A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The day the music died



"American Pie" is a rock song by singer-songwriter Don McLean.

Recorded and released on the American Pie album in 1971, the single was a number-one U.S. hit for four weeks in 1972. The song is an abstract story of his life that starts with the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) in a plane crash in 1959, and ends in 1970. The importance of "American Pie" to America's musical and cultural heritage was recognized by the Songs of the Century education project which listed the song performed by Don McLean as the number five song of the twentieth century.

The song's lyrics are the subject of much curiosity. Although McLean dedicated the American Pie album to Buddy Holly, none of the singers in the plane crash are identified by name in the song itself. When asked what "American Pie" meant, McLean replied, "It means I never have to work again."[1] Later, he more seriously stated "You will find many 'interpretations' of my lyrics but none of them by me... sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence." [From Wikipedia, entry "American Pie," accessed 3/24/08]

For ten years we've been on our own
and moss grows fat on a rolling stone
but that's not how it used to be


It was during a Grace College chapel in the fall of 1996, if I recall correctly, that tears were in my eyes. Though I do not recall the song, I do remember that the words and the music seemed to sink into my skin and run through my veins.

The worship session was student led.

I was from a small country church in the middle of nowhere. We sang hymns while someone played the piano. But this music was different, and the impact was real for me.

Can music save your mortal soul?

I feel that back in those days God used the worship settings to lead me into a deeper commitment. There was something sacred in those times, back then. I don't want to romanticize the past, or to suggest that the time period was perfect; but I do know that there was something more real than what I now experience when I listen to Christian radio stations or attend a worship service.

I went down to the sacred store where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play


But something happened over the years. Worship music is now the standard. It is routine and bland. Anymore, it seems as though I am just going through the motions.

These days not everyone has the right to play worship music. You have to buy the right, the copyright that is.

I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died


You also need some kind of an in to play the music these days. Christian music is big business, and worship music is a really big pull. You can take God on the go with you on your ipod or in your big and safe SUV. The local Christian music station tells me that contemporary Christian music is the fastest growing genre of music on the market.

We have market value now.

But I think that the music is dead.

We all got up to dance
But we never got our chance


I can still feel the feelings. I can still muster up a worship-type emotion in these worship settings. But what does this mean, anymore? I don't own these feelings, because the corporations have the copyrights.

I can get the right kind of feelings, but why is is that I no longer feel truly inspired? It's all so hollow now. Why is this?

And in the streets: the children screamed,
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.
And the three men I admire the most
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
They caught the last train to the coast
The day the music died


Is God really amongst us in our worship services, anymore?

The serpent on the pole saved the people: they looked on it and they lived. But later King Hezekiah destroyed the serpent on the pole because the Israelites had begun to worship it. It was an idol. Is this what worship music has become now? Now that it is the fastest growing genre of music on radio? Is worship music the newest version of the serpent on the pole?

Just because we call a music "Christian" doesn't mean it has anything to do with Christ.

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news


Why does worship music no longer inspire me??? Is God gone? Is he wanting to work in a new way? If so, is it possible that the music in the way? That we are so saturated with it that it has become trivial and trite?

A diamond ring is a highly valued possession. Part of the reason it is valued is because it is a rare jewel. But what if it weren't rare? What if diamond rings were as common as lolly pop rings? What if we could buy a diamond ring for a quarter out of a vending machine? If you could buy a diamond ring for a quarter, then it would be a neat little novelty. I think that's what worship music is to me these days: a neat little novelty.

24 comments:

StvQualley said...

Hi Jon!

I think that you have something here that can definitely make us all think.

"something happened over the years. Worship music is now the standard. It is routine and bland. Anymore, it seems as though I am just going through the motions." I don't have the answer for this, other than saying that going through the motions is something that we all have to watch out for. I was listening to something by Beth Moore from "Passion 05" and she compared our groovin to Christian music to going to a club [insert genre here] and groovin there too. So Beth asked the audience if they were groovin to Christian music when no one was around? So that's the big question that we have to ask ourselves, it is touching our soul whether someone is around or not?

