Fluff “Bible-inspired” Music Masquerading as Worship is Dangerous

My stepdad just sent me this article and it sent me into a rabbit hole of thoughts. Enjoy?

Thanks to my dad, I grew up on the Golden Age of CCM. He gave me a great foundation with dc Talk, Audio Adrenaline, Petra, Jars of Clay, Carmen, and many others. Once I was exposed to good music, I couldn’t go back.

It taught me to take my faith + its music seriously.

By age 12, I was wrestling through the theological implications of the line “that’s what faith can do” (as opposed to “what God can do” in an otherwise good song by MIKESCHAIR. (Remember this, Carissa?)

Over a decade after I first went to one of their concerts, I still come back to Tenth Avenue North’s discography when I’m wrestling with sin (esp sexual!!) and its consequences. Britt Nicole’s songs still resonate deeply with me as both nostalgic fluff and deep laments.

Matthew West’s Brand New album has some songs that reduced me to tears and gave me new, lasting hope, which I was honestly not expecting.

CCM trained me in my faith. It gave me words to pray, ways to phrase my joys + my sorrows. It taught me how God’s people talk + how they Should talk + act.
Brandon Heath’s Give Me Your Eyes still pushes me outside my comfort zone at Covenant as I’m training to love people practically.


“If you want to know the theology of the laypeople, show me their songs.”

I heard that quote in a class I took this past semester with Dr. Scott Finch called Shepherding Souls Through Music. It would be an understatement to say that the class as a whole changed my life.

The most interesting thing about it was that it wasn’t discouraging. It was genuinely encouraging.
Even though now I’m saddened all the more by how many churches fail to preach the Whole gospel in the music sections of their worship services, seeing Dr. Finch’s life proving that it Can be done drove me to set that as my goal.


I’ve had the privilege to open many different kinds of services + gatherings with music in even just the past 5 years. At Camp Gilead FL, I went from just being on the worship team to running the entire worship music program for the summer.

When I’m home on breaks, my parents have given me the opportunity to lead at Beth Yeshua Messianic Synagogue for our Shabbat Services.

I even got to open the service at Grace Bible one week!

At Covenant, I’ve led Christmas songs and Prayer + Praise hall events and Hymnsings.

Every event requires a different songlist to address background, language, and theology preferences?

Since taking that class, my song choices that become even more intentional. Now it’s not just avoiding fluff or bad/dumb theology, but it’s “hey, have we represented all 3 members of the Trinity here? Am I telling the Full story of God’s redemption? If someone heard only these songs and not the message, would they get a full picture of who God is + who they are?”


With ALL of this in mind, it is really frustrating to see people with seemingly good hearts produce “based on the Bible” songs that could be praising anyone called “God” based on the entire lack of content or context in the song to identify who we’re worshipping or why.

God revealed Himself through His actions. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who brought His people out of the land of Egypt, rescued them time + time again even when the prostituted themselves out to others, and sent His only son to die to redeem us once for all.

It’s not sufficient to sing “You are good” (even tho He is) when the people singing it aren’t aware of why we KNOW He’s good. It isn’t sufficient to sing “I need you” unless we’re confronted with our wretchedness + perversion outside of Him.

What do your songs say about your theology?

An incomplete list of Christians who are creating meaty songs:
– Citizens
– Ghost Ship
– The Eagle and the Child
– Beautiful Eulogy
– The Porter’s Gate
– Urban Doxology
– Kings Kaleidoscope
– Jon Guerra (who was also a student of Dr. Finch!)

(If you want more, I have a BUNCH of very specific playlists! Comment if you want more links?)

Through a Zoom Call Pixelated – Sticky Note Thoughts

{this post spawned from thoughts I scrawled on a couple sticky notes this past summer}

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face;

1 Corinthians 13:12a NASB

This verse inspired the title of one of my favorite albums ever (A Mirror Dimly by Citizens) and is also is one of the most profound hopes I’ve ever tried to wrap my head around. However, since we have pretty great mirrors in this century, the impact of the metaphor never actually hit me until this last year, when a significant amount of my prioritized relationships went through the wringer of video calls.

