Monday, June 22, 2015

Worship Vs. Entertainment

Though it's been ages since I've been to one, during my middle and high school years, I went to Christian concerts fairly regularly.  I've seen various artists and bands within the CCM genre live, ranging from the well-known (TobyMac, Third Day, and the Newsboys) to the...well, not so well-known (ApologetiX, Sanctus Real, and even the local, now-defunct band Saving Sam).  I also got autographs and other memorabilia at said shows; to this day, my mom adores the photo of me with the since-disbanded Australian group Paul Colman Trio.  (If you haven't seen that photo, I can show it to you sometime.)  Since my mom isn't exactly a fan of rock or pop music of any kind, I mostly attended Christian concerts with my sister and/or brother-in-law, who were responsible for me discovering contemporary Christian music in the first place, all thanks to them playing dc Talk's Supernatural during rides to and from church.  Sometimes, friends from church would join in; unfortunately, most of my fellow youth group members never bothered with such music, choosing to listen to Eminem or Limp Bizkit instead, so it was usually older church members.  Back in 2002, after one such concert I attended with both of those family members and some friends, my sister said something to me that has stuck with me to this day: "When we go to these concerts, we're not going because we like the music; we're not going because it's not secular; we're going there to worship God.  We're going to work on that."

Honestly, when I first heard those words, I was so flummoxed that I didn't really know what to say; those of you who know me know that's a rarity.  When I listened to music--of any kind--I wasn't worshiping; I was simply letting the music and vocals envelop me.  To me, listening to dc Talk on my CD player was no different than hearing Smash Mouth on the radio; music was music.  It's still largely that way...but, then again, much of Christian music doesn't really fall into the category of worship for me anyway.

What do I define as worship? An article in Breakaway magazine--a publication from Focus on the Family for teenage guys--described it as being music "directed to or about God."  Webster defines it as, "reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also, an act of expressing such reverence."  A Facebook friend gave this definition: "Reverent honor and homage paid to God."  Sure, Christian music does go into that area sometimes; some bands and artists produce nothing but worship music.  Still, many of CCM's best-loved artists talk about other things as well.  dc Talk did everything from a pro-life anthem ("Children Can Live (Without It)") to "Godsend," a song about romantic love.  ApologetiX retells stories from the Bible that have nothing to do with the Gospel, including obscure ones such as the demise of King Eglon ("Plump").  Relient K's first few albums have everything from an ode to ThunderCats to a love song to fictional sleuth Nancy Drew to even a song almost completely in gibberish.  Though the messages behind those songs are great, I wouldn't call them worship tunes; in fact, if I saw the song leader at my church try to lead the congregation in one of those songs during a service, I'd walk out.  It's telling that most of the hymns we sing rarely mention Biblical figures other than members of the Trinity: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; church is no place to sing the praises of Saturday morning cartoons or the person you married.  Sure, there's a time and a place for everything--including that--but a church service isn't it.

More to the point, it would seem that some people, including Christians, have a warped definition of what worship music really is.  Around Y2K, writer Mark Allan Powell released an Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music.  Most of the information in it is now outdated, or can easily be found on Google or Wikipedia; still, at the time it was released, it was heralded by many Christian music fans as a wonderful piece of work, probably due to the fact that such a volume had never before been published.  Though it had some great information, I quibbled with one part of its article about ApologetiX, a Christian parody band I used to listen to constantly.  It described their spoof of Beck's "Loser" as "a worship song," and quoted the lyric, "I want You to save me, so why don't You fill me?" to prove its point.  Unfortunately, like many Bible verses, that quotation was taken out of context; the chorus actually went like this:
Someone's at the door!
Find out who's there, baby!
Go light up your building!
Go and tell the Lord:
"I want You to save me,
So, why don't You fill me?"
That doesn't exactly sound like worship, does it? Just like many CCM songs in general, while the message behind it was great, it wasn't exactly worship.  Even if a song mentions God in a positive way, that doesn't exactly make it a worship tune.

