Tom Pittman's WebLog

2017 July 5 -- God of Yin & Yang

The acronym "CCM" stands for "Contemporary Christian Music" (the order is significant). The important thing about contemporary artistry is that they no longer care about evoking emotions in people, it's all about control, basically jerking you around. The "Christian" part is pretty nominal, maybe they might mention God or Jesus, more often only in a 2nd-person pronoun "you" which is overwhelmed by a majority of first-person pronouns "I"/"me". Most of the songs they sing in church celebrate Self. The "Music" part is even more remote, no melody nor harmony, just a driving beat.

OK, maybe they are more about Jesus than Buddha or Mohammed, so that makes them "Christian". Jesus said there's only two sides to the fence: either you're in or you're out. So when they tell us to stand for the songs, I stand. There's no music to read, so I watch the bass player to see if I can read his fingers and hum that. I don't see any value trying to learn songs that "worship me." But if they ever repeat the "Me above all" song, I think I will sit down. It starts out OK, (presumably Jesus, but not by name) is "Above all powers / Above all kings," which is Scriptural enough, but at the end the song writer has him defer to "Me above all." It's totally wrong. Jesus Christ is above all, not me. I don't even have a place at his table unless I deny myself. But that was a month or two ago.

This week it was another song that seemed to start out Biblically enough, a reference to Job 1:21, "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away; blessed be the Name of the LORD." But there was something wrong, something that bothered me more than all the previous times I heard it. Throughout the whole song, the giving and the taking away are carefully and equally balanced, like Yin and Yang, like the Light side and the Dark side of the Force. The God of this song is dualistic, equally dispensing good and evil. The God of the Bible is Good and never evil. Bad Things Happen, but God didn't do it. In the Job story, Satan did it. God is still sovereign and Satan doesn't blow his own nose without God's permission, but it's permission, not command. Job spoke his praise line in the middle of catastrophe only. When things were good, he offered sacrifices. The outcome is different for the different situations, because the cause is different.

I get the impression these song writers don't read their Bibles very carefully, sometimes not at all. I would hope for better in a "conservative" denomination, but I guess that's too much to ask for.

Postscript, a year later, the pastor of this church (I don't remember the context) told me that he used to rewrite the words of songs to correct the theology -- the hymnbook in the pews (which they do not use) does that to a number of classic hymns, including "Come Thou Fount" which we sang yesterday to the original words (including "Ebenezer" which is Hebrew for "rock of help" in 1Sam.7:12, but nobody knows that any more, the verse also happens to be in my reading this week), but  reworked into a more rock-like syncopated 4/4 rhythm -- but the pastor said now he no longer bothers to rewrite. I suspect he has learned that the Feelers who come to church don't much care what the words mean, but only whether they are affirming or disaffirming.

Related Posts:

2018 May 22 -- Pagan Theology in Church?

I've been puzzling over this song for several days now. The chorus is Biblical: God is Good. That was intentional: the songwriter cites Psalm 136:1 and Psalm 100:5 as the Scriptural basis for his lyrics. Unfortunately, his song says a lot more than merely that God is good. When I came home from church with the words bouncing around in my head, I thought he was urging his singers to make promises they can't -- nay, don't even much want to -- keep, which is totally contrary to much of what my Bible tells me, but when I Googled the lyrics, they were different from what I remembered. Not great, but different. I don't know if our praise team changed the words, or if I remembered wrong (probably the latter).

But I didn't know what to make of the verses. "Let the King of my heart be The mountain when I run, The fountain I drink from;... The wind inside my sails,... The fire inside my veins." Maybe it's just poetic nonsense, the sort of feel-good "God loves me" that most American church members consider to be the essence of their faith but is rather harder to find in the Bible.

Or maybe the singer wants "the King of [his] heart" (that is, his god) to be parts of the creation instead of the Creator. Notice that he has cited exactly the four elements of pagan Reality: Earth (mountain), Water (fountain, waves), Air (wind), and Fire. McMillan and his followers can worship whomever they please -- Jesus is never mentioned in this song, and God only once, in the last line. But like Joshua, "Me and my house, we will serve the LORD," I want to praise and worship the Creator, not the creation [Rom.1:25].

But I don't know if that's what he meant or not, it's too obscure. What ever happened to "singing psalms and hymns and Spiritual songs"?

2015 September 15 -- I Worship Me

I woke up this morning with a song of praise to God running through my head, "Crown Him Lord of All." It used to happen more often, but I need to train my subconscious by singing good songs in church, and this church mostly doesn't. Their "music" is done by a rock band led by a guy too young to understand the difference between singing about "me" and singing about God. The church is pretty intentional about most of their ministry, but music didn't make it to the top of their list. The guy tries hard, and I have been there long enough now that he is beginning to repeat things.

I first noticed the problem three churches ago, when I sang in the choir. A pretty robust way to know what a text or song is about is to count the words of a particular class. Church songs are filled with pronouns, "you" and "your" addressed to God, and "I", "me" and "my" (and much less often "we", "us" and "our") concerning me, myself and I. I started counting the pronouns. The most popular contemporary Christian music (CCM) songs -- the ones that play on the radio stations I don't listen to, and therefore the people in the congregation know, so that's what the song leaders play for them to sing in church -- generally have twice as many first-person pronouns as second person. People like to sing about themselves.