All the lagging, dropped calls, and “what??” that I’ve had to say has brought me to the place where I can finally grasp the concept of being in significant relationship with someone but eagerly awaiting interacting in person with them due to given the shortcomings of the medium we are currently getting by with. Recent studies have shown that the conversations we’ve had with professors, friends, and family over Meet, Zoom, and even Duo or Snapchat calls are more stressing to our brains than in-person conversations because we have to wait and wade through artificial buffering to interject, laugh, or even see the facial expressions of the ones we love. God programmed us to relate face-to-face, and even our best technology will never (save in an Ex Machina way) be able to truly replicate that in a way that isn’t draining for us.

At the same time, we are wearing masks over our mouths + noses, which strains our brains by taking away vital facial and tonal recognition tools. Our brains then have to work overtime to recognize people and read their body language during conversation, which makes time spent with others sometimes more draining than refreshing. (You may have been an introvert before, but now you have science backing you up!) 

Oh, that I could see your face / How I’m longing for that day

Jon Guerra, Kingdom of God

How does all of this translate to our relationship with God, as we live in this time when we’re also isolated from those He gave us to be in community with? 

Due to this past year of restricted relationships, we can now understand even deeper the coveted beauty of seeing someone you love face to face. Going back to 1 Corinthians, we see God right now as over a video call, complete with low-res video and spotty audio. Someday, however, we’ll see Him not just in HD, not even just in 4K (that our eyes can’t even see/comprehend fully!), but face to face! Right now, it feels like His face has been covered with a mask, where we can’t quite see His face or hear His voice well.

As much as I’ve been isolated in some of my relationships, I know that I’ve always been isolated from God by my sin. To address this broken relationship in the way I know I absolutely need to if I want to survive, I look first at what I’ve done to overcome the obstacles between me and my friends in this microcosm of separation. We set up times to eat outside, send letters, call, and make the most of the means of communication we’ve been given, even though they aren’t perfect. 

Translating that to God, we overcome the distance and separation by meeting Him at His appointed times and creating our own. We commune with Him and His body on Sunday mornings, and we take time out of our days to talk to Him. We ask Him to meet us in our exhaustion when we physically cannot put forth the effort, knowing that grace is not dependent on ourselves. We reread His love letter to us, the Book that tells us who He is, who Love Himself actually is, and what His face truly does look like. We cling to Him, knowing that His Spirit, the Comforter, is living inside us and working to grow us and mold us during this time.

I don’t want to look in a stranger’s eyes
When I come into this place
Let me grow familiar with the lines
The lines upon your face

Tenth Avenue North, I Confess

The greatest danger to a Christian’s life is growing complacent and confident that we can handle life on our own. Living in an era of obvious discomfort helps us keep our eyes on God, and that might not be such a bad thing after all 🙂

Punchinello, a tribute to Max Lucado

If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Punchinello by Max Lucado, I would recommend reading it here!

——

I finally knew how to let the dots fall off.

but.

I have to let go of the stars.

too.

As long as I hold on to my
stars from those around me,
{ my value <– them }
I’m not acknowledging that
it comes from my Maker–
I come from my Maker! When
I need their stars,
I fear.

It is vital.

Let it go.
Look at Him.
Act on your freedom.
Act on the love you’ve received.
Only then will you, will I, be
able to love +
able to live.

—–

originally scrawled (by me, I think??) on the back of the program of the Vega Quartet’s performance at Covenant College – Thursday, November 14, 2019. I’ve edited it a bit + formatted it in this post, but the majority of it came from that almost undecipherable piece of paper I found in my room randomly XD

Wrestling With God + CCM

Background: Pride

For as long as I’ve had Spotify (which has been a LONG time), Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) has consistently been one of my top genres. And this has often bugged me, since I associate that label with the fluffy stuff on the radio today that often focuses too much on us and too little on God. It’s encouraging, but it’s rarely convicting. However, CCM has defined my childhood and relationship with God for so long!

