Skip to main content

Sigh no more

During a fervid, teenage brush with asceticism I spurned all worldy musical influences. Which, in practice, meant classifying my CD collection by "artist has made explicit public profession of Christian faith" and "other", and giving the latter portion to my sister (except for the particularly 'dangerous' ones which of course I dutifully destroyed...CDs are actually quite hard to break). I was left with a ramshackle collection of (mostly) mediocre 'CCM'*, a few 'worship' CDs**, and some desperately tenuous "mainstream artists who I don't actually like and who aren't exactly evangelical but, well, they said something about God in that interview I read so they're in". Hmm.

In truth, I don't regret this as an act of surrender, albeit a comically confused one. I can't exactly remember how long I kept it up but it was in the order of years - long after the initial naivity had worn off. Eventually, I recognised that this particular discipline was now driven only by habit and the challenge of endurance and well, I just gave it up. *Phew*.

I hope since then I have become wiser about labeling stuff as 'good' and 'bad'. All snide comments about musical credentials aside, there just seems to be a fair old amount of misguided theology, unhelpful instruction and bad example setting under the banner of 'CCM' - the danger being that well-meaning Christians blind ourselves to it by a priori classifying it as 'good'. Just because someone is a 'professional Christian musician' does not mean that they are any more learned or pastorally equipped than your average non-famous Christian, and it doesn't mean they are gonna be a good role model. So please let's be more discerning about the (Christian) music we listen to.

And the other side of that: just how much amazing, stirring, inspiring, instructive, beautiful stuff did I miss out on under my self-imposed regime? (Col 2:20-23 springs to mind). There is so much in this world to learn from - so much that reflects aspects of God's character, that teaches us something about ourselves, that inspires empathy and understanding for others. I believe that wisdom entails approaching 'culture' with discernment, humility and a commitment to purity; but part of that is learning to recognise and celebrate truth, beauty, goodness wherever it may be found (painfully obvious, I guess, but it took me a long time to learn!). Fascinatingly, even Paul referred to contemporary 'mainstream' culture from time to time: Acts 17:26-28, 1 Cor 15:33, Titus 1:12 (OK, so this last one's a bit different...).

And so to Mumford & Sons...a band with too much common sense and (by my reckoning) musical and emotional integrity to go about promoting themselves as 'Christian'. Of course, the cynical assessment would be that they have too much commercial sense - 'religious nuts' don't do so well in the mainstream market. But what is wrong with making (stirringly) good, (achingly) honest music...which happens to deal powerfully and naturally with themes of faith, hope, struggle, journey...and throwing it out there for people to listen to and respond to in their own way? (I've seen enough mediocre bands playing martyr to the 'Christian' tag, blaming discrimination when they don't get air-play, trying to rally pew dwellers into shelling out for multiple singles in pursuit of chart position victory...And the worst thing is they end up trying to do this with the most bland, message-less songs you can possibly imagine, so as not to scare the music-listening public with anything worth believing or disbelieving in. I don't want to sound vitriolic. It just makes me sad. And it makes me sad for them, that they seem to have such 'small' and distorted aspirations: "if we get famous, then everyone will know that Christians are cool".)

Hmm. Rant over, sorry. Really, I just wanted to rave enthusiastically about 'Sigh no more'...what greater accomplishment for music than to instill a sense of companionship, of being less alone. And, for me, this album does just that...expressing so many of my own hopes, fears and grapplings, with rawness and passion that makes you want to sing along at full volume whilst cleaning the kitchen, or cry with relief and catharsis at the end (or the middle, why not) of a hard day.

These are the bits that get me every time...though they don't have the same stirring effect on the page (I guess that's half the point!):
The Cave: "Now let me at the truth which will refresh my broken mind"
Sigh no more: "Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you - it will set you free. Be more like the man you were made to be."
Hold on to what you believe: "Hold on to what you believe in the light, when the darkness has robbed you of your sight"



*CCM = Christian Contemporary Music, for the uninitiate. I don't mean to be so dismissive - there is the odd hidden gem (Tree63, Jars of  Clay, DC Talk...well, they're awful, sort of, but sort of amazing).

**I find it slightly distressing when they insist on inserting snippets of 'spontaneous' worship between the main tracks...especially on the 5th/10th/50th time of hearing...

Comments

Gareth said…
Timshel: "And you are not alone in this/
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand" always sounds so real to me, they've been there, together; it sounds like brotherhood.

Popular posts from this blog

An autobiographical poem about walking on water

A decade ago, give or take – feeling at crisis point in my mental health and desperately socially disconnected – I "went up for prayer" at a church I was visiting. (I find it hard to do this at my own church when I feel desperately socially disconnected. It's hard enough even to be at my own church at such times). And the gentle, kindly woman who placed her hand on my shoulder and prayed some simple, general, healing words to suit my simple, general, hurting plea looked thoughtfully at me afterwards and said "just, if and when you can, keep taking each next step towards Jesus, whatever that looks like," or words to that effect. It seemed as good a plan as any, so I did. (Not instead of getting medical and professional help, I hasten to add; seeking out and receiving whatever support is available has always felt more like an action of faith than a compromise of it).

Since then, stepping towards Jesus has taken me (slowly, often painfully, and usually the long w…

The Sin of Onan

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also. (Genesis 38:6-10) According to Google's answer to what (let's face it) must be right up there among the most-asked questions since the invention of the search engine, this story is the closest the Bible comes to saying anything directly about masturbation.

And it isn't a story about masturbation. It's not even a story, not really, about birth control methods – although they feature. It's a story about the denial of ju…

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.  (T.S. Eliot, from The Waste Land, part I: The Burial of the Dead,1922) These lines have lingered in my mind the past few days. Eliot wrote The Waste Land in the years following the First World War, when the landscape of humanity seemed perhaps particularly stark and bleak. The poem resounds with disquiet and despair: all glimpsed respite turns out to be illusory or faltering; it seems improbable that any grounds for real hope exist at all. Eliot …