Friday, November 28, 2008

Light of the World -- Lighten up Already!

Lighten up Already!
by Timothy Moranville

Over the last couple of weeks, I've had some enlightening moments, and I'd like to share them.

The first came when I was watching a re-run of South Park (yes, I watch it!). It was the "Christian Rock Hard" episode.

For those of you who haven't seen it yet, watch it here: (WARNING: there is some profanity in this episode).

If you've already seen this episode, you might be wondering why I would want to talk about it. First of all, because it is a satire, and most satires have basis in reality. Cartman's storyline is especially humorous because his whole notion of Christian music is that if you mention Jesus and God enough times in the song, it doesn't matter how terrible the music really is. He figures that Christians will buy anything labeled "Christian" music, and then proceeds to make a platinum album. His whole approach to songwriting is to take old love songs, put Jesus and God in at the appropriate points, and presto- platinum album. Granted, most Christian music has more lyrical meat than the fluff "Faith+1" puts out. But, haven't you ever noticed that a lot of the popular Christian music tends to be ethereal and "Heaven focused"?

Second of all, this episode pokes fun at the Christian recording industry. In the scene where "Faith+1" are meeting with the executives, one exec expresses reservations about Cartman's desire to make Christian music. He wants to make sure that the band's mission is about "missions," not about money. I think it is an interesting scene because I think it is somewhat flawed. Christian music (and entertainment in general) is still a business, and as such, profit is an underlying motive. If it was truly just about the music and mission, wouldn't every church choir and soloist in the country have a Christian recording contract? Believe me, there are some decent singers out there who would be great at the "missionary" aspect of Christian music who will never have a CD pressed or single recorded because they're not as marketable as other acts. The end of the episode especially hits home in the culture war arena (there's the tie-in to CFS). When Cartman is ecstatic that he's sold 1 million records, he throws a big party to celebrate his platinum success. He is flabbergasted when the chairman of the Christian recording industry gives him a "Myrrh" record. The chairman explains that, "in the Christian recording industry, we have gold, frankincense, and myrrh records. But, you can still go double myrrh." How true it is that the Christian recording industry has established itself as a separate industry? There is a Grammy for Christian music, but the Christian recording industry actually has its own awards- the Dove awards. The Doves actually have as many (if not more) categories as the Grammys, but are exclusively for Christian music. It's almost as if it would be immoral for a Christian band to win a Grammy for anything other than the specific Christian/Gospel categories. Granted, I don't know all of the politics that go into making the Grammy nominations and winners, but if a Christian band was as popular as any other band and was nominated in a general Grammy category, would the Christian music industry be okay with that?

While we're on the topic of music, here was my other enlightening moment.

I was on my way to work listening to the hard rock station and the Guns 'N Roses song "Paradise City" came on. Most GNR songs are immediately recognizable because Slash's guitar riffs are so distinct. As I listened to the lyrics, I realized that they were almost random (see them here: There is very little meaning I can decipher in them. They're not important to me anyway. What I really love about the song (and all GNR songs) is Slash's guitar playing. As a kid growing up, I had to sneak away to my bedroom and listen to "Satanic rock music" on my headphones. I knew my soul was going to be condemned forever, but Hendrix, Clapton, Slash, Eddie Van Halen, and Joe Perry (the list really goes on forever!) were such superior guitar players to the likes of ... I can't even name a Christian guitar player without cheating by searching on the internet. That's my point. The greatest guitar players in the world are "non-Christian." I can remember as a kid being told that listening to the aforementioned (brief) list of guitar "gods" was going to corrupt me. Really? The "Devil's music" isn't actually in the music. The lyrics are what separate Christian and secular bands. Satan isn't going to jump out of a Les Paul or Marshall half-stack and suck my soul to the depths of Hell. Instruments and instrumental music conveys moods, but without lyrics, there's nothing wrong with music. Think about it- if I could play guitar as well as Slash and recorded an all instrumental album, what difference would it make to Christians or non-Christians whether I believed in Jesus or not? Well, to the Christian, it probably would be a big deal. To the non-Christian, my ability to rock hard would be the most important aspect. That's always intrigued me about the whole music scene in general- the fact that Christians care more about the status of the artist's soul than their ability to play.

I guess my overall point is this: we need to lighten up and have fun- especially with music.

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