Standing in the middle of acres of mud among tens of thousands of people in the rain a few weekends ago at the ACL Music Festival made me realize there is no such thing as Christian music. For starters, I believe Christian is a noun and not an adjective. And, I don’t believe an inanimate object, or intellectual property like a song, can be Christian. No thing and no one can be Christian, right? Only a person can be A Christian – ie, can be someone who believes in, or follows Christ.
I think the phrase Christian Music is just slang. To publishers, record labels, radio stations, and retail stores who sell to Christians, it means music they think they can sell to Christians. But just singing about God or Jesus or the Gospel doesn’t make a song Christian – and it doesn’t make it good either. Music is art. Music is also woven into our soul’s core.
The tension and release of chord progressions, verses, choruses, and bridges – the sonic wave form of every note – the volume – the timbre – the tempo – the story – all tie in completely with our minds, our bodies, and our world. It’s very similar to the tension and release of acts 2 and 3 of a play, or any good story. It mirrors the moon revolving around the earth and the earth revolving around the sun. We feel it in our sneezes and orgasms. It’s also represented in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. The constant beating of our hearts and the rhythm of blood flowing through our veins and lungs filling up and emptying out – are all music.
Music uses all of our senses. Our ears are designed to sense certain wave lengths, while our eyes are designed to sense other wavelengths, while our skin is designed to sense even other wavelengths (ie, the pressure from the bass coming through the sub-woofers). At a concert, while sensing all of that, we smell our surroundings and taste whatever is passing through our mouths – all for our minds to use to create one gigantic experience and memory. But that still doesn’t necessarily make it a Christian experience.
If I were not a Christian and were to look at a painting of Jesus on the cross, I might admire the detail or the color, or I might even scoff at it and wonder why so many people believe something so crazy. But if I were a Christian and looked at the painting, I might also think about what it means to me that Jesus died on the cross for me. Or I might not. Likewise, a Christian could look at a painting of a flower and think about how wonderful and amazing it is that God created such an intricate and interwoven thing called nature. Or he could also look at it and think the artist doesn’t know how to paint flowers very well. While a person who is not a Christian could look at the same painting and think about how beautiful flowers are or about how their allergies are acting up again. The same goes for music.
As I stood in the mud listening to Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam sing and talk Sunday night, it was worship to me. It gave me comfort and hope. He spoke about how we all needed to take care of each other and how much value each of us has as individuals. It reminded me of Matthew 22:37-39 where Jesus tells us “…love your neighbor as yourself” – and of the Book of Acts where the early Christians lived in community and took care of each other. I looked around and saw people helping people in wheelchairs slide through the mud to get a better view of the jumbotrons. As he sang “Alive”, I sang along “ohhh, Iiiii, ohhhh, I’m still Aliiiiiive” over and over. What it meant to me at that moment (as thousands of us were screaming it together with our hands raised in the air), was just that – that I was still alive – that I was alive and well and feeling everything God created me to feel – that I was alive and thankful that I’m able to stand in the mud on a Sunday night and listen to Eddie Vedder – that Christ is alive in me at that very moment making me able to appreciate the grace and everything else I’ve been given.
I don’t doubt hard core Pearl Jam fans might argue that I’m an idiot and tell me all about how “Alive” is part one of Vedder’s Mamasan Trilogy and is about how a boy was sexually abused by his mom because he looked like his dad who had died before he could know him (followed by Once and Footsteps). I would argue that is what it might have meant to Vedder or what it might mean to others, but no one can tell me what it meant to me that night at ACL.
Likewise, there have been times at church, where a band is playing what most would call “Christian Music” or “Praise and Worship Music”, when not one single wholesome or Christ-like thought comes to mind. Maybe it was my mood that day or maybe the way the band played it wasn’t sitting well with me.
My point is that whether someone calls a song Christian or Secular or Mainstream is somewhat meaningless to me. Whether it happens in a church or a mud pit isn’t important either. Whether you have a similar experience with a song as me or not is also not important. What’s important is the experience – what do we take away from it – and what do we give back. Where does it take us and does it bring us back. How does it change us or how does it reaffirm who we already are. How does it make us feel and why. Is it exposing some area of our heart that needs light or is it causing us to curl up in a ball and hide. Does it fill us with unbridled joy and cause us to celebrate our creator or does it wrap us in a cold wet blanket that is oddly comfortable. The answers to those questions may depend on whether we are a Christian or not. But not whether the music is Christian or not. It’s not.