  • Stellar Kart’s All In (Apologize) wrecked me as a 14 year old. I heard it the first time I ever listened to K-Love, and I googled it asap and listened to it again, amazed that a song with such radical lyrics would be on Christian radio.
  • The Afters premiered Broken Hallelujah at one of my first concerts and I WEPT. It was one of the first times I had put my heart’s sorrows into a worship song like that — where you don’t ignore the issues, but you lay them at His feet. This set a huge precedent for my life!
  • Tenth Avenue North’s songs were popular for most of my childhood (and their concert was my very first concert!), but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that they’re the one of the only Christian bands who are addressing sexual sin in their music!!!! As that’s the area of my biggest struggles, their music has brought incredible balm to my soul and such truth to combat temptation. I really recommend their EP Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say.

Having these standards, I get frustrated with a lot of the mass-produced Christian music that gets popular. It’s been a matter of pride for me that I don’t listen to the “stupid fluffy stuff,” but instead take the time to search out the lesser-known songs full of Biblical truth by people like Jon Guerra and Andrew Osenga and The Porter’s Gate and Beautiful Eulogy. I still go back to what I grew up on: dc Talk, Rich Mullins, Audio Adrenaline, and Petra. When you have Petra writing about spiritual warfare, it’s hard to be content with songs that the world can listen to and never hear the Truth in.

But I’m realizing that I actually need CCM in my life. I need Christian music. I need good to fill my soul, even if it’s occasionally frothy good. It’s still propounding a Godly worldview, even if it’s watered-down. It’s not wrong.

Part 2: Influence + Protecting Yourself

The media we consume influences what we value. I can attribute my desires to be a self-sufficient woman who kicks butt to games like Tomb Raider that I watched my dad play when I was little and to shows like Alias that I watched as a teen. I’ve always been a hopeFUL romantic, but when I listen to love songs, my heart focuses much more on that beautiful thing that I happen to lack at the moment.

My heart learns to long after other things when it marinates in music that longs after other things. Secular music doesn’t bring peace, and it doesn’t bring comfort. It’s good to rock out to, and can even be productive since I’m not being convicted all the time XD (my eMo-pOp-pUnk-rOck-oUt playlist is amazing for crunch time paper writing, for example). But it’s not ultimately beneficial for my soul; It’s junk food. In moderation, it can be great, but if it’s being used as primary sustenance, it’s destructive to what is best!

I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing sinful about listening to music of Any kind, but it’s ultimately detrimental to consume Any media (visual OR audible) without considering the worldview it both starts at + ends up at. There is no neutral music. Either it glorifies God, or it doesn’t. But you’d be surprised at what I believe Does glorify God vs what doesn’t.

The song Weak by AJR is a ROCKING song. It’s got a great hook, great mix, great feel to it. It’s not explicit, and it never talks about sex or anything. However, I cannot listen to it. it’s an extremely natural + primal cry of rejecting God’s authority over your life.

But I’m weak, and what’s wrong with that?
Boy, oh boy I love it when I fall for that

Even though obviously you can reject the message (and as a Christian, you better!), if you’re not careful, it still permeates my soul just a bit, weakening my resolve to fight temptation.
(side note, tho. AJR is an awesome group, and their song Turning Out breaks me EVERY time I listen to it)

Or, for example, there is something unavoidably destructive about listening to a song that glorifies sex outside of marriage. (mind you, a song that merely Talks about it without painting it as normal or good might be OK!) Things that God condemns are condemned for our benefit! They are harmful to us! When the music we listen to preaches a different gospel, our hearts’ focus is changed, and we’re more open to the devil’s influence. He seeks to destroy us, remember? If he gains a foothold by what we do, including what we listen to, then there will be practical consequences for our souls and relationships with God. We can choose to risk that, but we must be aware of the impact it has on us.

If the piece of media is a fly on the wall of our culture, what web is it caught in, and what kind of spider spun it?

