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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...


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.

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