Christianity and Music

It dawned on me that I have only truly posted about my faith once since starting this blog. Since we’re in the midst of the Easter season, it seems like a good time to fix that…

I am a musician and I am also a Christian. The two are neither mutually exclusive nor mutually inclusive. On top of that, I have pretty eclectic tastes when I listen to music. If I could, I’d have music going nearly all the time, but most of the time once the tv is off I want to enjoy the quiet before bed. In today’s world, it is difficult to listen to different genres without seemingly compromising my beliefs.

As I write this post I am listening to Bart Millard. I don’t usually listen to music while I’m writing because I am easily distracted and I tend to hyper focus on music. You may not know the name Bart Millard, but I can almost guarantee that you know a song by him. The song, “I Can Only Imagine” was written by him and recorded/performed by his band MercyMe. If you haven’t heard the song, Google it or look it up on YouTube. It’s worth the listen.

When I was a teen I read a quote, and I don’t remember where it was so I can’t give credit. The quote was, “There is no Christian music, only Christian lyrics.” It hit me hard, and still hits me every time I think about it. That sentence is, for me, very freeing. That means that I can listen to whatever I want!

That quote doesn’t mean I can listen to whatever I want though. “But wait, Princess, I thought you just said…” Yes, I know what I said. I can listen to whatever I want, but I can’t listen to whatever I want. It’s a sentence that doesn’t make any sense…but it will.

I can listen to whatever I want whenever I want background noise. I can even listen to whatever I want when I am actively listening to music. When I start to take stock in what a song says, and the lyrics or message don’t align with my beliefs…well…that’s when I can’t listen to whatever I want. Not everyone is the same.

It takes me a long time, sometimes, to understand what the lyrics to a song are, let alone understand the message a song may have. For example, TLC’s “Waterfalls” took me years to still get the lyrics wrong. Thank you, internet, for finally setting me straight. The song came out during a time when I was really struggling with my beliefs, and even though the song didn’t effect them in the long run, the chorus alone could really mess someone up. The chorus could mess someone up no matter what their beliefs may be. “Don’t go chasing waterfalls/ Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to/ I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all/ But I think you’re moving too fast” Basically, don’t change, but using more words.

Another song, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” will make it to playlists of mine for years to come. “Clap along, if you feel like happiness is the truth” isn’t a line I will ever agree with, but “Happy” isn’t a song I listen to for the lyrics. I like the song because it is what the name says.

Conversely, there is a song by a Christian artist, Gungor, called “Dry Bones” that lifts me up because of both the music and the lyrics. Neither are happy – the song is in a minor key and the lyrics state “These bones cry out/ These dry bones cry for you” – but it was one of the first songs by a Christian artist that I could identify with. When you meet a Christian, you tend to think that they’ve got their life together and everything is perfect. As a Christian with depression, that was really difficult for my to reconcile. This song told me that I wasn’t alone and that’s why it will always be considered an uplifting song for me.

Another song, by the aforementioned MercyMe, called “Happy Dance” is a song that goes in my list of songs that I listen to just for fun. The beat is fun, the chord structure and instrumentation is fun, and the effect used for Bart Millard’s voice is fun. The lyrics, quite frankly, make me angry. Even though the message in them is true, it is delivered very tactlessly. The song basically says that we should be happy and dancing and smiling because Jesus died for our sins. The reason the lyrics make me angry is because you can’t just tell someone to be happy and smiling and dancing no matter what. That just doesn’t account for the reality of life and feelings and free will.

When I think about the quote about lyrics, I can’t help but be reminded of Ray Charles. His music was highly controversial. The problem wasn’t the music though. The problem was his lyrics. The music was taken from old hymns…with original lyrics. When he performed, there was a lot of resistance because people thought he was being sacrilegious by “stealing” hymn music and writing his own lyrics. In the end, though, it just made his music more memorable, and the controversy ended up being free marketing. Had he written his own music, he would have just become another artist that no one remembered.

That of course, leads to thoughts about hymns. Admit it. That’s what you thought I’d spend most of my time talking about in this post, isn’t it? That and those books full of hymns, called hymnals, that are housed in the back of every uncomfortable pew, those benches in church buildings, around the world. And how they’re out of date and boring and totally unrelate-able. Well, I disagree.

Hymns are the backbone of modern “Christian music.” While very few of us will ever relate to clinging to an “Old Rugged Cross” or say that “It is well with my soul” when something effects our lives, the words are no less true today than they were 100 years ago. A lot of modern churches don’t use hymns because they don’t attract the kind of attendance they want. I think hymns could still be used to attract people, but churches need to put in a bit more effort when using them.

Find an artist who has modernized hymns and look for their recordings and charts. If there’s a hymn that hasn’t been modernized, have the worship team modernize it or work with other churches in the area to modernize. Styles from the 50-60’s are popular with Christian artists on the radio. That style could be used for hymns that are in triple meter. Bluegrass and Dixieland work well for binary meters. If all else fails, find a way to make it rock. And remember…

“There is no such thing as Christian music, only Christian lyrics.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s