Peter Edgar 12/18/20

But common grace is a thing! God gives insight to even those who don’t know Him!
Love songs written by even atheists can wrestle with what love actually means. Sometimes the content can be graphic, but life is graphic. We do ourselves and our witness a disservice if we hide from that.
Christians can write songs about doubt and sin and what it means to be a believer, and they might just so happen to use strong language! (more on that later)

I’ve been listening to a good deal of music recently that I couldn’t listen to in the car with my mom or my little 6 year old brother. And it’s hard to listen to sometimes! Songs like Dear God by Dax aren’t my cup of tea stylistically, but others like Dear God by Confetti are. Both of them drop a couple f-bombs and speak candidly with God about what they think He’s doing wrong, but this comforts me!! It reminds me that there are still people out there who are bold enough to wrestle with God. They’re listening to the heart He put in them, even if they don’t realize it. It reminds me that every human who rejects God is still loved by Him and coveted after by Him. It gives me an insight into their heart so I can engage with them more empathetically. It also encourages me to wrestle with God from my strong theological foundation.

On the less obvious side, I found the creative project The Narcissist Cookbook about halfway through this past semester. The creator, Matt Johnston, is British, so his accent is awesome in general, but it’s his ADHD rambling about important and complicated things that my soul just adores. He admits at one point that he doesn’t believe in God and uses female pronouns in a nod to the postmodern trend, but he’s got such a deep and intentional insight into the brokenness of the world that I cannot ignore, for the reasons above.

He has a song called Apple that rethinks how Satan temped Eve in the garden. It struck a chord in my soul, because he ends with “I don’t think God can see what I can see [the beauty of the human race post-Fall].” And I remember the first time I heard it, I wanted to yelp, because he addresses it! He addresses the problem he has with God! He doesn’t see Him properly, so he doesn’t realize that the value system he’s processing everything through comes from the One he thinks he’s thinking clearer than. He says at one point that God is afraid of what humans could become + achieve, and it’s just so fascinating to see how someone could have so much insight and yet miss the fundamental Truth! He comes to the wrong conclusion because he has the wrong starting assumptions, but his wrestling helped me process a possible reason why God let the Fall happen in the first place! Maybe God DID see what Matt saw 🙂 (taking a Doctrine class will get you excited over the coolest niche things XD)

Even agnostics’ songs wrestle honestly, and I think that that honors God, possibly even more than frothy feel-good “Christian” songs that miss the point of the mind-boggling Gospel.

However, wrestling =/= condoning. If I wrestle with my propensity to fall into temptation and enjoy it, I’m not pretending it’s OK, but I’m acknowledging the real danger and bringing it to God so that He can show me how to move forward through it. Instead of Weak, I raise you Maybe IDK by Jon Bellion.

Although I guess if I knew tomorrow
I guess I wouldn’t need faith
I guess if I never fell
I guess I wouldn’t need grace
I guess if I knew His plans
I guess He wouldn’t be God, God, God

So maybe I don’t know…
But maybe that’s okay

Maybe IDK – Jon Bellion

Songs that address brokenness as brokenness and address God as the only reason life is worth living give my soul life! even if I’m mourning what they describe.

It almost feels like I have hypocritical music standards. I don’t want to listen to Weak, because it doesn’t benefit my soul at all, but it’s technically clean. Apple (and other TNC songs) and most Jon Bellion songs are definitely not clean, but they do my soul good and bring me closer to God!! Profanity does not define the content of a song. Jon Bellion is much more an honest Christian than some CCM artists who later go on to renounce their faith, and curating that opinion has taken a long time and lots of, well, wrestling with God!

Part 3: Wrapping Up?

I started writing this post over a week ago, and then forgot my laptop existed… oops

Today, I discovered Jars of Clay’s 2013 album Inland and fell in love with it. Jars of Clay have always been extremely intentional about not being cliché in their writing; staying away from Christianese and making their music accessible to unbelievers has been one of their primary focuses.

Haseltine [the lead singer] said, “our songs … [are] not really there to explain our faith,” but are “written about our life that is affected by our faith.” Haseltine explained the decision to “shy away from … traditional religious language” as a conscious one, in part to make their music more accessible to those “put off by religion”, and to “love people in a way that isn’t exclusive to simply people that understand the language of Christianity.”

Dan Mitchell (March 30, 2002). “NPR Weekend Edition Saturday interview”. Npr.org. Archived from the original on February 13, 2011. Retrieved December 31, 2011.

