This isn’t a book, but an article that closely mirrors my own experience.
No, I’ve never sniffed glue. That’s way too low class a vice to ever tempt me. That’s not the literal subject of the article, either. Instead, the author spends time reflecting on her musical and spiritual development. She began as a homeschooled evangelical Christian, for whom even contemporary Christian music was a risk. Recounting her discovery of 1990’s bands like DC Talk, Jars of Clay and All Star United, she describes how those and other bands tried to make legitimate music with a Christian message:
This, by the way, is considered the ultimate sign of quality CCM, even amongst Christians: the ability to pass as secular. Every band’s goal was to have teenagers stop their grooving mid-song and exclaim, like a soda commercial actress who’s just realized she’s been drinking diet, “Wait, this is Christian?” The logic was that the more these bands fit in with what was playing on the radio, the more someone like me would feel comfortable passing their album on to my non-Christian friends (supposing I’d had any), giving them a chance to hear the gospel.
That worked for her, until she discovered real music when, on an out of town trip, she watched MTV for the first time, becoming entranced by Nirvana.
On one of those gray afternoons I saw Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. In a smoky warehouse, the band and a team of tattooed cheerleaders performed for bleachers full of kids. As the song progresses, the scene dissolves into anarchy: the students jump off the bleachers, strip off their clothes, destroy the band’s equipment, and light the entire set on fire. I watched this perched on the edge of my bed, about three feet from the TV screen, while Sheena was taking a nap. I didn’t catch any of the lyrics, but I was mesmerized by Kurt Cobain stumbling around the set, squinting into the light, barely suppressing a sneer. I couldn’t have told you what the word “irony” meant, but I knew I’d been cheated by Christian rock. This was crack, and I’d been wasting my time sniffing glue.
Hence the title to the article. And also the beginning of the end of her faith, as she realized that Christian music, and the church in general, could never compete with secular entertainent. And, by making the attempt to be relevant, the church had actually lost what made it special.
Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.
This is very familiar.
Not totally, of course. I did not begin as a home school evangelical, isolated from the world’s temptations. I like telling people that in fourth grade, two friends and I sang the Beastie Boys’ “Girls” for a school talent show. In high school, Nevermind stayed in my tape deck. Then, not long after high school, I became the an extremely raging and annoying convert, and all the old favorites went in the trash. The love of music would not disappear, though. In what I then certainly considered a godsend, not long after my conversion, groups like those mentioned in the article began to become popular. I attended many of their concerts, and still have many of their CD’s. My iPod might even still have some Grammatrain. That experience is what makes me say Amen to much of this article.
Likewise, the new christianstuff, good as it was, just could not compete. Most of christian music was like imposter perfumes: “If you like . . . you’ll love….” I liked DC Talk, but while I was majoring in Biblical Studies, the Beastie Boys released Hello Nasty. I loved it, even though I couldn’t. I resisted that temptation, but soon enough, I surrendered to it and others.
At the same time, I also became disenchanted with the whole relevance idea. Not only did Christian versions of music lose when competing with the real thing, but, when incorporated into worship services, they left me feeling empty and cheated. I didn’t immediately abandon church. I did, though, become a Catholic, looking for something more ancient and authentic than what I now considered the evangelical world’s a cheesy imitation of pop culture.
I’ve since given up on Catholicism, too. Why? Too many reasons for a blog post. This article reminded me, though, that music played a role. How big? I doubt I can ever really know. I do know, however, that I still love the Beastie Boys: