Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Media and Already . . . Not Yet Spirituality

I meet with some friends on Monday nights to eat food and talk about Jesus. Last night we had an interesting discussion about media and what is "appropriate." I think the real elephant in the room was the temptation to watch shows featuring scantily clad women (or shows with commercials involving scantily clad women), and the consensus in the room was "we need to be careful about this." What you watch affects what you do.

But we got into a side discussion about art and media, and what makes something "true." We have a friend who listens only to Christian music and, having gone there myself for a few years in my past, I objected to the lifestyle. (Not that I would criticize my friend for this decision. If it is helpful for him, praise God. But I don't find it helpful.)

My objection was that the state of Christian music (and other media as well) is so awful that I feel much non-Christian music is "truer" than a lot of Christian music. A couple of events led me to this conclusion. First, I used to be a huge fan of Sixpence None the Richer. (I still would be if they were still together. Their 2002 album Divine Discontent remains one of my all-time favorites, and This Beautiful Mess and their self-titled album are both great.) When I was in college they sang a song called "Kiss Me" that was a radio hit. The song is not explicitly Christian, but I would say that it is "true" nevertheless. It's clean, it's fun, and it celebrates love that God created.

At the same time, I started reading more into the lyrics of U2 and was more and more impressed with their spiritual content. U2 is not on a Christian label, yet they sing some great songs that Christians would affirm as "true."

Finally, Christian music has declined to the point that most of it is not helpful to me, and some of it is not even "true." (There is a lot of bad theology in popular Christian music.)

So I had three pieces of a puzzle to wrestle with. On the one hand there was a Christian band on a Christian label singing about "secular" things that were true. There was a great band not on a Christian label singing about Christian things that were true. Finally, there were Christian bands on Christian labels singing about "churchy" things that weren't true. I had to conclude that what made a song "Christian" was not the faith of the singer/songwriter or the label that signed the artist. It had to be the message of the song. If the song is true, then it is Christian.

That being said, which of the following songs is more helpful to your faith?

"I Need You"
by Sonic Flood

You know who I am inside
You know when I lie
You can tell when I'm amazed
You can see my faith
You know when I don't believe
You know when I'm free
You can tell when I need love
You know I'm in need

Love, I need love
You are love
I need You
Love, You are love
I need love
I need You

You know of my deepest fear
You know when I'm scared
You can read my empty page
You can feel my rage
You're aware of when I dream
You see when I bleed
You can tell when I need love
You know I'm in need

I know we need You, Father
Much more than any other
Your love brings us together
We need You, we need You

Love, we need love
You are love
We need You
Love, You are love
We need love
We need You I need You.

You know who I am inside...


"What Sarah Said"
by Death Cab for Cutie

And it came to me then that every plan
Is a tiny prayer to father time
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU
That reeked of piss and 409
And I rationed my breaths as I said to myself
That I’ve already taken too much today
As each descending peak on the LCD
Took you a little farther away from me
Away from me

Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines
In a place where we only say goodbye
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend
On a faulty camera in our minds
And I knew that you were a truth I would rather lose
Than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground
As the TV entertained itself‘

Cause there’s no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes ‘round and everyone lift their heads
But I’m thinking of what Sarah said
That love is watching someone die

So who’s gonna watch you die? So whos gonna watch you die

There are probably a lot of people out there who are helped by the Sonic Flood song. I'm not saying that you shouldn't like Sonic Flood, but this song isn't helpful to me. Replace the word "Father" in the song with the word "baby" and what are you left with? (Thank you Eric Cartman for pointing this out.)

The Death Cab song, on the other hand, is vulgar, pessimistic, and atheistic. It's also real. I love the line about the TV entertaining itself. Part of already . . . not yet spirituality is the realization that we are not yet fully redeemed. We have the first fruits of the Spirit, but we still dwell in corruption. Death is still real, and it's still the enemy. So, I find the Death Cab song more helpful. Sure, it doesn't reflect a theistic worldview, but it doesn't claim to. Would we deny that we have ever felt the feelings expressed in the song? Isn't it a healthy challenge to the people of God to be there when those around us are dying?

What do you think about media?


Johnny said...

I think if I wanted to make fun of christian music I would have chosen a different song. The sonic flood song does have meaning, and it is just as real. It is just not as focused.

It is about the big far off God still knowing our needs. A very real and very cool point. It is not as poetic though, I will give you that.

I think you have been out of Christian music for too long if you fall back on six pence and sonic flood as your sample. (leigh nash has gone solo by the way, it is good).

There is a lot of good "christian" music out there in the underground! Stavesacre is one of my all time faves, but even more recently mewithoutyou has torn it up.

Matt said...

Its very possible that I have been "out" of Christian music too long to fairly critique it.

Perhaps I was too strong with my langauge. There are some good artists on Christian labels (Brooke Fraser is great). But, I do stand by my claim that a lot of "secular" music is more helpful to me than a lot of Christian music.

Staveacre's "Keep Waiting" is a great song. Now that reminded me of it, I may make it the official Awaiting Redemption theme song. I also have "ZZYX" on my Zune. (Yes, I have a Zune.)

What kind of music is mewithoutyou?