Christian Music

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the quality of Christian music. His observation was that the average Christian song heard on the radio was inferior to the average secular song. He is a self-described music lover, and I guess he’s heard enough music to be able to make that judgment.

I’d like to take this friend with me to a village in the mountains of Guatemala. The village is only a little over 100 miles from Guatemala City, but it takes well over 10 hours to reach it, traveling by school bus over dirt roads that switchback their way up the mountain.

Off of the village’s square is a nondescript building marked by a neatly painted sign. The sign is in Spanish, though I wonder if any who enter can actually read. Translated, the sign reads, “Jesus Heals and Saves”, which is the name of the church. (Side note: the order of the actions of Jesus is important, because that’s what happened to the founding pastor. First Jesus healed him, then he saved him. In fact, I’m wondering now if that’s the name of the church, or just a proclamation of what Jesus can do for them. Hmm.)

Inside the building, a church service is being held. You can hear it from the square, but from there it sounds like a discordant cacophony of noise. Once you enter the building, the cacophony is not resolved — it just gets louder. Oh man, is it loud. And discordant. And did I say cacophony? There is a band at the front, consisting of a couple of guitars and a drum kit. You wonder if the guitars are in tune. You doubt it. A man is singing into a microphone. The song is in Spanish or — more likely — one of the native dialects, so you don’t know the words. However, it is impossible to pick out the tune, or to imagine if the singer even knows the tune. Besides, the volume is up so high on the small speaker on the floor that the distortion is making any word or particular note virtually indistinguishable.

All around you, people are singing, either that song or perhaps another. Whatever they are singing, they are doing it at the top of their lungs, while many are rattling a tambourine or just shaking.

Your conclusion is easily reached: whatever this is, it is most definitely not quality music. However, you can also reach another conclusion: these people are praising their God, and do not seem to be affected by the lack of quality in the music.

Oh, I imagine they might like a cleaner sound, or better instruments. Then again, maybe not. If you were to suggest to them that they might have a better worship experience if they had tighter harmonies or some dramatic lighting, they may stare at you as if you had just grown a third eye. Maybe they would wonder about your priorities.

And maybe they’d be right.

The Current of the Age

I noticed two contrasting articles from a couple of back issues of World Magazine (and yes, I promise to do more than just read and comment on what World says). The first article is from the May 14, 2005 issue, and talks about a Princeton senior who plays high stakes poker. Two quotes from him are enlightening. The first is on the value he places on his chosen profession: “My parents thought I should do something useful…I thought that [winning $10,000 last summer] was pretty useful.” Apparently, the usefulness of the job is determined by how much money one can make from it, and how quickly.

The second quote concerns his post-graduate career: “I don’t think I can make $120,000 doing anything but poker”. Hence the career choice: that which will make me 1) the most money 2) in the easiest way, is the career for me.

I contrast this with an article in the previous week’s World. In the May 7 issue, there are a few quotes from a man who taught at Princeton Theological Seminary. J. Gresham Machen gave a commencement speech many years ago, and he said the following: “The man who today enters upon the Christian life is enlisting in a warfare against the whole current of the age.” I have to agree; the current of the age is this: get a job that makes money. Machen also says that conflict with the world “can be avoided if the one who professes Christianity adapts his message to the desires of those who are about him.” Ouch.

I was thinking of how this applies to the average high school kid who professes Christianity. This student is taking his Biology test and is confronted with some question about evolution. If the student believes that God created the earth, putting that down as an answer will result in getting the question wrong. The student is now faced with a dilemma. Do I answer honestly and get the question wrong, or do I give the expected answer, even though I don’t agree with it?

Here’s how I think the reasoning goes:
I can give the expected answer, even though I don’t agree with it. The expected answer will get me a good grade on this test. A good grade on the test will get me a good grade in this class. With a good grade in this class, I can get into a good college. A good college will help me get a good job. A good job is one that will make me more money.

Thus we run into the current of the age.

I have the opportunity for the next week to spend some extended time with high school and middle school students. I plan to ask the students, test out my theory and see if I’m right.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I read an article on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism recently in World Magazine (a more complete article can be found here). It’s kind of making me wonder if we’re succeeding at passing our faith on to the next generation.

In brief, MTD has the following tenets. They start out pretty good, then quickly deteriorate: Continue reading “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”

Devotional or Devotion?

I have never been really good at reading devotional books. I guess I find that the books are encouraging me to do something, or to feel a certain way, or to believe a certain thing about God. It only takes a few pages for me to agree that I should be doing, feeling, or believing whatever it is they’re telling me, and I just want to get on with it.

However, with the huge volume of devotional books out there, I guess I am in the minority. I know folks who say that they have trouble reading the Bible directly, but enjoy a devotional book instead. To me, this is like reading a movie review: I could read any number of reviews about a particular film, but I’ll never experience it for myself unless I actually attend the movie. For those of us who enjoy what a friend calls “Christian consumables,” maybe we can work on stoping with the reviews, and instead enjoy the show.

Modesty R Us

My two teenage daughters are going on a mission trip with the church youth group this summer. They just got back from doing some shopping, and on the list was a one-piece bathing suit for each. Two-piece suits are a big no-no on this trip.

Now, my girls have the most modest two-piece suits you can imagine. The top is like a tank top, and overlaps the bottom, which is actually a short skirt. The top has wide straps, a high neck, and is not in any way revealing. This is the type of suit my (and possibly your) mother wore to the pool when we were kids. All they need is the bathing cap with the plastic flowers on it to make the outfit complete.

My wife tells me that most girls going on the trip, as far as she has heard, are shopping for a one-piece suit. Any bets on whether the two-piecers they currently have are as modest as I’ve just described? Doubtful. She talked to one mom who said she just finished buying “all the clothes” her daughter needed for the trip. The mom explained that the requirements for the trip were more modest than what her daughter had in the closet.

Now, follow me on this. I’m about to quote from the guidelines for this mission trip: “Shorts are fine but should come at least to mid-thigh-six inch inseam (Please follow this). Girls, please leave your sport bra/tank-top combos at home…Girls should wear skirts or dresses with tops, not sundress type tops. Bring modest, one-piece bathing suits for pool activities…No revealing or tight-fitting clothing.”

What I hear this mom saying is that her daughter does not have one week’s worth of the above-described clothing available. Is she really saying that when her 14-year-old looks in the closet, all she sees are short shorts, sport bras, tank tops, and sundresses — all revealing and/or tight-fitting?

I realize that for some people, the prude-meter must be spiking right about now. I don’t deny it. I have always been fashion-challenged, and I don’t go much farther than jeans and a t-shirt myself (although see this article; maybe I’m not so out of it after all). What I’m wondering, though, is whether we have a double standard for ourselves. When we’re on a mission trip, our children must reflect Jesus and all propriety. However, when they’re going to the mall with their friends, break out the halter tops!

I’m reminded of my college years, when I was a varsity yell leader. The girls on the squad were fond of putting their hair into a ponytail on gameday, with a bow at the top. It gave them a sort of “little girl” appearance. These were the same girls who were drinking their brains out the night before. Their primary goal seemed to be to get so uproariously drunk so as not to remember what they had done. Then the next day, it’s Sweet Polly Purebread, the innocent and wholesome cheerleader.

Well, I’m a “sponsor” on this trip (I still am trying to figure out what a “sponsor” is and does; I guess I’ll find out). So, am I going to be spending ten days with girls who truly desire to be modest, or will they bury their new clothes in the bottom drawer once they get home, and only pull them out for next year’s mission trip?