If there's anything I've always loved, it's entertainment.  Some would say computers are my lifelong love, but, I mostly used them for entertainment-related purposes: to play games when I was younger, and to research my favorite media when I got older.  I once saw an article claiming that a study supposedly proved that watching lots of TV at a young age causes autistic disorders...but the myriad of comments debunked it; instead of the television watching causing the autism, it was the exact opposite.  While I may not be as severely autistic as some people--seriously, some of them can't even begin to carry on a conversation--I find that it's a natural impulse to stare at what's on a screen or listen to whatever music is playing, even if I don't like it; without headphones--sometimes even with them--it's impossible for me to tune it out.  These days, many parents allow their young children to play with iPads, Kindles, Nintendo DSes, or other devices in order to help them remain quiet during church services.  While I don't take offense to that--my mom did the same thing with books when I was their age--I have to admit it can be distracting; I sometimes find myself staring at the screen of their device instead of singing along like I should be.  More to the point, my mom turned on some reruns of Two of a Kind, a sitcom starring the Olsen twins, who are among my least favorite celebrities.  A kid who my mom was taking care of said that I must have liked them, because I was sitting there watching it, but, honestly, I was just watching it because it was on; I did the same thing sometimes when my mom turned on figure skating or the news, two things that aren't exactly my among my viewing preferences.  It was just too difficult to not pay attention, regardless of what was on the screen, which is why my mom was usually careful about what she allowed me to watch and listen to.

To me, there's little difference between Christian entertainment and mainstream entertainment; whether books, movies, music, TV shows, or anything else, it exists only to entertain.  Sure, Christian fare may have a big message behind it, but so does much secular fare, even if the message isn't morally right.  When I listen to Christian music, I don't find myself worshiping; I find myself pleased by the sounds hitting my ears...which is the same thing that happens when I'm listening to Victoria Justice.  That's why I'm glad I go to a church that doesn't use instruments; if every church service I went to was like a Demi Lovato concert, I'd lose focus of why I was there.  I remember an instance in the middle school Bible class where the teacher asked if we felt church was boring, and one guy commented, "We don't come to church to have fun." I agree; church services aren't movie showings or ball games, and shouldn't be treated as such.  True, some slight instrumentation--i.e., a light piano background--wouldn't be too distracting, but heavy rock guitars would be.  That's why I was shocked when I heard my sister say that we were going to Christian concerts to worship God; that wasn't why I consumed entertainment of any kind, including Christian music.

I've known some people who are anti-CCM, for various reasons: they feel said music is of low quality, that Christian music shouldn't have instruments, that the music isn't really Christian like it claims to be, etc.  While I'm not against it--after all, I've been listening to CCM since I was in fifth grade--I still feel that it's not a replacement for the music we sing in church.  Most popular music--of any genre, Christian or otherwise--is about sonic quality: the instrumentation, the vocals, or both.  However, worship music--as we sing it in church, that is--is all about the lyrics; it's not about the vocal prowess of the people singing it.  If you've sat in a church service, you've probably sat near someone who sang off-key; I once heard a story about a now-late fellow church member who always sang loudly, even though he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.  It wasn't because he wanted everyone to hear him; it was because of the One to whom he was singing.  The rest of us would do good to follow his example, regardless of vocal talent or lack thereof.

In closing, I will say this: Regardless of what kind of music you listen to or how many hymns you sing during church services, you have to be careful about idol worship.  I've always heard the definition of "idol" as "anything that takes the place of God," and that could be pretty much anything in the universe but God.  People used to know me for my "idols"; one high school friend asked me after we reconnected via Facebook, "You still worship that one actress?" He was speaking of Anne Hathaway; while that friend wasn't a Christian, it wasn't a good sign that my adoration of a celebrity--any of them, really--came off that way.  The secular definition of "worship" is usually used in regards to people's attitudes towards famous people; I've often heard the term "idol" used as a synonym for "hero," when it really isn't.  It doesn't even have to be someone famous; it could be an abstract entity, such as entertainment, or a loved one, such as a spouse or other romantic interest.  I'm not going to accuse anyone of idolatry; I really don't know anyone reading this well enough to know where their priorities truly lie.  What I do know is that I have to make sure that I don't let anything come between me and my eternal salvation; while having a hobby is fine, my tendency is to turn a fun activity into an addiction, which is a problem.

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