It's backwards. Jesus said that if you want to be on his team, you need to start with self-denial. The Biblical religion is all about God, not me. There are some CCM songs about God, just not many. This last Sunday the guy led off with one, and then his third or fourth song was one I actually knew, "How Great Thou Art." Count the pronouns. Sometimes that gives a wrong emphasis (as in this case), but it's a good start. Maybe it has a lot of "you" pronouns, but the song is about what "you" (God) are doing for me. It's not really about God the giver so much as it is what *I* get out of it, me the beneficiary, because it's all about me.

Me, I druther sing about God. So I don't feel bad that I don't know any of the songs they play at church -- except the one each week (average) from the classic hymns. Some of the hymns are self-centric too: a couple weeks ago they did "Come Thou Fount" which invites God to "tune my heart". Another verse, the traditional words (they changed the obscure words here, but kept the personal focus) say "Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I've come, and I hope..." Count the pronouns: only one 2nd-person pronoun and four first-person. It's about me, what *I* am doing to praise God. Yes, there's some God in there, but mostly me, myself and I. sigh

One song this guy particularlarly likes repeats its main line -- in so-called "7/11" songs 7 words get repeated 11 times, a slight exaggeration, but not by much in this church -- "It is for freedom that I am set free" with special musical emphasis on "freedom" and "I am". The theology is wrong. We are not "set free" for the purpose of American-style anarchic "freedom" but rather so that we can be servants of the Most High God, as Paul clearly points out in Rom.6:16-18 and again in 1Cor.7:22, and expresses everywhere by calling himself a "slave of the Lord Jesus Christ."

2014 August 14 -- Music & Emotions

I get what little current news I see from dead-tree media, which mostly have abandonned reporting news in favor of offering opinions. I have plenty of opinions of my own, I don't need to read other peoples' blunders. As a result, I don't hurry very hard to read the non-news portions of this magazine I get, and here it is a whole month after its pull date that I see a feature article on some orchestra conductor (Manfred Honeck) with heart. I'm all in favor of putting your heart into whatever you do, so I don't begrudge his exuberance, but it reminded me of a remark I heard from a musician friend a couple months ago and have been mulling over ever since.

I don't remember her exact words, but it was something to the effect that Bach composed his music before people learned how to make music express emotion. I suspect Maestro Honeck would disagree. The article quotes him as referring to how "Mozart and Bach have a positive influence on the healing process..." in a paragraph that begins "Through music you can touch the soul... people sometimes cry if they hear beautiful music." If that isn't about emotions, I don't know what is.

It seems to me that it is the nature of music is to convey emotions. Different music conveys different emotions. Perhaps my friend has a very narrow notion of what constitutes "emotion" and supposes that only romance qualifies. Hate (rock music) and joy (baroque) and sadness (blues) are also valid emotions. The Mozart Requiem does an awesome job of communicating fear.

We have a 5000+year recorded history of people making music. Even if you restrict emotions to romance, I am not so selfish and narrow-minded -- I think the usual term for it is arrogant -- as to believe that only in the last 2% of that time did they figure out how to do emotions.

2004 June 30 -- Plastic Music

The church I currently attend has an "orchestra": one violin, one very good flute, a clarinet, and I think an electric bass guitar. Sometimes some brass, but not very often. For a church that size, I think it's wonderful. The pianist is quite skillful, and they choose pretty good hymns. I don't, but if I were to choose a church on its music, this would be high on the list.

But when they present vocal music, they don't use their own qualified musicians, they play a CD sound track. I call it "plastic music." This leads me to ask, What's the point?

Who are they singing for, God? Or for the entertainment of the congregation? As entertainers, they have a long way to go to compete with the vocal track on that same CD. But we don't go to church to be entertained, do we? What's the point?

I read the Psalms, one per day. With a few adjustments for 31-day months, this fills out exactly five months. Today was the end of the cycle, Psalm 150 on June 30. It's a wonderful psalm of praise to God. Three churches ago they had a Sunday School song that set this to very colorful music, with instrumental runs and trills to accentuate the various instruments in the psalm. The point of music in the church is to praise God. The singers praise God. The instrumentalists praise God. We get to hear them praise God, but they are doing it for God more than for us, right?

But the plastic music, is that for God? God already heard that particular recording -- in the recording studio. It cannot be for our entertainment, because that's not what church is about, is it? Why can't the singers use local talent (when it is available, as it is in this church) to accompany their praise? Then two people, not just the soloist, get to praise God.

We live in a plastic, throw-away society. Plastic is chintzy, cheap. What we do for God should be better than that.


2020 October 5 -- Making Promises We Can't Keep
2018 May 22 -- Pagan Theology in Church? (original post)
2015 September 15 -- I Worship Me (original post)
2014 August 14 -- Music & Emotions (original post)
2004 June 30 -- Plastic Music (original post)
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