In response to that, I'd say that there shouldn't be an absolute, because music interacts w/feelings and we are not joyful all the time. But I think that when we are not feelin it (in public and/ or private) we need to ask God and others for help in this regard.

"Is worship music the newest version of the serpent on the pole?" I think that we can make ANYTHING idolatry: music, the Bible, our specific church, etc., etc., and the list goes on. But before we can make a clarion call for all to listen to (and I'm not speaking against you Jon) we need to evaluate our own lives.

One thing that I've had to think about throughout my life is when should I play Christian music? I'm the type of person where silence gets on my nerves, so I'm usually playing something in the background. Should Christian music be just background music? For me, NO! Maybe it is our familiarity w/CCM that makes it so ordinary, or having no impact, or [insert various synonyms].

As a side-note, I think that we can become too familiar w/God, Jesus Christ, Easter, Christmas, etc. We don't stand in awe of Him or His message anymore.

Good topic! Really made me think.

Melody said...

I don't think that after thousands of years music has lost its value as a way to worship just because you're not feeling it anymore.

But, music's just one way we can worship God. If it's not working for you maybe you should try something else. Anything loses its flavor if that's all you're having.

Dawn said...

I just have to say that I agree with you on your average, local, Christian music station. I actually boycotted it when I lived in Houston.

The music was horrid and the station was so obviously marketed to stay-at-home moms who are afraid of rap music.

But I don't think all worship music is like that...there is good stuff out there.

That being said...worship isn't about the feeling we get is it? But about turning our eyes to Him and giving honor. Aren't we to worship even when we don't feel like it?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Dawn,

I spent a summer in Austin a few years back. At the time they had the absolute worst example of a Christian radio station ever to send a signal over the air. Man, it was really bad!

It seemed like every month they were doing pledge drives to get more money, claiming that they were on the brink of going under. Their appeal was pure guilt, and they made no effort to hide it; they even went so far as to tell people that if they didn't have money they should call in and pledge with their credit card! God would provide!

I remember that this station used to claim that they would never sell out to sponsors b/c they didn't want the sponsors to mess with their programming.

Christians can be very weird.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

Is worship just about trying this or that thing until we hit on something that "works"??? Is it kind of like flipping through the channels until we find something that turns us on???

Melody said...

Is it kind of like flipping through the channels until we find something that turns us on???

Less like flipping a channel more like talking. If the words you're using aren't communicating what you mean, you try different ones. If how you're worshiping isn't giving glory to God, you might try something different. It could also just mean you need an attitude adjustment...but assuming you want to worship, it's completely possible that song and dance are not going to be the worship mode for each and every occasion of worship.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

It sounds like you value diversity in worship. Is this a fair assessment of where you are coming from?

And would you classify most American churches as providing a diverse approach to worship?

Melody said...

It sounds like you value diversity in worship. Is this a fair assessment of where you are coming from?

Yeah.

And would you classify most American churches as providing a diverse approach to worship?

Not so much.

Ken said...

Is the control and ability to worship found in the music, the setting, the words, the delivery, or in the worshipper.

Often we think that the music must create worship which is a false idea. Worship does not occur simply because we are listening to a particular genre of music. Worship occurs when we choose to focus our hearts and minds on the various aspects of God and give him honor and glory for his simply being who he is and doing what he does.

Music may assist us to that end, but the music is not an end in itself, as we often expect. Some people have this idea consciously, while others subconsciously.

There is a problem when we expect the worship music to create attitudes of worship. And this can happen regardless of the style of music.

My only beef with modern worship music is its lack of theological depth, not its commercialism or anything else.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ken, I noticed you used a period rather than a question mark:

Ken: Is the control and ability to worship found in the music, the setting, the words, the delivery, or in the worshipper.

Is that because it is not really so much a question for you?

