You can’t be bummed and be Christian. Or, at least, that might be your takeaway listening to contemporary Christian music.
According to Leah Libresco, writing for the website FiveThirtyEight, Christian pop is (in her words) “unrelentingly cheerful” these days, where nary a discouraging word is heard. Lyrics are chipper and upbeat, extolling “love,” “joy” and “strength” far more often than the flip sides of those words: “fear,” “sorrow,” “weakness”. “Grace,” for instance, is used about 2.5 times more than the more downbeat ‘sin.” The music itself tends to be loaded with ear-wormy hooks and toe-tapping melodies.
Listening to contemporary Christian radio can feel like constant, sonic parade of smiley faces and cotton candy. And sometimes, it makes me want to listen to a little death metal.
It’s not that I hate Christian music. I like it—or, at least, I like a good bit of it. And my wife Wendy, loves it. Her car radio is pretty much locked in place to our local contemporary Christian music station, and I’m sure she sings along to everything when I’m not in the car.
This all makes sense, because Wendy is an unabashedly happy person. I, alas, am not. And that can, at times, cause some dissonance with how I interact with contemporary, evangelical Christianity—particularly as that evangelical Christianity presents itself to the wider world. Sometimes, all this unabashed musical pep can make me feel like I’m doing this Christianity thing all wrong.
But if I am, apparently I have company.
Libresco quotes Richard Beck, an author and psychology professor at Abilene Christian University:
Beck … identifies one group of Christians who are particularly poorly served by uniformly upbeat themes in worship: “Winter Christians,” a group that Beck describes as having a relationship with God that is more touched by pain, distance or doubt. They can’t recognize themselves in the “Walt Disney-fication” of contemporary Christian music, Beck said, and when their experiences with Christianity aren’t reflected in hymns, they tend to assume that there’s something “wrong or diseased about who they are.”
It’s strangely gratifying to know that there’s enough Winter Christians out there to warrant a label.
I don’t know if pain, distance and doubt define my faith experience, but they’ve all been a part of it. And while I like being happy and all, sometimes it can be a little draining. In Winnie-the-Pooh lingo, my emotional makeup is more Eeyore to my wife’s Tigger. And while I envy her positivity, I’m not always able to replicate it.
“I will sing to the Lord all my life,” says the Psalmist in Psalm 104:33. “I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.” And there is, indeed, so much worth praising—so much worth singing about. But there are times when I’m not in that place. And frankly, there are times I don’t want to be.
There aren’t many Christian songs that reflect those times. But there are some. Here’s one of my favorites: