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Thursday, January 2, 2014

"The World" According to Christian Music

Let's talk about "the world."

No I don't mean Earth with its hundreds of diverse languages and cultures, wonders of nature, and oceans that cover 70%. I mean "the world" as defined by evangelical Christians: "the world" is the stuff in the world that is not Christian.

Let's see what contemporary Christian music (CCM) has to say about non-Christians and "the world":

[Disclaimer: I actually love a lot of these songs. I'm putting together this blog post and I have so much nostalgia and happiness listening to these songs. I'm not saying "oh these songs are bad"- I'm saying that, taken together, CCM presents a really skewed view of non-Christians.]

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1. The world is an enemy we must fight against. People will persecute us and tempt us to do bad things.

"What will people think when they hear that I'm a Jesus freak? / What will people do when they find that it's true?"

"Hang on, good girl / you're not the only one. / Be strong, good girl / when the pressure comes. / When they try to bring you down / you'll be glad you stood your ground / so just hang on."

"Don't pressure me / Don't push me too far / I wanna do right with all my heart / Don't pressure me / What about your self-respect? / I'm not like that / I'm not like that."

"Tempting voices are calling you / It might be fine / A sight to behold / But all that glitters is not gold / Still those voices are calling you / All you're missin' is a heartache." 

"Take back your free advice I won't accept / I will not play those games / God is not a secret to be kept."

"Stop right there. / Suddenly temptation's flying / everywhere / and you think you got me down / But think again / I'm not your friend / It's plain to see / I'm not your property."

Christian music has SO MUCH to say about "standing strong" against the world. It's assumed that OF COURSE people will judge us Christians and say we're stupid or crazy or whatever. OF COURSE they'll tell us to shut up about God. And OF COURSE non-Christians will be a bad influence and try to get us to sin- by which I mean have sex. (You know, that's what all guys do anyway, according to purity culture.)

I'll speak for myself and say music like this helped me imagine that life as a Christian would be an adventure, with a lot of excitement as I faced attacks from those who didn't like Jesus. And it's true that sometimes that happens. Temptation is real, and there are people who are hostile to Christianity. But... seriously though, how much persecution is CCM's target audience facing? Maybe we just want to imagine our lives are more exciting than they are.

Being a Christian isn't about an "us vs them" fight. It should be about loving others. Maybe we're emphasizing the wrong thing.

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2. Non-Christians need us to help them find Jesus/hope/love.

"Does anybody hear her? / Can anybody see? / Or does anybody even know she's going down today? / Under the shadow of our steeple / with all the lost and lonely people / searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me."

"Shine, make 'em wonder what you got / make 'em wish that they were not / on the outside looking bored."

"The world will wonder why / when you and I / will shine his light / and hearts discover life / when we decide / to let ours go. / We've got to give it up / and live the love that opened our eyes. / Live your life / The world will wonder why." 

"Going through this life / Looking for angels / People passing by / Looking for angels / Walking down the street / Looking for angels / Everyone I meet / Looking for angels."

"Don't let your lights go down / Don't let your fire burn out / Somewhere somebody needs a reason to believe. / Why don't you rise up now / Don't be afraid to stand out / That's how the lost get found."

"It's all about saving grace / all about living love / being Jesus to those he came to save / sharing life / giving our own away / It's all about serving God / all about saving grace."

So here's the thing: I really do believe that God came to earth and lived and died and rose on the 3rd day, and he loves EVERYONE and in the future he'll right all the wrongs in this world. And you know, I think that's pretty awesome, and I like to tell people. And there are people who are looking for God, and would be happy to hear and believe. So that's great.

But if people hear and don't believe, that's fine. I believe Jesus gives hope and love and all that good stuff, but arguing about it does not give anyone hope or love. They don't have to believe it. God still loves them and blesses them, even if they don't realize it's from him.

And that's where evangelical Christianity would disagree with me. Because, apparently, everyone's going to hell if they don't believe the right things about God. It's not fine.

So back to the Christian music. I partly agree with those songs- because seriously, the message of Christianity is freaking awesome and I want people to have hope and love and Jesus. But the problem is that it's assumed EVERY non-Christian is hopeless and needs to discover Christianity. I don't believe that anymore. Not everyone needs to be a Christian. If people say they're fine then how about we believe them?

(Well if I wasn't kicked out of evangelical Christianity before, I certainly am now...)

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3. If said non-Christians are poor/ in need, we should follow Jesus' example by loving/helping them.

"Give me your eyes for just one second / give me your eyes so I can see / everything that I keep missing / give me your love for humanity."

"I saw the face of Jesus / in a little orphan girl / she was standing in the corner / on the other side of the world."

"What if there's a bigger picture? / What if I'm missing out? / What if there's a greater purpose / I could be living right now? / Outside my own little world."

"I wanna be your hands / I wanna be your feet / I'll go where you send me / I'll go where you send me." 

"He made the lame walk and the dumb talk / and he opened blinded eyes to see / that the sun rises on his time / yet he knows our deepest desperate need / And the world waits while his heart aches / to realize the dream / I wonder what life would be like if we let Jesus live through you and me."

This is super important! Yes! Let's love people like God does. Seriously, that's what Christianity should be about.

So in general I like these kinds of songs. But they're missing the part where we treat others as full human beings, instead of one-dimensional "poor people" that need our pity and our help and then we can all congratulate ourselves on being such good Christians.

Because everybody, including "the poor", is made in God's image and is therefore valuable and has something to offer others. "Helping the poor" shouldn't be a one-way thing. Let "the poor" speak for themselves, and maybe those who are helping can learn something.

And honestly, these songs still seem very me-centered.

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So. In the land of CCM, non-Christians are either enemies or they are in need of our help.

Which is why it blew my mind when I realized that there are a lot of important things I can learn from my non-Christian friends. They're my equals. Christians are not above anyone else.

And I've always said "Christians aren't better than anyone else," but it was so difficult to live that way, back when I believed non-Christians automatically go to hell. Because getting you to believe in Jesus was THE MOST IMPORTANT THING, far far more important than friendships and genuinely listening to people. No, I listened only to determine how best to persuade them to agree with me. Wow, that's rude, right? But what else could I do? They were going to hell otherwise.

There's no time for "well can't we all learn things from each other." That's nice, but PEOPLE ARE GOING TO HELL.

So that's one reason I don't believe in hell any more- because it's not loving to treat people that way, only interested in persuading them about God. Belief in hell gets in the way of loving others- so it can't be right.

Like I said, Christians aren't better than anyone else. But CCM presents a distorted view of "the world," only portraying non-Christians as bad influences or hopeless and needy people.

The world's not like that.

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This post is part of the #PlanetCCM synchroblog, about how contemporary Christian music affected our lives.

2 comments:

  1. "And honestly, these songs still seem very me-centered."

    You definitely touched on the major themes. My biggest beef with Contemporary Christian Music is the unassuming sentence you wrote right there.

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  2. I think I'd have to agree on the self-centered part. I can't stand most CCM BECAUSE of how self-centered it is. It's not even self-centered as in "I need to become a stronger, better person", which I think is acceptable. It's kind of... bragging.

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