I think that setting has a lot to do with worship, and I guess that's why I posted about the music dying. Being oversaturated with a good thing can turn a good thing into a bad thing. For example, I like ice cream, but if I eat it as my main meal three times a day, then a good thing becomes a bad thing.

Too much worship music is a bad thing, imo.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ken: My only beef with modern worship music is its lack of theological depth, not its commercialism or anything else.

Why does worship music have to be theologically deep?

I say, save the dry and meaningless theology for the academic classroom!

Melody said...

Ok Jon, so my roommate and I were discussing this and we wandered onto corporate prayer (we're not generally fans) and Robin mentioned how her mind tends to wander (mine does too) and then I thought about how actually mind my wanders alot during corporate worship time too.

So, anyhow, that's basically just to say that I orginally I read this post and thought, "Hmm, Jon picking on Evangelical America again...what a shocker" - but actually I think I agree with you and just didn't know it.

Melody said...

Oh, one other thought though...

Sometimes, even when I'm not paying attention or don't care while the worship music is playing...that doesn't mean it was a waste. I find that I come back to it later and I'm able to worship God better then. But you know, if it wasn't rolling around in my head to start with I probably wouldn't have stopped to pick it up and worship later. I just would have done whatever I was already going to to do.

I don't really have a conclusion for that...it's just me not being entirely upset about the current state of worship music in American Evangelical culture...and I felt like I should mention it.

ktismatics said...

Erdman have you ever thought about starting your own church or monastery or religion or something? Come on, I know you have. Would it be something like Fight Club? Do you have a wardrobe picked out? And the music: jazz or metal?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics: Erdman have you ever thought about starting your own church or monastery or religion or something?

Ha, ha!

The answer is an emphatic "No!" At this point in my life, I believe religion, historically, has done more to keep people away from God than it has done to bring God and humanity closer together. (Cf. Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor narrative.) That's the point I am discussing over at Hetoimazo.

I suppose, though, if I were to start a religion it would be more along the lines of the monastic order. However, I would definitely have to have cable television and high speed internet hooked up somewhere!

Maybe we could start something of a postmodern monastery: no physical location, but all the "monks" are connected through the internet!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

I only pick on Evangelical conservatives b/c it's my tradition....and, of course, they are such an easy target!

Plus, there is so much that could be done to engage the heart and soul of believers if leaders would just begin to think outside the 20th century tradition that was handed on to them. But there are certain non-negotiables that most leaders will not even begin to question, and the fact that they will not question certain 20th century ideas means that they can never get to a point where they do things that are actually meaningful for believers.

Ken said...

That was supposed to be a question mark. Darn fingers...

Theology dictates practice. So theology is important whether we seriously study it or not. Music can be used as a vehicle for teaching us theology. Just think of the theology behind most hymns and even some modern worship music. Other songs are overly simplistic (7 words 7 times), or can even be called "Jesus is my boyfriend" music. Think of the song "Draw me close to you, never let me go" This could just as easily be played on Delilah (sp?). It says nothing about Christ.

ktismatics said...

"Theology dictates practice."

Definitely off the track now, but I just watched a lecture by contemporary Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben entitled "The Power and the Glory." He was making a case that Christian trinitarian theology puts theology and practice, sovereignty and management, Father and Son on equal footing. So, while the Son may be "begotten of the Father" as the Nicene Creed asserts, and while the incarnate Christ may subject his life to the authority of the Father, the Son also points to and leads to the Father. Trinitarian orthodoxy resolutely affirms that Father and Son are equally God. So: if Christ corresponds to practice and the Father to belief, isn't it plausible that practice can influence belief even as belief influences practice? The dialectic moves in both directions.

ktismatics said...

...the implication being that the practice of worship, including the music, could influence the individual and collective understanding of who God is, and this wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Do you have anyway to substantiate this claim?

Ken: Theology dictates practice.

I don't believe theology dictates practice. I think it does in some cases, but these are rare.

