The dividing line between that which is “of God” and that which is “not” cannot and should not be trusted to the Marketplace. But quite often it is.
The Dividing Line
The pastor of a church I recently played in was a self-professed Nine Inch Nails fan. Aimee Mann as well. So, as we talked through the tension between wise shepherding and over-protectiveness, we found a great deal we agreed upon. Still, he had reservations about my playing cover songs for his congregation. He was concerned that I was giving his people license to buy and listen to music that at least has the potential to be socially and philosophically dangerous.
We agreed that no one needed permission to seek out damaging media. Perhaps the goal, then isn’t so much to prevent people from engaging with certain forms of media but teaching ourselves and our communities how to be discerning consumers, listeners, readers etc… Part of that comes in approaching media with a different set of questions. Particularly the question “what can I see of God in this?”
You see, somewhere before this conversation took place, a decision had already been made about what art is beneficial for christian (mostly Protestant) churches. We were only dealing with material on “the other side” of the sacred/profane line. But what criteria was used to determine the sacred or beneficial nature of the music played in his church or mine? It seems to me that line is drawn with the same pen that draws the line between what is sell-able and not. In other words: We sing this song here because it is sung elsewhere or because the artist who wrote it has other successful songs. That’s not a pastoral criteria. It’s a market criteria. In more cases than not, monetary success draws the line.
The Danger of Falling Asleep
That pastor and I were having a conversation about Aimee Mann. That’s to be expected. But does a similar conversation happen regarding songs by Chris Tomlin, Brenton Brown or anyone on the CCLI top 100?* Are these songwriters above such a conversation? Is there need for similar discernment when it comes to church music? After all, these songs are sung repeatedly and memorized by church congregations. The language and imagery in these songs helps shape the way thousands understand the mystery of God. So, what if it’s off? How would we know? Perhaps we’d recognize it in the fruit such art bears.
It’s no secret that the blogosphere (as well as more than a few coffee bars across the US) is choc-full of church leaders lamenting the immobilization or selfish tendencies of far too many congregates. These same church leaders often acknowledge that the machinery of church can not only contribute to but encourage such immobilization and selfishness. If we’re willing to point out the potential dangers of exposure to media, it is vital that we take a more discerning look at art that has likely played a part in lulling many “to sleep in their faith” with repeated blessed assurances that it is well, not only our souls but well with the world, so long as we recognize and acknowledge how He loves us.
When the next hot, church sing-a-long hits the circuit, will it be evaluated? Will it even be thought about? Or will its status as “beneficial” be established the way Truth is established in Stephen Colbert’s world, where once the Market has spoken, it must be true.
I’m finishing Part 2 of this post and will have it up soon.
(The CCLI Top 100 is a list of the 100 most popular songs sung in churches)