Thursday, May 23, 2013

Meditation By Rock

Original Post from EO:

At my very first summer camp, I heard DC Talk’s Jesus Freak playing from the loudspeakers before chapel. I didn’t know what it was, I’d never heard anything like it before, and as soon as I got back I asked my mom to find out. Fast forward to Christmas morning of that year: I awoke to find a few unexpected things sitting on top of the expected books and t-shirts I had received from Santa. There were, first of all, two small, thin objects, wrapped in paper; on top of them was an object of unfamiliar shape.
It was a CD player. My first CD player. And below it was DC Talk’sIntermission: The Greatest Hits and the O. C. Supertone’s Loud and Clear. I ate breakfast that day with my headphones wrapped around my ears (pretty sure there’s video testifying to that). Although that was years and years ago, I have no doubt that to this day, they remain among my most-listened-to CDs.
I grew up listening to Christian music. I grew up on DC Talk, O.C. Supertones, Relient K, Switchfoot, Toby Mac, and many, many others.  I grew up listening to them. I drove to school with Jesus Freak ringing in my ears (as well as the ears of anyone unfortunate enough be within earshot of my car), and I sang along to I Am Understood while doing chores. And to this day, every time I listen to Wilderness, I remember that it was on my very first CD.
Of course, I didn’t understand many of the songs when I first listened to them. I didn’t understand that DC Talk made a decision to emphasize the action, commitment, and vitality of love in an age that glorified (and continues to glorify) lust. I didn’t fully understand the wonder of the Incarnation and it’s impact on the problem of evil when I first heard it sung about by the Supertones.
But I understood enough, and I grew in my understanding. Christian music has its detractors, especially in the more intellectual of Christian circles. But ever since that first Christmas, I’ve grown up listening to music that challenged me, that caused me to ask questions, to think, to wonder, to growI’ve listened to theology for my entire life, and who I am is owed, in large part,  to the music I was blessed with.
I will give you just one example, although I feel as though I have dozens. I have written quite a bit on Job and Chesterton’s  The Man who was Thursday, and all of that started with the very first time I read Thursday. The book had an incredible impact on me, an impact that persists to this day. Whenever I think of suffering or theodicy, I do so through the lens of Chesterton. And that is, in large part, because of my music.
I read Thursday a couple of years into my time at college. And then I read, for the first time, the Anarchist complaint against God, where the Anarchist proclaims, “I do not curse you for being cruel… I curse you for being safe! You sit in your chairs of stone, and have never come down from them… Oh, I could forgive you everything, you that rule all mankind, if I could feel for once that you had suffered for one hour a real agony such as I–“. I knew what this complaint meant. It was not new to me. It was not unexpected, or unprecedented, or unheard of. Indeed, I had been thinking about it literally for years, ever since I’d gotten my first CD, where I listened to the Supertones ask “God, do you really understand what it’s like to be a man? Have you ever felt the weight of loving all the things you hate? Have you struggled, have you worried, how can you sympathize?”
And when the greatest of the accused defends himself with a simple question, with a “commonplace text,” that too was not unprecedented: It was merely the maturation and growth of the Supertone’s realization that “the wilderness” is an actual wilderness that God himself has endured.
There are a dozen more examples, of Christology and Atonement and Theodicy and Apologetics, where my studies built upon the foundation of years of meditation-by-rock (or ska). These are only seeds… but they were planted early, and they were watered often. Every time I thought, really about what I was listening to (and often singing along to), I was meditating on some aspect of Christianity. Is it a viable substitute for actual learning, for meditation and prayer and Bible reading? Of course not. But as seeds, as reminders, as thought-provokers? Christian music is valuable indeed.
Follow-up post written here:

Yes, it's a reboot of an older post of mine, but it has a few new things to say.

I've heard a lot of the critiques of Christian music--from my good friend and archnemesis Alishia Lawman asking if the music had accepted Jesus into its heart, to the more serious accusation from many people at Biola of generally crappy quality compared to secular music. Bad Catholic's "Five Reasons to Kill Christian Music" is possibly the only post of his that I can absolutely disagree with on all counts.

Because at bottom, most critiques of "Christian Music" are actually critiques of bad Christian Music. They critique the faulty theology of particular songs, or the inferior musical or lyrical quality of certain songs. They critique the act of calling it "Christian Music," or they say that by labeling it as such, it makes certain implications about music that doesn't qualify itself as "Christian."

These critiques are all fairly easy to counter. Many songs espouse completely orthodox theology, and many songs actually go deeper into that theology than you might hear on a Sunday morning. Many songs are objectively good musical compositions. And the fact of the matter is, labels are nothing more than shorthand, for better and for worse, so the last accusation falls flat on its face (except for the somewhat silly Christians who object to music not on the grounds of lewdness or coarseness, but merely on the grounds of it not being Christian... I'll give you guys that one).

So what kind of Christian Music am I talking about in the above post? What is the label short for? Here it is: "Music containing lyrics that attempt to explicitly express specifically Christian theology without compromising the musical quality of the song as a whole."

I gave just one example in the above post at EO (here it is again).  I'll give you one more:

Anna and I read a book, called The Fault in our Stars, by John Green (one of Anna's Youtubers that she watches regularly). Green's novels are notorious (to me) for taking place in a twisted, hopeless world, where the protagonists eventually arrive at a Christian hope without first passing through Christianity, an impressive feat indeed. The Fault in our Stars follows two teenagers, both diagnosed with terminal cancer, as they fall in love, and it ends (spoiler alert) with one of them dying. The theme, throughout the whole book, is that of an explicitly uncaring universe, rivaling that of Farewell to Arms. The universe catches people up in its gears, grinds them up, and spits them out, all without caring one little bit.

And then, just a couple days after we read the book, we were driving somewhere listening (as we always do in my car) to my Christian Music. Today, it was Supertones day, and as were listening to Like No One Else, Anna suddenly leaned forward and said, "This answers it... this is the answer to The Fault in our Stars." It was the bridge, which says,
"Every time I shed a tear, it matters, it matters,
Every time I'm cold with fear, it matters, it matters,
When I got a broken heart, it matters, it matters,
Every time I fall apart, it matters, it matters,
When I think I'm all alone, on the road or when at home,
Every time I have to sneeze, every single breath I breathe,
When I'm in a dentist's chair, it matters, it matters,
Anywhere and everywhere, it matters, it matters."

Anna was right. This is the answer to The Fault in our Stars. This is the faith that defies the nihilism of the honestly atheist world. This is the faith that defies and comforts those who insist that nobody cares, that nobody understands. This is Christian theology, put to song, and if you think it shouldn't have been, then I want to fight you.