Paul says toward the end of his letter to the Galatians that the works of the flesh are "obvious" (NIV). In other words, you don't need a developed hamartiology to recognize the works of the flesh.

In Romans 1, Paul seems to strongly imply that we choose our beliefs based on what we want to do: people don't want to believe that they will be held accountable to God for their actions and so they suppress the knowledge of God, which (Paul says) is "evident within them."

I don't mean to deny any connection between theology and practice, but I don't see a causal connection; and I think there is a good Scriptural basis for suggesting that our decisions for doing things are based in large part on the bizarre interworkings in the subconscious. (Hence my current theory that Freud should be required reading for all good church folk!)

Ken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken said...

Jon,

There are sociological studies that tier the structure of human behavior. The most fundamental of these is world-view, while at the top is individual behavior. In between comes (starting at the bottom), beliefs, cultural norms of structural behavior, and at least one other that is escaping my mind right now.

There is a simple statement that goes something like this, "What a person believes will motivate him to action." If a person believes a problem exists and he has the ability and opportunity to fix it, then will he act upon those ideas.

Theology and belief are synonymous here. A person's theology is the set of doctrines that they believe. If a person believes that Christ is God, then that person will take anything that Christ has said and view it as God's words (though their belief in the reliability of the Gospels will also come into play in this question). If a person believes the Bible has authority to dictate how one should live, then that person will respond in obedience to the Bible. Belief is fundamental to practice, it comes before it. It is from this that I can say "Theology dictates practice."

If you can come up with an example of how practice can come before theology, then lets hear it. I am confident that if we dig deep enough into their theology, we will find something in that belief system that caused them to behave and act in the manner which they have. (And yes, everyone has a theology, whether they have consciously figured it out or not.)

samlcarr said...

I tried to post a comment here much earlier but Blogger was having one of its 'off' moments and informed me that I was doing a duplicate posting.

Anyhows, the experience of finding something new thrilling at first but then over time the thrill just gets old and canned I think is quite a common experience.

Comparing the run of the mill of worship music to the lasting freshness of a really iconic bit of music like "American Pie" is I think a bit unfair. BTW thanks for reminding me of it - I promptly added it to my own kids' playlist, and they really liked it too!

I guess that's why certain things end up becoming classics in any of the arts. The run of the mill may be just a poor imitation or a hashed attempt to use the same form but with little substance. It sounds OK for a little bit but gets old real fast.

But then that also seems to be what we prefer. We know that it's a cheap thrill, not really worth the investment, a passing fad, but still we go out and get it. Marketers and 'artists' count on it. We want novelty even though it is 'cheap' - human nature?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ken, you said, "If you can come up with an example of how practice can come before theology, then lets hear it. I am confident that if we dig deep enough into their theology, we will find something in that belief system that caused them to behave and act in the manner which they have. (And yes, everyone has a theology, whether they have consciously figured it out or not.)"

This is very interesting. Are you suggesting that some people have a subconscious or unconscious theology??? What does that mean? Do they believe things and not realize that they believe them? I think I agree with you on that, but I'll let you expand your thought before I weigh in.

Most theologians and seminarians mean a conscious belief when they say "theology." You seem to be wading into the psycho-theological realm. Interesting.

Along these lines, Paul says that he does not do the things he knows he ought to do and does the very things he does not want to do. I would cite this as an example of someone who acts differently from their conscious belief system.

You mentioned, "If a person believes the Bible has authority to dictate how one should live, then that person will respond in obedience to the Bible." This confuses me b/c I don't know of any Christian who has ever lived up to everything they believe the Bible teaches. They believe that the Bible dictates certain things and they also believe in the authority of Christ and the importance of full surrender to Christ. And yet they do not practice what they believe. I have only met one person who ever claimed to be sinless. I met him several years back. He was a nut case.

I still think belief is different from practice. Sometimes belief influences practice, but not always. More often, I think practice influences belief....however, I'll let you explain more what you mean by non-conscious beliefs/theology.