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Comment: Why I Don't Like Christian Music

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Is there truly such a thing as 'Christian' Music? Or is all music a gift, if it lifts the human soul?

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Highlights

By Deacon Keith Fournier
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
5/5/2009 (1 decade ago)

Published in Music

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - I love Music--always have and always will. At the age of five I fancied myself an Elvis impersonator--crooning the king's music to anyone who would listen at Rocco's Cafe in Dorchester, Massachusetts while my aunt laughed and danced. I even painted my little white bucks blue so that I could sing "Blue Suede Shoes" with authenticity.

I was a lead singer in a high school rock band having taught myself how to play the guitar at the age of thirteen. By fifteen I had written for, performed in and promoted bands. I knew the extraordinary capacity music had to bare the human soul. By the age of seventeen I had written my own music that I would later self record. I lived through my turbulent teenage years searching days from lyric to lyric with rock and contemporary music. To this day I still experience the emotional moods of seasons of my life every time I hear some of the old "counter culture" music of the late sixties and early seventies.

I love all kinds of music--from sultry women rhythm and blues singers--to jazz, contemporary, to the best of the Western tradition's classical treasury. Finally, although I am Boston bred, I have become a Virginian by choice and with it I have expanded my musical taste. My oldest daughter provided my entry into the world of country music. I have moved from hiding my country leanings to actually walking into a store and unapologetically purchasing the latest offerings without apology. However there is one kind of music I don't like. I don't like much of what is often called "Christian" music.

I know this will scandalize some who read these words. But at least hear me out. First, I am a Christian. My relationship with the Lord and my life as a part of His Catholic Church is the most important aspect of my identity, my family and my reason for living. I am also a member of the Catholic clergy and serve at the altar. I absolutely love good worship and liturgical music. My dislike for much of what is called "Christian" music is simple to understand, I question the term itself. I actually do not like the expression. It is sometimes a part of a kind of worldview that separates faith from real life. This kind of an approach sometimes seems to present music that does not have religious words attached as "secular." Interestingly, an entire genre of such music has evolved. It use to be almost exclusively part of evangelical culture but now it is spreading into some contemporary Catholic circles.

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All music is a gift from God if it edifies the human person. It is meant to be enjoyed as a part of the fabric of the human experience. Putting "God words" on a melody does not make it Christian. In fact, sometimes it has the opposite effect leading the listener to believe that Christianity is simply some kind of "holier than thou" club for those who live in a parallel universe--rather than a way for all men and women to reach their highest destiny. Through the Incarnation of the Son of God the entire human experience was transformed. Christians tend to forget the extraordinary depth of that ancient and fundamental truth of our faith.

Christianity is a relationship--with God through his Son in his Spirit--and through Him with one another as a part of His body. We literally live in the Church now--in Christ. In Him we are sent into this world to carry on His redemptive work. No inanimate object or creation of the human person is "Christian". Only persons are capable of having a "relationship" with the Lord. Of course artistic creations such as music can be especially set aside for Him. Creation itself is in a relationship with the Creator. However, it is only human persons who freely embrace an intimate relationship with the Trinity, through Jesus Christ. That is the root meaning of "holy" in the original language--to be set aside for God.

That setting aside of music for Him is why liturgical music was so vitally important (and still should be) throughout the history of the Christian church. However, some of that Church has forgotten what liturgy is or has trivialized its uniqueness. I also find increasingly distasteful some of the "ditties" that have emerged in some of our worship and substitute themselves for the grandeur and majesty befitting solemn worship of the all Holy God. Are they truly fitting sacrifice to the God who made the universe in all of its glory?

The Biblical passages (Old and New Testament) pertaining to music spoke to temple worship or the early Christian liturgical assembly. Of course Christians sang (and yes danced--particularly at weddings like Cana in Galilee) outside of their common worship. Was that music "Christian"? The early Christian fathers had a concern about some of the music that the pagan cultures had adopted because they did not edify. However, the Christian contribution to music did not include only "God words" set to rhythms. Some of the greatest musical compositions throughout human history have come from Christians. Whether writing about love, or a sunset, the struggles of adolescence or the depth of suffering which is so much a part of the human experience, Christian persons have written wonderful music of every kind.

Christians do not lose their humanity. Therein we find the deeper concern I have regarding "Christian" music. In fact, to be a Christian is to be more fully human! I love the way the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council captured this truth in a powerful document on the role of the Church in the Modern world: "In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man fully becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of Him who was to come, Christ the lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the father and of His love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling."

The problem with much of what calls itself "Christian" music these days is that it sometimes puts "God words" to poor music. Sometimes in so doing it misses the opportunity to truly move human hearts toward God's Living Word, the One who truly understands the human experience and is capable of transforming it through His redemptive love. Additionally, it can misunderstand the fullness of the Christian mission. We are not called to build little cultural ghettos within which we escape the corruption and pain wrought by the effects of sin. Sometimes we develop such strange language and subcultures that real people, the kind who flocked to Jesus, find us at best unapproachable and at worst weird.

We are to manifest in very human and real ways the implications of that pre-eminent passage from the Sacred Scripture: "God so loved the world the world that He sent His Only Son (John 3:16)" He still does, and He sends his Son into that world through us. We are to be with the very people whom He came to save, heal and love! We need to sing, dance, weep and play with them. Not only do they need it, we do as well. I have had the privilege of spending time with some very holy people in my life--true saints. One thing I can say is they were intensely real, intensely human and approachable. I know that's how Jesus was and how He should be experienced as people still touch the hem of His garment through us.

If we are going to be fruitful in our missionary mandate we would be better off seeking to incarnate God's Word in our lives and live a truly renewed human existence in the midst of real men and women. There, fully rooted in a real world, we should sing, laugh, cry, suffer, dance and die as Jesus did. In so doing we should be great musicians, of every sort, and leave our comfortable little religious ghettos where we put "God words" on--all too often--poor music and feel that we have fulfilled our missionary mandate. Well there I said it. I told you it might be uncomfortable for some.I do not mean to offend.

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Let me explain further. I do not dislike all "Christian" music. I understand that it often plays a vital evangelistic role. I just question an approach to Christianity that renders it a subculture and creates either an "oasis" or a "Masada" where Christians escape or from which they assault the world they were commissioned to help redeem. It not only is an ineffective missionary approach, it misunderstands some of the implications of the Incarnation. It also tends to make Christians forget their own humanity which is unfortunate, both for them and for others.

But now I will take a break and listen to some jazz. Now that's really good music....

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