As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, one of the primary reasons that I believe in God is because of music. There is something about the way that music moves me that connects me to that which is bigger than me. I have found this to be true, regardless of genre. Music does not have to be specifically Christian to touch me. In fact, some of my most spiritual moments have occurred while listening to music that is not Christian (every time I listen to this piece by Aaron Copland, I am assured of the divine).
Because of this, I’m sometimes disappointed by faith music. Surely if I can connect with God through secular music, I should be able to find him during sacred music, right?
One common complaint that I hear from those outside of the Church is that much modern Christian music is simply emotionally manipulative. Fast song to get you up and engaged, mid-tempo song to bring you into a more reflective state of mind, and finally a slow, repetitive song that will put you in an almost trance-like state that makes you feel like you’re having a moment. Rinse, repeat.
Of course, I want to yell that this is not how it works and how dare you suggest that it is!
But yesterday I was texting with Rich about a piece that we were working up for Sunday, and it struck me just how manipulative we can be.
The piece we were looking at is a hymn that has been reworked to make it a bit more accessible to a modern audience. Now, I have no problem with this. Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve seen a number of hymns successfully modernized, while maintaining the integrity of the original piece. As someone who grew up in a traditional, mainstream church, I have loved seeing a number of hymns that I know from my childhood redone in fresh way. I think musical evolution is a beautiful thing and I fully embrace that. Sometimes changing up the music of something that we’re very familiar with can allow us to rediscover an old lyric that we’ve not noticed for a while.
However, that was not the case here. In this instance, the hymn had been stripped down to a single verse and chorus. Where the original had numerous chord changes, this one had only four changes for the whole song. And while that alone is not necessarily a bad thing, this had no interesting movement in the accompaniment that allowed it to be musically interesting. The only thing that changes in the 4 minutes or so of the piece is that the vocals become more intense (a few additional harmonies and increased volume) and there are some additional synth pads added to the mix.
But it works. You can listen to this piece and be easily lost in it.
I hate that.
I hate it because we should be better than that. We should be able to create new music and if we use old music, we should do something interesting with it, not make it less interesting. We should be allowed to sing songs on Sunday that aren’t explicitly Christian without worrying that we’re finding God somewhere other than in our narrowly defined parameters.
And I hate it because it gives legitimacy to the idea that we don’t actually meet God during worship music, but that we’re simply emotionally manipulated into thinking that we meet God there. It’s frustrating because God can certainly use that as a vehicle to reach someone, but when it’s so obvious in its schemes, it makes it far more difficult to suss out being led by the Spirit and being led by the composer.
I read a lot about our Christian witness and how it’s damaged. We’re not tough enough on the homosexuals. We drink when we’re out to dinner. We have friends of the opposite sex. We watch the wrong television shows.
But what I have found over and over in my interactions with those outside of the faith, one of the biggest turn-offs is when we’re not honest. It may not bring people around to belief, but when we’re inauthentic, it’s a more direct affront. And if we can’t manage authenticity in our church services, how can we display that in our daily interactions?
Fortunately, I think there is still a fair amount of really top-notch music being made. But in our services, we need to start to consider singing about a few more things. We might need to sing about anger. Or doubt. Or families. Or friendship. Or grief.
If we want our services to be relevant to those attending, we need to be able to address all aspects of our lives. Music is a profound medium. Let’s stop using it as a manipulative device, and allow it to be a means to connect with all aspects of our relationship with God and with one another.
Have you ever sensed yourself being manipulated by worship music? How do you sort out what is real? What musical selections would you like to see as a part of your next worship service?