I was raised a good Catholic boy (yeah, yeah, I know – where did I go wrong; something my mother often wondered). Part of this upbringing including being severely taught to show the utmost respect for priests, nuns and all other Church members in authority positions. Note that this was show respect, not never question. My parents, especially my father, seldom hesitated to enthusiastically engage assorted parish priests and other officials in even more enthusiastic discourse over various matters of theology and/or local church policy. This duly noted, there was never any disrespect for the position someone held, regardless of whether the individual holding said position was equally well regarded.
Said all that to say this. One of Patheos’ Catholic blogs is Standing on My Head by Father Dwight Longenecker. In a recent post he ripped and ridiculed not only Christian rock itself, but the very notion of it being suitable for ministerial, let alone liturgical use.
Shall we examine his foolishness… er, rationale?
A friend of mine used to quip, “When you’re talking about Christian music it’s pretty safe to substitute ‘bad’ for ‘Christian’.
A friend of mine used to say the moon is a gigantic dusty grapefruit. I didn’t believe him either. But at least he wasn’t a smug, sanctimonious ass.
Who hasn’t had to endure a Christian rock band or sit through a worship with some aging trendy strumming a guitar and inflicting folk music or light rock on everyone?
Gee. I’ve endured many a Christian rock band. I recall many of them giving altar calls at the end. I recall many, many people coming forward to give or recommit their lives to Christ as a result of those altar calls. One of those people was… me. As to worship, I also recall many a moment of folk or light rock bringing many people into a deeper relationship with Jesus, encouraging them to follow Him more closely and be better servants to one another and the world. One of those people was… me. Somehow I doubt Fr. Longenecker has ever been to an actual Christian rock concert or heard quality contemporary worship/praise music. Which, despite his upcoming assertions to the contrary, does exist. In droves.
Why is it that so often Christian music is so awful?
Because the modern church, with few exceptions, has done such an abominable job of finding, nurturing, supporting, and promoting artists? Naah, couldn’t possibly be that.
I think there are a couple of reasons. The first is that the musicians and their audience mistake a worthy message for talent.
Uh, no. If that was the case, every everything every Christian record label releases would sell. It doesn’t. People do both care and have the wisdom to discern what’s worth a listen.
Then they get a martyr complex if they’re criticized. “You’re obviously not very spiritual if you can’t enjoy my music!
Wrong again. I don’t mind if people don’t enjoy my music or that of the artists I like. Where I do call into question someone’s spiritual discernment is when they apply their cultural bias and personal preference to their alleged discernment. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not good and therefore cannot possibly be used by God. I know people who think Pink Floyd is the worst garbage on the planet. Does that make it so? No. So don’t waste my time bringing your petty preferences, inflated with pseudo-spiritual tripe, into any discussion of art’s value or quality. Like what you like; dislike what you dislike. But don’t drag God into it.
The second problem is that the audience are often either totally uncritical or they haven’t the ability to criticize intelligently. Too often the audience actually like the crap that is being dished up.
We’ve addressed this already. Telling people they’re mindless drones for their musical tastes isn’t exactly what I’d consider a strong opening to winning over hearts and minds. Or winning souls for Christ. Or drawing those who already know Him closer.
The third factor is that market forces are usually not in play. Market forces often have a surprisingly sharp and salutary critical effect. Market forces weed out the junk, but in the Christian market they’re doing it for love, not money, so no one is telling them to get off the stage ’cause it won’t sell.
Already addressed this as well. But hey, keep flailing away at that deceased equine if it makes you happy.
These are all the practical problems. There is, however, a deeper problem. Christian popular music is almost always pretty bad,
Feldercarb. (Look it up.)
but the problem with most “Christian” music is that it is secular music with Christian words.
And what, pray tell, makes music secular or sacred? The style? The sound? Are you telling me God’s such an impotent wuss He can’t use whatever variation of His language — for music is God’s language — He pleases for His purpose? What emasculated God are you following? Not the one I know and in my stumbling, bumbling way serve.
In any decent art style and substance are supposed to match up. The meaning and the media are supposed to harmonize.
Which far more often than not they do. Except to those with open mouths and closed minds.
Most “Christian” music is taken from the secular world. Whether it is the music of Broadway musicals, Country Western, Las Vegas ballad crooners or light rock or heavy rock and roll it’s secular not sacred.
Again… it’s music. Music in and of itself is neither sacred nor secular. Did Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” which is an adaptation of an excerpt we know as “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” from J.S. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” which is itself an adaptation of Hans Leo Hassler’s love song “Mein G’müt Ist Mir Verwirret” turn what started life as a secular tune, turned into a sacred one by Bach, back into a secular song? Really?
When you then add sacred words to the secular music there is a natural disconnect.
To people who serve a whipped puppy masquerading as God Almighty, yes. Or if you prefer, to those who are so petrified of themselves they can’t handle life, thus run and hide and cry out for the bad people and/or things to go away. I’m hardly the strongest person you’ll ever meet when it’s sin-resisting time, but I don’t need musical burqas to protect me from the beat menace.
That’s why so much Christian music (even when it is well written and well performed)
You said there wasn’t any. Make up your mind, will you?
doesn’t really work.
Feldercarb on a stick.
Oh sure, people might like it.
How dare they!
They might even have nice feelings about Jesus by listening to it,
What? People enjoying the notion of there being a loving Savior? Obviously a Satanic trap.
but the secular music was designed to produce certain types of feelings,
So? God can’t use it? Do we really need to repeat how small your God is?
and why should those warm sentimental feelings or hard emotional feelings be linked with worship?
Uh… because we’re human.
