It’s Not Just Because I’m an Old Curmudgeon
After my post on why most people don’t sing in church anymore went viral, a fellow by the name of Ted Perlman shared it. I don’t think I’d ever heard of him, but apparently Mr. Perlman’s name is familiar in the music industry. Here is his impassioned yet inaccurate assessment of that post.
“I am sharing this article NOT because I agree with the author but because the tone of his article makes me so upset. I’m a new Christian and an old well traveled producer/musician. I’ve played guitar at churches ranging from the bumping throw down music at First AME Church in Los Angeles, the orchestral beautiful music at The Crystal Cathedral Hour of Power with Dr. Robert Schuller, to churches back in New York with Stephanie Mills and Whitney Houston. I’ve played, recorded and worked with Christian artists from Edwin Hawkins, Daryl Coley, CC Winans, James Ingram, Nichole C Mullen, etc. I have won producing awards ranging from Gospel Song of the Year to Gospel Album of the Year. I absolutely LOVE everything about Hillsong United. It is my dream to one day work with them on a new CD. Hillson brings the word of the Lord to a wider audience than ever before. Christian music is no longer a bunch of unsmiling White guys dressed in Sears Roebuck suits playing soft pianos, organs, and acoustic guitars. Singing hymns softly. Not playing music when the preacher is talking. Worship is just like it says in scripture “make a joyful noise!” The old White man who wrote this article makes me sick. I am sure he is the one sitting in services with too thick glasses holding his ears yearning for the “good old days”. He’s never been to a Black Church. He wouldn’t last five minutes. His choice of music to listen to in his car on his “nothing below 500k speakers” ranges from Karen Carpenter to recordings of Old 1960s era Billy Graham Crusade recordings. He turns the sound down on the TV commercials. He turns the bass down on the sound in his rental cars. He probably studied music but he can’t really play his Lowry organ at home. He’s never been to any rock concert with his kids of grandkids. He doesn’t know U2 is led by a serious believer. He truly hates modern country music and longs for the days of Patsy Cline and George Jones. Before Bluegrass on all those loud rock guitars and drums ruined country. He thinks Celine Dion and Barry Manilow are rock singers. Arghhhhhh!!!!!”
Well, Mr. Perlman, I am a white guy, but I’m not old. You’re actually old enough to be my father. I have been to a black church. In fact, I was at one several weeks ago for the funeral of a dear mentor and friend. And while the raucous choir and drums and B3 aren’t my all-time favorite combination, nobody could argue that their worship wasn’t the work of the people. My son doesn’t go to rock concerts. He’s only two. But I’ve gone with my wife and friends. The first place I drove myself after getting my driver’s license was to the local Blockbuster music store to pick up a few rock CDs that I knew my parents would have forbid me from owning. Nasty Little Thoughts by Stroke 9, A Place in the Sun by Lit, and 14:59 by Sugar Ray. I mean, just listen to this brilliance…
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I’ve been quite critical of contemporary Christian music and the so-called “worship industry.” If you want to know why, you can read about it in my post about why I call the church to a complete boycott of the worship machine. Whenever I can, I will not pay for its music, be it recordings, sheet music, concerts, or anything else.
Whenever I speak out about the problem of CCM and the worship industry, I get responses from adults, often parents, who say they agree with me about its insidious effects on corporate worship, but that they still listen for entertainment. Most of all, they’re just so glad that their kids have a cool, safe alternative to mainstream music.
On the one hand, I can sympathize with their concerns. On the other hand, I find contemporary Christian music even less savory as a replacement for mainstream pop music.
It wasn’t always this way for me. Christian radio was once a constant companion. Growing up in Houston, we all listened to 89.3 FM KSBJ (any fellow Houstonians out there with a “God Listens” t-shirt?), which pumped out all the current contemporary Christian tunes. Even now, somewhere in my garage, I’ve got a box of CDs and cassettes from artists like Michael W. Smith, Carman (eek!), Wayne Watson, Steven Curtis Chapman. Later came the Newsboys, DC Talk, Jars of Clay. At some point, though, the interest just faded.
I didn’t give it up because I’m suffering from some early-onset curmudgeonism, as Mr. Perlman might claim. I gave it up because, honestly, it wasn’t really contemporary, and it wasn’t really Christian. And it eventually seemed more like a bait and switch technique to trap young people into an easy-listening, easy-believing gospel. By the time I went to college, even hearing it would bring on a visceral reaction inside of me, almost a fight-or-flight response. Over the past decade, the reasons for this reaction have become a bit clearer.
Why I Just Can’t Do It Anymore
It’s derivative of mainstream pop music.
In the 1960s, Leonard Bernstein said that perhaps five percent of the pop music explosion had something of value to say, giving this Brian Wilson masterpiece as an example. After fifty years, that percentage is likely lower, because of the exponential increase in output. And because the Christian music industry is committed to christianized versions of popular forms instead of true artistry, its creative value is even lower. Simpy put: it’s mostly unremarkable garbage.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean abstaining from the rest of culture.
Just because something is secular doesn’t mean it’s bad. And parents, you know that objectionable stuff you’re worried about your kids hearing, well, I’m sorry to say it’s going to happen. They will come into contact with all of it. The more restrictive you are, the more they will push back. So instead of requiring your children to only listen to “Christian” music, teach them to interact with the broader culture. Especially as they get closer to adulthood, help them become responsible music consumers.
Support outside of church carries over into the church.
The industry relies on the money it makes outside the church. Buying the music for your own enjoyment only increases its presence in the church. Corporate worship has become the primary showcase for the industry’s product. The only way to stop that is to cut of the cash flow. Stop giving the worship industry your money, and it will die. Keep it up, and it will control the worship gathering.
It perpetuates lame, bogus, or just bad theology.
Even if the music replaces secular content with spiritual content, it’s not necessarily edifying. Honestly, most of the theology I learned from the contemporary Christian music was anecdotal, at best, and had to be unlearned. It could make me feel good things about Jesus, but it can’t form a theology that will carry you through a life of faith in an ugly world.
A Few Alternatives to Contemporary Christian Music
If you still find contemporary Christian music a hard habit to break for you and your family, here are a few suggestions for filling the time.
Children (and adults) deserve exposure to the classics. Begin with the instrumental works of Bach, Vivaldi, and Mozart. You might find it’s actually a nice cleanse from the heavy carbs of commercial pop music.
Other pop music.
It’s easier these days than ever before. Carefully select popular music for your enjoyment. Explore many different genres and time periods. Instead of feasting on the vague, feel good Christianity claimed by the Christian music industry, allow your faith to be formed by Holy Scripture, prayer, liturgy, and hymnody.
Turn off the music from time to time. Refuse to allow such a great gift to be relegated to background filler. Return to the present moment. Connect with your loved ones through meaningful conversations. Allow yourself the gift of silence. Passive music consumption has become an epidemic, not unlike obesity. Give your brains a rest, and save music more for times of active listening and engagement.