Jesus Is NOT My Boyfriend

Jesus Is NOT My Boyfriend February 19, 2006

I am rather afraid that, in actually expressing these thoughts, I am crossing the line. And as you know if you read my blog regularly, my “line” is already pretty close to a rather steep precipice. Yet, I decided from the outset that I would always be honest and transparent on this blog, so here we go:

Call me crazy, but I am starting to think that I am spiritually impaired in some significant way. I hate (and I do not use this word lightly) church music which my friend Carol has fondly labeled, “Jesus is my boyfriend music” and I cannot seem to worship in any way, shape or form while it is being sung or played.

You know what I’m talking about, right?

I’m talking about choruses that a lot of people whom I love dearly and respect deeply like to sing during worship. Some of them are okay, but some . . . some just make my toes curl.

“Why?”, you may ask in confusion. Well, I could go into a long treatise about the theology found in some praise choruses, how much of it is shallow and a lot of it is just plain wrong. Or, I could give you a long explanation of the limited musical credibility many choruses embody (I am not really qualified to do that, but all I am saying is that I could).

But the main thing that bugs me . . . the thing that really bakes my cake . . . is the way so many of these songs make me feel like I am not worshipping but rather that I am attending some sort of aerobics class/dating event.

Witness the words to a song I particularly hate, one which is sung quite often and loved by many. Here are the words:

This is the air I breathe, This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence, living in me.
This is my daily Bread, This is my daily Bread
Your very Word spoken to me.
And I, I’m desperate for you.
And I, I’m lost without You.

(“I’m desperate for you”???!?!?!? People, we’re talking about GOD here . . . the God of the Universe. This is not a note passed to a boyfriend during a 7th grade pre-algebra class.) Yes, these are the thoughts that start going through my head when I hear this song . . . and other songs, even ones with words like this:
What a wonderful Maker
What a wonderful Savior
And how humble your love
With a strength like no other
And the heart of a Father
How majestic your whispers
What a wonderful God.

“How majestic your whispers”?????!?!
Besides not liking the music and the words all the much, well, you know what it’s like when these songs are sung in worship. Very often the person leading them is playing the guitar energetically with eyes closed, looking deeply moved and heart-wrenchingly spiritual.
(When I am present I am usually standing there NOT looking deeply moved and heart-wrenchingly spiritual).
And then, in an act that truly and irrevocably ruins the worship experience for me, the leader yells out something like, “Let’s try that one more time!” or “I’m desperate for you, sing it again!” or “Sing it out louder!”
I am sorry, but all I can think of when I hear something like this in worship is the memory of a twice-weekly aerobics class I attended with my mom when I was in high school. It was a whole hour of jumping around and sweating to “The Eye of the Tiger” with the leader yelling out things like (you guessed it), “Let’s try that one more time!”
Needless to say this is not a fond memory of mine.

So whenever a worship experience like this happens to me, as it did this past week, I start to feel a little, well . . . inadequate. Could it be that I am missing some very critical piece of spiritual DNA, the piece that makes it possible to worship God while someone is singing, “I’m desperate for you”?
This bothers me, you see, because when I sneakily look around the room while songs like this are being sung, all I see are people with eyes closed, swaying peacefully, hands open and extended, almost like they are in some kind of deeply meaningful spiritual trace.
Which does NOT cause me to worship God but instead causes me to lament my own inadequacies and go back to humming “The Eye of the Tiger” in my head.
This is terrible! I know it! I can’t imagine what could possibly have gone wrong in utero to have left me in this situation. But the fact remains, I just cannot worship when I hear Jesus is my boyfriend music because, well, because Jesus is NOT my boyfriend. God to me is mysterious . . . not distant, very close, but never something so familiar that a relationship can be described the same way I expressed eternal love for Scott Baio and plastered his picture from Teen Beat all over my locker in 9th grade.
The thing is, I am, sadly, no longer in love with Scott Baio. But, I hope Jesus has my heart forever (and ever and ever).
All of us approach God differently and I suppose I can grudgingly admit to understanding (kind of) how some people worship to Jesus is my boyfriend music. In fact, God revealed to each one of us in just the way that speaks very deeply to our hearts is something to truly celebrate.
But I do want to say this: if I am going to sing “Forever and ever and ever” in church it had better be in the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah . . . or I expect to get credit for going to the gym.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • heather

