I didn’t grow up listening to Christian music. My dad is a rocker and I grew up listening to classic rock, alternative and pop–while country and folk music were banned. (Don’t worry, I discovered my country/folk niche later on in life.) When my Dad discovered Christian music when I was in late elementary school, he bought me two cassettes- Point of Grace, “The Great Divide,” and DC Talk’s Jesus Freak (obviously). I liked it, and continued my collection later in junior high with Jars of Clay and Switchfoot, because they were crossover artists and I lived for alternative music in the 90s. I’m grateful for the breadth of knowledge about music history that I gained growing up with a musically-proficient parent. But I’ll be the first to admit, it made me a bit of a music snob. I’m selective about what I listen to, and when I like an artist, I become an ardent supporter. I’m basically a one-woman social media street team. I take it seriously.
So when I turn on Christian radio in 2014 and hear, “In the Light,” by DC Talk, which came out in 1995, I cringe. My theory on this is that Christian radio is so afraid of, “secular,” songs that they have to fill time with songs that are 2o years old, since they’re, “safe for the whole family.” I don’t want to promote these artists all over social media. I actually often feel a little bit embarrassed about the music they’re making. I just can’t get on board. Even with much of the new stuff. I just don’t connect with it. It doesn’t make me feel. It doesn’t change how I feel about God. It doesn’t feel authentic. It feels commercialized, except for a solely Christian audience. It doesn’t make me want to worship. It makes me want to change the station.
I once heard it said that Christian music was never intended to be for Christians. But today, that’s the only people it’s for.
From years of being involved in Young Life, then attending Bethel University, and now working for a church, despite my love/hate relationship with it, I’ve acquired a decent library of Christian music. Obviously, I don’t hate all Christian music, otherwise I wouldn’t own any. Over the last several years, even while working for Eagle Brook, I haven’t listened to much Christian music. KTIS is a preset in my car, but 99% of the time I skate past it on my way to 89.3 The Current or let’s be real- KDWB because it’s the McDonalds of radio stations. I spend a lot of time alone in my car. I live far away from mostly everything right now, so music is my constant companion. Car singing, my therapy.
On a particularly drawn-out trip around the Twin Cities metro one evening last week, I was listening to a playlist on shuffle. That night, my heart hurt. A week from today is the one-year anniversary of Christie’s passing. And I’ve been feeling the grief in a new way over the last month or so. There have been several nights that are dark, cold, and I can’t shake a heavy feeling from my chest. I want to cry, but why? I just feel so sad. So sad. And it’s all I can think about. As this playlist shuffled, David Crowder’s song, “Shadows,” came on. My hand immediately reached for my iPhone to switch the song. It’s my gut reaction to a Christian song I’ve heard 1,000 times. But I felt too bummed out and worn out to go through with it. I didn’t have the resolve to care. So I let it play. And suddenly, a song I’ve heard 1,000 times took on new meaning. And I hit repeat. 1,000 times.
The song talked about the waves of light and shadows we experience in life. Oh the joy, and oh the sorrow. OH the sorrow. I know sorrow, now. I don’t think I did before last year. I knew deep sadness. But sorrow is different. Yet will he bring, dark from light, Yet will he bring, day from night. When darkness falls on us, we will not fear, we will remember, when all seems lost, when we’re thrown and we’re tossed, we’ll remember the cost, we’re resting in the shadow of the cross. I backtracked and played those lines over and over. I needed a reminder that this feeling I was feeling is just a shadow. It’s not the end. It’s not forever. It will lift and I’ll stand directly, “In the Light,” like DC Talk. (Hah…or maybe not exactly like DC Talk, but I had to tie it back in. :))
This is why I love Christian music. And at the same time, I hate it. It feels exclusive, much of it juvenile, commercialized, uninteresting, an abuse of an art form. But then David Crowder comes through my speakers reminding me that there’s hope. And I can’t be mad at him. So even when I think the songs are lame, I have to keep giving them a chance to speak to me. Because God uses some of them to talk to me. And I don’t want to deafen my ear to that.
I’ve started to pick out a few “Christian” artists that I respect for their art–like Audrey Assad and John Mark McMillan. Maybe you have some others you’d like to share? Please do in the comments!
To wrap up, here’s a great new song from John Mark McMillan that I heard for the first time, today. Beautiful, authentic, and I felt it in my heart. (Despite all the crazy dancing and overreactive facial expressions happening behind him…see, I can’t let the hate go. Love/hate. :))