I was probably introduced to music the day my parents brought me home from the hospital a day or two after I was born. My mom, whose father was the choir director of her church as child, loved to listen and sing along to music. Being traditional and Christian as she was; naturally, she mostly sung the classic old hymns that have survived generations and transcended languages. I, however, grew up in Toronto, going to school with people of all different ethnicities, religions, and musical tastes.
At school, I was introduced to the Fugees, Tupac, Nirvana, and Green Day. At home, albums published by the label Hosanna! Music seemed to have exclusive rights to the cassette player as secular music was not permitted in our house. When my mom found a Coolio cassette under my bed she smashed it right in front of me and begged me never to bring that music into her home. Since then I have always struggled to reconcile my faith and love of God with not just my musical taste, but my taste in art in general.
I can’t remember how many sermons I have heard on the subject of secular music, and during my late teen years I was so committed to my faith that I got rid of all the secular music I owned. I have spent the years since trying to rebuild that music collection. The basic premise to most sermons on the subject of music is that music was created by God for his Glory and Satan employs every single person who sings about anything but Jesus to remove that glory from God and should thereby not be given any attention. My problem with this is that it too easily relieves me of having to think critically about what I am listening to.
Christian music, after all, is not an actual kind of music. If I picked up a Chris Tomlin CD and didn’t know anything about his faith, it would probably look for it in the “Easy Listening” or “Adult Contemporary” section at music stores. But since we have been instructed by our pastors and leaders not to think critically about the art we consume, it must be sectioned off into the “religious” sections of music stores probably collecting dust.
When I gave up all my secular music, I tried to find the Christian equivalent of Eminem and though KJ-52 was the obvious choice for being the white rapper of Christian Hip Hop, but his music lacked the lyrical quality and precision of Eminem (expletives notwithstanding). Though I enjoyed worship music and often found comfort in the worship songs of the day, there wasn’t any Christian artist that I felt could relate to the struggles I had faced, and was continuing to face in my life.
Christian art was lying to me. Everything wasn’t alright and it didn’t seem as though it was going to be. My father had left and I was forced into the role of “man of the house” at the age of 12. My mom, sister and I, had been evicted from our apartment and lived in a homeless shelter for a month before starting to rebuild our life without my dad. During this time I went to church every Sunday without fail thanks to my mother unrelenting faith. But there wasn’t any Christian artist that I knew of that was willing to admit to the painful scars life can hand out so mercilessly.
It is the lack of truth in Christian music that bothers me. There is an honesty about life that we are afraid to confront in Christian art.
The Bible is honest about life. In fact, David’s Psalms often remind me of John Mayer. I would go so far as to say that if John Mayer had met David when he wrote that Psalm, David would have been encouraged and found some strength. Take a look at the pain and honesty of David in Psalms 6.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, LORD, how long? …
I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.
Now look at how John Mayer would have replied with the following song of encouragement:
I hate to see you cry
Lying there in that position
There’s things you need to hear
So turn off your tears
Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won’t all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good
I am not implying that you don’t listen to great worship music for moments of personal and congregational worship, nor do I suggest you listen to everything that is out there. I am proposing you stop listening to Christian music, and just listen to music. Music that articulate your fears, insecurities, pain, anger, resentment, and anything else you are suppressing. Christian culture has not adequately set up platforms for these feelings to be communicated and are thereby going unnoticed, and untreated, much the way my pain and anger went unnoticed in the midst of overwhelming circumstance. As believers we have to spend more time listening. Listening to the things we don’t agree with, talking to people who dislike us, taking in things that disagree with us and challenge us.
Will Ramirez is a Burrito enthusiast, and self-proclaimed Pizza connoisseur. He wears Chuck Taylor shoes, and enjoys Chuck Jones cartoons. His hobbies include procrastination and Lucky Charms cereal. He is also Co-Founder and Editor of www.sporttonetwork.com