I think that it’s really important to have believers who make music for the Whole body of Christ. What I find inaccessible might be exactly what someone else needs to hear. What brings me back to the Lord might be offensive to you, and vice versa! I ask my friends to skip Weak when it comes on in the car. Not for their sake because I’m somehow holier than them and want to protect them from its influence, but because I know that it leads me into temptation that much easier.

Paul focuses a lot on the role that the Holy Spirit plays in individual conviction on non-essential matters. I think this falls under that. 1 Corinthians 8 warns us about exercising our rights if they’re a detriment to the faith of others; verse 13 says “If what I consume causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” Please bear with each other, listening to the weaknesses of each other’s consciences, and rejoicing in self-sacrifice.

Love you all 🙂

Squid

P.S. Don’t even get me STARTED on Kanye’s Jesus is King 😉

I don’t want an airbrushed god

The Tenth Avenue North song I Confess has been hitting me hard recently.

I confess, I admit
I look for life outside of You
I repent, I’m coming back
To the only joy that’s true
I don’t want to look in a stranger’s eyes
When I come into this place
Let me grow familiar with the lines
The lines upon Your face

I’ve listened to this song a hundred times, but today I decided to think about what it would really look like to know the lines on God’s face.

When you know someone’s face well, you can tell when they use a filter on it. You can tell when Snapchat smushed their face or enlarged their eyes. You can tell when their camera has face-smoothing on. They look slightly unfamiliar to you since you know them so well.

If you took that to the spiritual realm, it seems to me like it’ll look a lot like the American church today. We’ve tried to make a palatable god, one we can understand, one without acne or who’s face is a bit asymmetrical, one that didn’t order the extermination of millions of Caananites during the Israelites’ conquest or who lets bad things happen to people who are trying to be good.

As I’ve been studying for my Doctrine 1 final, I’ve realized that there are so many theological positions that start from an assumption of “I can’t understand how this can be true, so it must not be, since God is rational.” and I genuinely can’t understand the mentality that needs to understand God in that way. I take comfort knowing that there will always be things I can’t understand, truths that are as true as their opposites (or are they actually complements?), and a God who is more glorious than I could ever explain to anyone. A god who makes sense to me is one who I am equal with. And He is gracious enough that that will never be the case.

I don’t want an airbrushed God. Because his ugliness is more beautiful than the finest forests he’s created, breath-taking Covenant sunrises, or whatever else you find incredibly lovely.

If you think that you need to hide the flaws you see in God from those you want to know Him, then I don’t think you truly know Him, so for your own sake you should get to know the lines upon His face. For if you erase the aspects of Him that you don’t like, He ceases to be Himself and becomes instead who you want Him to be, which will always be inferior. Your god then is yourself, and that will never be sufficient.

May you learn the lines upon His face.

Thankful for Election

I had a discussion last night with a few other counselors about the regrets you have at the end of the week, the nagging “I could have done more” thoughts. The “maybe my kid could have gotten saved if I’d just said the right thing.”

Since we know the importance of our mission, we take it seriously. And when we don’t see the results we so dearly crave, we often feel like we failed.

But we’ve had a few testimonies this year that struck us bc of their relevance to this issue. Ones like “I got saved this week. This is my third year coming to camp, but it finally clicked this time.” What a wonderful thing, right? But the fact that it took three years means that there were two years of counselors feeling like they failed. But they didn’t. It was all in God’s timing.

The problem is, we don’t know which kids are going to have that testimony and which ones won’t ever come back to camp, church in general, or God.

The great news is, we don’t have to know that!

I’ve been studying Reformed theology for a while now. And of course predestination, one of the 5 components of TULIP, comes up a lot and is heavily debated in Christian communities. Last night, I finally realized why God talking about “the elect” in the Bible is so reassuring:

He doesn’t need us!! We staff remind each other over and over that WE don’t save the campers. We lead them to Christ and let Him do the work in their hearts. We’re here to pray and talk with them and help them understand what He’s leading them to do.