We might like listening to Christian country Western or a sweet Broadway type ballad about Jeezus or we might get all hyped up listening to Christian rock, but is it worship? Is it really inspiring us to draw closer to God? Is it really deepening our spiritual life or is it just music we like which makes us feel good and it makes us feel even better because it talks about Jeezus too?
Let’s think back a bit about something mentioned above that takes place during so many of those “awful” Christian rock concerts. Altar calls. Exhortation toward Bible study, fellowship and discipleship. Obviously thin disguises for warm fuzzies. But back to reality. You see, Fr. Longenecker, maybe — just maybe — in spite of your sarcasm in regard to and loathing of contemporary Christian music, God uses it anyway. The evidence is all around you. Too bad you’ve chosen to close your eyes to His work.
Forgive me for being cynical,
Don’t push your luck.
but think about it.
I have. Which apparently puts me one up on you.
The worst example is Christian Rock music.
And here we go…
At the risk of sounding too puritanical,
Reality isn’t really a risk, sir.
rock and roll music was, from the beginning highly sexualized, laden with rebellious, heavy and nasty rhythms
Nasty? What is this, a Janet Jackson revue?
linked with the drug culture–designed to alter consciousness and demolish self restraint. The acid rock and heavy rock was also obviously
linked with an occult and demonic sub culture.
And because a few losers played the devil game, stealing God’s language, we’re supposed to concede? Uh-uh. We’re stealing it back.
So you want to put cozy Christian words to all that?
Try listening to the Rez Band song again, then get back to me on that “cozy” thing.
To my mind that’s like putting a gospel tract inside a porn magazine.
Why not? We’re supposed to be reaching sinners, aren’t we?
The same criticism applies when the musical style is not quite so bad as acid rock. You name the popular secular style–the music wasn’t written to deepen prayer, lead to worship or open the soul to the sacred. It was designed to produce shallow emotions about love and romance at best, and lust and sex at worst.
Because we as Christians have been so shallow we’ve let the world run wild. We haven’t promoted our artists. We’ve held them back at best, actively ridiculed and opposed them at worst. We have made ourselves culturally irrelevant. We have paralyzed ourselves into being afraid of our own shadow. We have abandoned the things of God and settled for perpetual self-appointed second class status. That’s why we’re losing.
Pope Benedict XVI comments on this in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. He acknowledges that down through the ages this has been a recurring problem in the church. Sometimes the hymn writers put Christian words to beer drinking songs. At other times they adopted the popular operatic style. Now they adopt light rock, hard rock, and virtually every other secular style.
Yeah, it was really rude of our forefathers to try and use God’s language for its intended purpose.
The antidote is to be more aware and appreciative of sacred music.
We are. You’re not.
There is a kind of music that on its own–even without words–is designed to open the mind and heart to the sacred.
Yes. It’s called “whatever God wants to use.”
Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony which evolved from it–is the music of worship.
I happen to love Gregorian chant. But it is not the only arrow in God’s musical quiver:
Especially in the liturgy this is the music which we are supposed to use because the music lends itself to worship.
As does most everything else when you let God be God and stop trying to squeeze Him into your box of what He can and cannot do.
It opens the heart and mind to a new dimension and reveals the spiritual aspect to our lives in a way that secular music with Christian words does not.
I’m sure this would be true… if there was such a thing as secular music.
That’s what sacred music is. What is required is catechesis about this music and an effort to appreciate it. Truly sacred music is an acquired taste. It takes some effort. It also takes some effort to produce it at a good and worthy level.
So when are you going to put in the effort, Father?
The problem in most mainstream Catholic parishes is that they’ve had nothing but crap music in church for as long as anyone can remember. The people actually think its okay because they have never heard anything else. They take on board the blend of muzak, Broadway tunes, folk music and light rock thinking that this is all there is. Then if they ever do hear Gregorian chant or sacred polyphony they hold their ears and say, “Geesh, why does Father want to bring in all that gloomy music? We’re outta here.” Alas. Its true.
Yeah, sucks when people want to live in the twenty-first century. Again, I love Gregorian chant and traditional hymns. They’re wonderful. But they don’t always work. Our God is a mighty God. Why, then, attempt to tie Him down as to what He can use? Let God be God. He’s much better at it than anyone else.
Does this mean that Christians should listen to nothing but Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony? Is that all we should ever use in the liturgy? The purists would say so.
I’m very happy for them having discovered backwards time travel and all.
But I’m of the opinion that we have to work with what we’ve got. We have to meet people where they are and move on from there.
Which you are doing in this article exactly how, reverend?
Chant and polyphony are the foundations of the music we should use. In addition to this we have the library of sacred hymns (and there’s enough there to warrant another blog post completely) the worthy ones of which will serve to complement the words and actions of the sacred liturgy.
Fr. Longenecker… please go away. And don’t come back until you’ve gained some wisdom.
Again you announce while you whirl and bounce
Intentions to pounce on the beat menace
No woman or man could ever withstand
The devious plans of the beat menace
Come to lay you low, we’ve come to vex your soul
Feeling the heat, hell at your feet
Don’t even speak of the beat menace
Something to take away your innocence
Someone to blame it on
Helps you to defeat
Dancing in the street
Come to lay you low, we’ve come to vex you
Resolved in your mind- the nature of crime
Is to swallow the line of the beat menace
Imagination’s on the rise again
So hide your heart away
Dust off the fears and guilts and lies again
The beat is here to stay
Your satellite can reach that Eskimo
He buys a suit and tie
Re-styles his hair like girls in Tupelo
And sings “Sweet Bye And Bye”
He’s meeting all your strange requirements
He thinks you can’t be fooled
He’ll get the rules and laws and sacraments
By sending checks to you
We’ve come to bring you low
(Crossposted at The Conservatory.)