It is the conversation that runs in circles, and it is the question I am asked over and over – is Christian pop music good? Is it rotting our teeth? How did we get from the mournful cries of the Psalms to songs that make Jesus sound like our boyfriend?
It is a conversation that has sent me spinning for years, frustrated at how the message of Jesus became safe and popular when the message of Jesus was this subversive radical way of living that turned the tables on everything – it outraged leaders and unearthed enough anger to kill. The way of Jesus is anything but safe, anything but comfortable; all of the insiders were called out, all of the outsiders called holy and blessed. So when we hear a song about holding Jesus’ hand or just having a great day staring into His big blue eyes, it can send chills down my spine.
But I have done it myself – made music that sings about The All that could easily be interpreted for a lover or some close friend. And I wrote songs like that because our ideas of God have evolved - for centuries we waded through the idea of this Sky God, this ominous figure up above looking down on our every move. In comes the “Jesus is my homeboy” idea that took this unpopular judgmental being and made Him our friend, which was needed and incredibly healing for some. Suddenly people feel this present God, a God who joins us in our humanity. Church music starts changing it’s tone and it feels warm and welcoming just like the love songs sung by Adelle or Coldplay. So on one hand it gave voice to God with us, the God who loves us, it breaks the bad guy in the sky idea. And on the other hand it began to create in us this want to have our bands sound like the popular mainstream bands so that God gets more and more popular. The popular God - many want it and think it is a good thing but we don’t’ realize what we give up and what we get in that pursuit. When something is popular it is easy to give up radical thinking, deep transformation, leaning into the ache; easy to take on materialism, self-focus, the language “personal relationship” spreads and personal interpretation becomes a thing. It’s all so personal we lose the Cosmic Christ.
But I get it. I get wanting candy and wanting to feel safe and happy. Life is difficult– on the best days we are just tired from a good days work, taking care of energy-infused children, or going to school all day and our brain just needs something cheerful. On the bad days, we are at our end because of a fight with a friend or spouse or scared because every day is another shooting, another bomb, another violent video released that unleashes more heartbreak, more fear.
So I join in on the happy song at night and dance around the house with my girls because I need to sing something positive to give my heart a break.
I get it.
But I do think Christian pop music is it’s own thing and shouldn’t be the “poster child” for all of music that has Christian themes. Because there are load of bands making music where the lyrics are more like the lament of the Psalms, music that has an ache to it, a sound and lyric that not only acknowledge the complexity, but helps give a resounding voice to it. I have found, sometimes when I try to cover the ache with something positive, it only does that, covers. But when I let my heart plunge into the place I am running from and face it, peace is found. My pain isn’t covered, it is seen and shared. More of this music should exist and be encouraged.
Christian radio doesn’t encourage this because they are a business, a business that has told me and several other friends that our music doesn’t belong on the radio because it will never fit what they are looking for. Streaming services are opening up the reach these others bands have, which is so needed and good. But sadly a lot of those bands won’t be able to keep making the good music they are making because streaming services just don’t pay enough. Though I may disagree with the strategy of Christian radio - having only safe and positive music and not give a voice to something else - it is their business, their choice. But I think they would be surprised at how transformational it could be to give a voice to others as well; sometimes we don’t know how incredibly tasty vegetables are because we have been eating fruit all our life.
So yes, raw honesty is needed. I am a huge believer in sharing our pain because it is where I have felt the most profound moments of my life. Yeah I like candy on certain days and like to shake my ass with the best of them but honesty and truth telling are vital because it helps us heal, helps us connect, makes us human instead of masked pretenders. One person’s honest story can be the medicine for another. To skip out on lament like we find in the Psalms is not only a great disservice, but harmful to the human soul.
“The cure for pain is in the pain” - Rumi