I stopped listening to Christian music about the time we got high-speed Internet in our house. I was probably sixteen. I’d never been on YouTube before.
I had a problem with ‘worship music’ since my early teens, about when I entered my angsty stage (from which I never emerged, by the way). I’d be at a youth-retreat. The band would be playing their heart out, and all around me people would be raising their hands and crying, and I’d be standing there going “if you repeat the chorus one more time, I swear I’ll kill someone.”
If the band was good, all I wanted was to be up there playing in the band. If the band was bad, I’d stare at the ground, embarrassed for them. By the fifth round of the chorus I’d refuse to sing, and say “God, I’m sure you get the point by now.” And then I’d feel guilty.
I was sure something was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I feel anything? I loved Jesus. I wanted to follow him. I wanted to worship. Why couldn’t get all into it like everyone else?
I enjoyed Christian rock, but at the time there was no Christian rock station in my area, so I was limited to the few CD’s I bought. The Christian radio station played mostly pop and Chris Tomlin and all this local stuff that sounded like it was produced in a basement.
Haunted by my lack of connection to the words, annoyed by the sound, I turned to mainstream music.
What kind? All kinds. I’ve never pinned myself to a genre. But it sure was angst-ridden. Sad songs about lost love, struggle, depression, longing.
Was it the darkness that drew me to those songs? It isn’t that you can’t find darkness in Christian music, particularly Christian rock, but my local station (the one that played Chris Tomlin and pop music) sure was bright and shiny. I didn’t do bright and shiny. If you look at my writing from those days–actually, if you look at any of the novels I’ve written–you’ll see that I cover a lot of dark themes and I’m really not sure why. But as music often acts as the inspiration and the soundtrack for my writing, melancholy melodies are what I needed to come through my ear buds.
And then I went through a ‘hipster music’ stage—for my older friends, that means Mumford and Sons, Bon Iver, the Lumineers, and then as many bands that no one has heard of as possible. Make it weird, raw and jangly… yes, jangly.
These days my playlist is a bit more up-tempo, more hopeful. My anthem this week has been “Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Arcade Fire. “They heard me singing and they told me to stop. Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock. These days I feel my life, it has no purpose. But late at night these feelings swim to the surface.”
To me it signifies the struggles against the mundane. I aspire to so much, but most people around me would only drag me down if I listen to them. Gosh, I got a lump in my throat just now. My ‘romantic battle’ to follow my dreams of being a writer and just plain an excellent person is one of the most important things in my life—and, I believe, part of God’s purpose for me.
I’ve yet to find the Christian equivalent to bands like Arcade Fire, Broken Bells, Passenger and Muse. I recently found a Christian ‘Mumford and Sons’ lookalike, but their songs were so saccharine that I exited iTunes without purchasing.
But lately I’ve made a return to Christian music.
It began when I joined a group of young women who meet to pray, study and worship together. The group leader would always play worship music, and I would often sit there (pretending to pray silently) annoyed as heck with the music. I mean, what did they do? Put all the Christian clichés in a bowl, mix it up and flop it on the page?
But one day, she played an album by Christy Nockels—“Into the Glorious”. Her beautiful voice, the piano driven sound and the beautiful lyrics got to me. I bought a couple songs and began listening to them when I was down or in a funk, and they would remind me of the goodness of God.
I now have a playlist—a short playlist—of ‘songs of worship’, which I will play during my devotional times, or when I need to be reminded of God’s truth.
I also have a mind full of hymns that I learned as a child, and I love to belt them out when alone in my process room at work. The profundity of the poetry and beautiful melodies make them mini-sermons for my soul. I still find singing in church a bit awkward, and being an anal writer, I’m driven wild by the prevalence of pronoun confusion, tense-jumping, and other literary weirdness but… we’ll let that pass. I seem to be growing out of it—a little.
It’s not sinful to enjoy music made by non-Christians. We are all endowed with a certain measure of common grace, and many artists use it to produce wonderful music. I doubt that the list of Christian music I own will ever be longer than the mainstream, but I’m opening myself up to finding it again. They both have their place.
In other words, no need to play therapist to me. I’ll be fine. :)
But, having said that, if you know of a band I’d like, please let me know! Comment, or share a YouTube link so I can take a listen. And I always appreciate when you guys share articles on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for your help.
Note: The term “Christian music” means different things to different people. I’ve defined it as music produced by a band that specifically claims to be Christian and/or is associated with a Christian music label, as this is what I think of when I think “Christian music”. If I were to write out a definition of ‘Christian Music’, I would probably call it ‘music produced by Christians for the glory of God, regardless of what genre it belongs to.’