    hi. i don’t know you but just happened across your blog…i hope you will take this as a respectful comment…i just think you’re missing something really great…some great, romantic, not fluffy, ooey gooey, but real, deep, mysterious love in relationship to Jesus. Are we not desperate for Him…his presence, his love, his forgiveness, his Spirit, his faithfulness, his concern…i think the problem is not that we’re comparing Jesus to our idea of romantic love but that we think He is comparable to it…he is greater than it, but not completely different from it…He does after all call us his bride and say we’re the apple of his eye…He calls Himself the Lover of our soul and wants us to be people after his own heart…oh well, that’s my spill…i did enjoy your candid thoughts, by the way…

  • A. Lin

    Amen! I am right there with you on the lack of theology in the praise choruses. I endure them at my church, but I cannot wait until we sing those hymns that pack the theology in.

    Alas! Even hymns can be boyfriend songs: “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses….” However, I take my chances that there is a good, solid, theological hymn somewhere in the service when I attend my local church.

    People have told me that it is the praise music that attracts new attendees to worship. I don’t know if that rings true. I do know that there currently seems to be a shift into respecting the hymns. I guess I will forever be on the side of hymns having grown up with them. It does provide a good repertoire when I am singing to my infant son–I can sing to him for almost two hours using just the first verse of various (and I do mean various) hymns.

  • Soren

    Amy, I’m with you on this.

    I can’t stand these new services organized around a “worship team”. I feel nothing and I wonderwhat on earth could be going on in other people’s hearts (and minds).

    However, there is wonderful “God is my lover” poetry and hymns in most of the major religions. Song of Solomon and some Psalms. The Muslims have Rumi (made more edgy by no gender markings on pronouns). Hindus have the entire bhakti tradition (Nammalvar is great).

    I grew up in Chicago, and there’s a Grammy winning jazz musician, Kurt Elling. He dropped out of the University of Chicago’s Divinity School. He was studying the history of religion. Especially live, his, very romantic, songs are interrupted by him reciting mystic’s devotional poems that are even quite sexual. (St. John of the Cross appears to be his favorite)

    I find the new “worship team” service (and even tradition) to be kind of soulless. It doesn’t reach the ecstatic state of the “God is my Lover” stuff. And it is theologically shallow, as you say.

    But this shouldn’t mean that we only have an intellectual service. There’s a reason that in St. Anselm’s Proslogion, you start with understanding and illumination and proceed to love. But the love is not the cheap love of the WB and the Gilmore girls. And the “worship team” guys don’t seem to get that. It’s probably not an accident that so many of them are in their 20s .

  • Quotidian Grace

    Preach it, sister! I first heard the “Jesus is my Boyfriend” moniker from my twenty-something daughters who really, really hate praise music. Almost as much as their mother.

  • Amanda Butler

    It might not be right for the choir or the congregation, but I’d be interested in the theology of Johnny Cash’s religious songs, particularly those he wrote himself.

    Also—

    Counting only those services I’ve personally attended, the modern or untraditional worship technique that churned my stomach the most was projecting onto a video screen above the altar the flagellation scene from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ during communion.

    I never did go back to that church: the people were friendly, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be welcomed into their fellowship.

  • Leslee

    Just wanted to say Hi. First time visiting your blog, and I like what you have to say and your honesty. I’ve never really thought of the worship music sounding like “my boyfriend is Jesus” music, but I will stop and listen next time. My favorite songs tend to be the ones I can find directly from the scripture, I’m not good a memorizing verses, but when they’re already in a song… that helps.

  • Will

    Hi Amy

    WoW. I didn’t know about this hymns out their in some of this church. I know for shore that if we had to sing this music you said. That I know I wood hum “GOD LOVE ALL OF HIS LITTLE CHILDREN”. I wooded be able to get me to sing it if my choir gives me a free latte… or maybe? Your so right Amy say what is on your mind and that a good thing. That one of the thing about Baptist church I like is “YOU CAN SAID THAT” do you get the picture. But their a line that we know what not to cross but we all call just go up to the side of the line and not cross over it. And not at the price of other people.

