream label? Do you stop following them?

If the band uses ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ in a song, it’s a Christian song. There are plenty of Christians who make great music that doesn’t explicitly use names of God in their songs. Yet these songs can be much more glorifying to God than those that do (though not always). Heck, the book of Esther never mentions the name of God either, and yet it is in the canon. Does a beautiful painting have to be of Jesus or angels to be ok for a Christian to enjoy? Of course not. We love beautiful photographs of sunrises, painted mountains, sculptures of animals, and the like. Have you ever enjoyed a movie that wasn’t about God or Jesus? Of course you have. We all love a good story that is told well and acted out with excellence. This is what good art is. Why then, can’t we enjoy a good love song or a song about dealing with a breakup? Or what about a song about friendship, or any of the myriad of other things we deal with as humans? A plumber, dentist, and doctor can all do their jobs to the glory of God without attaching bible verses to pipes, braces, and casts. They do their work with excellence, to God’s glory, and if they have the heart of Jesus they look for ways to spread His love to those around them. Why can’t we hold Christians that are musicians to the same standard? Why is there a double standard that says if a musical artist is a Christian he/she has to explicitly sing about God in his/her songs? It doesn’t make sense. If someone wants to write songs for corporate worship, then please do. I love singing corporate worship songs. But if an artist, who’s a Christian, wants to write a song about being lost in san Francisco or about falling hard over a girl, I think he should do it to the best of his ability and be able to make a living doing it if the art is good.

If the band members are Christians, then they are a Christian band. This one is just silly. You don’t know 95% of the musicians you listen to any better than you know Abe Lincoln. Anyone can say the right things in a press release or interview. Rich Mullins had a terrible problem with smoking and drug use. Did he love God? I don’t know. I sure think so from the stories I hear about how transparent and honest he was about his love for God and his heart for other people. Bono cusses and we won’t buy his albums, until we realize that the work he is personally doing in Africa makes some of our Christianity look fake. Artists have moral failures and are shunned by buyers (ask Sandi Patty or Amy Grant how that went). I’ve heard stories from my connections (haha, like I have connections) about drug use on tours of people whose worship songs we sing on Sunday mornings. Am I trying to knock those folks down? No, I have enough faults to make your hair white myself. But I think we need to see a separation between the faith of the artist and the art they create. A non-christian can write a “Christian” song just as fast as a chrsitian could write an anthem for unbelievers. And let’s also look beyond music to other art forms. Can you enjoy a painting by Salvador Dali, even though he was a rampant drug user? I bet you have. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed a book or poem before by an author that wasn’t a Christian. You probably had no idea what their worldview was, and that was ok I think, because you weren’t enjoying them or celebrating their beliefs, you were enjoying the art they created. I know I didn’t say that as clear as I wanted to, but let’s move on.

If you can buy it in a Christian bookstore, it’s christian music. Well, maybe, maybe not. But there’s no way I would use a Christian bookstore as my measuring stick for what I should and shouldn’t listen to. Unfortunately, some Christian bookstores are afraid of putting anything in their stores that isn’t 100% safe. As those of you who have been to the dream center know, this Christianity thing isn’t always safe and family-friendly. Consider this, 2 of the top 5 Christian Bookstore Chains (Mardel and one other I can’t remember) wouldn’t sell Derek Webb’s first solo album (She Must and Shall Go Free) because he said of himself “I am a whore I do confess, I put you on just like a wedding dress, and I run down the aisle to you” in a beautiful song called “Wedding Dress”. Funny that they didn’t rip out portions of the Bible that use the same language describing Israel like that in the Old Testament as well. That album contains more truth and gospel than most of what is on those bookstore music shelves, and because of one word that doesn’t seem safe enough, they wouldn’t even carry it. (I realize that I am biased because I am a psycho fanboy of DW, but that’s beside the point). The fact is, just because its in a Christian bookstore, doesn’t mean you can turn your brain off and assume it’s all good. And likewise, just because you can’t buy it in a Christian bookstore doesn’t mean it’s not worth listening to.

If they play it on Christian radio, it’s a Christian song. Unfortunately they are in the same boat as the bookstores. They keep it over-safe, and actually pride themselves on it. In fact, WJTL runs promos that boast about keeping things as safe as possible. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either, but if you’re using that as your criteria for whether or not you can listen to something, you are going to miss out on a lot of good music.

So like I said, I am against the notion that we can use one of those above criteria to separate music into listenable and not-listenable.

So besides encouraging you to turn your brain off and not think, the other thing I have against “secular and Christian” labeling is that it teaches our youth that all secular music is equally as bad. So what happens to most kids? They try to stay away from it, and then at some point they give in and listen to something secular. And then instead of saying, “maybe Jimmy Eat World is ok, but Nine inch Nails is probably not good for me”, they just lump it all together. “Well, if I’m going to listen to non-christian music, then I guess it doesn’t matter what it is. Pink Floyd, Jim Brickman, Eminem, Slipknot, Peter Gabriel, Kelly Clarkson, Marilyn Manson, Dave Matthews…it’s all non-christian, right?”. So not only have we not taught them how to identify and enjoy good music, we’ve not taught them how to identify and ignore stuff that is not good for them. And I think that might be the worst part of it all.

Wow, this is so long. And I probably said so many stupid things. But if nothing else, I just want honest and open discussion about this stuff, because I think through it we can separate the religion from the real thing, and hopefully get closer to Jesus in the end.

Time to go home…bry