But if that human being is one of God’s elect, he or she (aren’t you proud of me, Mom? I didn’t use singular they) WILL be saved! Maybe not at camp, maybe not now, but our actions cannot change their eternal destination for better or for worse. God has already planned out if and how they will be saved. If we slack off and don’t let Him use us, then He’ll use someone else. And that’sOK! We want God to use us bc it’s a beautiful thing to see a child come to life in Him! We want to be a part of that process! But He doesn’t have to use us. He might just use us to plant the seeds.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

-1 Corinthians 3:6 ESV

That verse gave me a lot of comfort last year, but the doctrine of election is giving me even more. And joy!

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

-John 15:16 NIV

It’s not me out here trying really hard for God, it’s me living out what God has called me to do. It’s showing His love in everything I do and say. I’m His servant, and I know that He has me here for a reason. He has a purpose for me. I’m not flailing aimlessly, trying to prove I can love somehow.

Romans 9 talks about this too.
Actually, there are a lot of scriptures on this topic. So, here’s a link to a good list of them.

I’d like to hear thoughts, or just “mmmmm”s. Either way, it’s nice to know that I can’t make or break a kid’s salvation. Someday, I hope he or she can look back on my influence and say that I helped them positively and showed them Christ, but that’s it. God is the potter, I’m only a tool.

And I’m just fine with that. 🥰

Sydney (or, as my girls called me last week, Sweetart)

Are You Texting God?

Have you ever texted God?

You know, when you send up a quick prayer in the middle of something else, like you’d text a friend.

“Hey, God, I can’t find my keys and we have to leave in 5 minutes.  Please give me clarity!!” 

“God, You are so good!! Thank you!!” 

“How do I reach this person?  Lead my words please, Holy Spirit.”

“Please heal [friend who is sick] and give them your peace during this time.”

Recently, I’ve realized that this has become the bulk of my prayer life, which I’m not OK with.

Why? (you might ask)

Have you ever met a friend at a camp, vacation, or other short-term experience?  You get close to them, exchange numbers, and promise to keep in touch. But how often does your relationship stay that close or get better? Not very often, at least in my experience.  Some friendships are close enough or evenly-enthusiastic (where both of you desperately want to talk to each other) to stay close, but it’s always a different dynamic over text. You can’t help it!

In my experience, when you have a solely text-based relationship, it deteriorates. 

Example: I have/had two very close friends from camp this summer, one I text, one I email.  The email relationship “lasted” longer, as in, we talked more, and more frequently, than my texting friend, but it still was less fulfilling than talking in person, and we’ve drifted apart by virtue of busy schedules and other important things.  My texting friend is a lovely person, one of my favorite people I’ve ever met, but we have different lives!  If we hung out in person, I know we’d reconnect really well, but it’s just not the same over text.

But when you spend quality time with your friend, even when that’s just hanging out after church because your moms are talking (this never happens to me 🙂 ), you get a feel for their tone, their personality, and their character. You invest in the relationship in an almost tangible manner, and that counts immensely.  (Also, as a physical touch person, being able to interact physically (waving, hugging, smiling, making eye contact, hearing actual laughter, and pretending (or not) to hit them when they’re teasing you) is huge.)

(wow, a three-deep parentheses nest! … I’m not sure I should be proud of that, lol)

This applies to our relationship with God tremendously. 

When the only contact we have with God is over text, we lose the personal connection we had with Him whenever we last (first) truly connected with Him, whether it be at church, church camp, or in a middle-of-the-night prayer session.

In the Psalms (I’m mainly thinking about 119, but there are definitely a lot of others), David raves about his joy in God’s commands, how they direct his life in blatant ways, how they give him a reason to live, and how God is really incredible (but that’s obviously a huge understatement).  He sounds like me when I talk with my friends about a close friend who we all think is awesome and are just really thankful for.

But do you know how we got to know that really awesome friend? BY SPENDING TIME WITH THEM.

We have to have “face to face” talks with God to really keep the beauty of our relationship with Him alive.  This usually works best in a private place, though I’ve had some intense prayer arguments with God that left me in tears at His goodness in a group setting. 🙂 Setting aside time for, well, anything is something I struggle with, but it’s so important that I can’t afford to let it slip away from me. 

This is my resolution. To stop letting other “priorities” in my busy high school lifestyle get in my way of my time with God. Texting Him needs to be a supplement to our awesome recurring “face to face” conversations.

Sydney

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