    But their many hymns I can say their a lot better then being in love with GOD. I am going to name some.

    COVENTRY CAROL bye bye lully lulla
    Fare Ye Will
    “Laudate Dominum” O praise Jehovah
    Gloria (From the 12th Mass)
    Now to Praise the Name of Jesus
    The last the not less JESUS, JOY OF MAN’S DESIRING

    On the bye bye lully lulla I got a copy of it from one of Calvary service I had to play it three or four time to hear is that the choir group in Calvary. WoW you don’t have to have a large choir to get a beauty full music together. Amy just what you to know that well my bible study at First Baptist Church I pick in the window of the Choir Practice on a Monday Night. YES A MONDAY NIGHT A FULL CHOIR. I know people have their own life to lead. But WOW!!! A full choir on a Monday night. But for my “Jesus Is NOT My Boyfriend” no I don’t think that’s my cup of tea. I hope I didn’t get long winded like one of my friend said.

    Your friend
    Will

  • Bad Alice

    Oh, my toes frequently curl over contemporary praise music. To me it sounds sappy, saccharine, simplistic, shallow, mind-numbing–and the music itself just sucks. I go to a church where this is all they play (and a Messianic Jewish form of it–singing it in Hebrew doesn’t make it any better), and everyone swoons, hands uplifted. I don’t get it. Never will. If it has to be contemporary, I’d rather sing U2’s “Gloria,” which besides actually being musical expresses longing and surrender better than anything I’ve heard from the Christian praise set. But, in fact, I would be content with hearing the Psalms chanted, as I did recently at an Episcopal church. Beautiful.

  • Caroline Armijo

    I really hated to sway in elementary school as part of our annual performances. So I definitely can’t imagine that being forced to do that as part of church service. No powerpoints, flip charts, nor overheads for me. I prefer singing along to what comes out of the hymnal. Besides, how else are we supposed to first learn to read music?

    As for popular Christian music, I really don’t know a lot (actually, any) of the current Christian bands. Instead I enjoy being surprised by bands through a meaningful song tucked amongst their repertoire, like Johnny Cash, U2, Emmy Lou Harris, etc. For some reason, the songs seem much more appealing and feel more genuine to me.

  • Jim

    Scott Baio?

  • LutheranChik

    Tell the truth, Amy!

    As others have noted, I don’t think the problem is in using the language of lovers to describe our relationship to God, but rather the trivializing of this relationship — as you say in your post, like passing notes to your sweetie in junior high. I’d also suggest that the God-is-my-Lover theme, while indeed having an ancient and noble pedigree, might not be the best theme for congregational singing. It’s simply too personal and intimate.

  • will smama

    GREAT post… I am right there with you. My hubby calls them 7-11’2. Seven words sung 11 times… and of course you are supposed to increase the tightness of your eyes, the height of your hands and the depth of your sway.’

    blech!

  • Remarkable

    Bethany Dillon.

    You’re All I Need.

    http://www.christianlyricsonline.com/artists/bethany-dillon/all-i-need.html

    ‘Nuff said.

  • Anonymous

    With the many references in scipture to the “bridegroom” and us being the “bride of Christ” contrasted with Song of Solomon, it may not be a stretch to sing such songs in church.
    The songs, while simplistic, are easily memmorized, and many times preferred by the masses over hymns written centuries before now.

    While I personally enjoy an old time hymn, seeing a great deal of teaching in most of them, I do enjoy some of the contemporary music in many of the churches today.

    I will admit that many of the contemporary songs of today may bring out comparrisons to the “bubble gum” music of yesterday, there are still some that contain doctinal teaching wrapped in a song as well as some of the older hymns. If the current music reaches out to those who cannot fathom an older hymn, what is the harm. Many churches currently have more than one service, one being designed for a more traditional approach and another for a more contemporary approach.

    My opinion, for what it’s worth…

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  • Wow. I am soooo with you on this one ;) Borderline theology abounds in contemporary worship songs, and things like this never sat well with me.