Chances are, Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery’s 12 Step Programs would disagree. And I don’t blame them.
But I’m just curious, what would a recovery meeting look like for…people addicted to cynicism?
“Hi, my name is Chase, and I’m a cyniholic…a cyniddict….I’m a cynic. I’d been sober for two years, that is, until I heard about the new Stars Wars sequel.”
“Hi Chase,” the whole group says.
“Now, Chase, what caused you to relapse?” asks the group leader.
“A love for good art.” This statement would cause the whole room to bark up in responses.
“Hey now,” someone yells, “don’t forget the rules: no cross-talk!”
Everyone simmers down. The leader continues, “Okay, Chase, so what measures can you keep to help yourself from relapsing again.”
“Hmm. I could stay away from the internet and all sources of news or entertainment?”
Back in high school – (I’m accidentally continuing the retrospective high school theme from my previous post) – I was definitely a cynic. It started somewhere in my early teens and probably lasted me fairly far into college as well. What was I a cynic of? Honestly, at my worst I was cynical toward most things – art, behaviors, religions. But the thing I was most cynical toward was, oddly, also the thing I was most knowledgeable and most passionate about: Christian music.
As a staff writer for my high school’s newspaper, I often wrote most of the newspaper’s critical content – critical as in movie critic/music critic stuff. (In other words, the “critical” stuff that isn’t particularly critical.) For one of my articles, I was reviewing the latest album by Sanctus Real, whose previous album We Need Each Other was a favorite of mine. Call me biased, but I was so disappointed with the follow-up that I wrote a pretty scathing review that then transitioned into a mean critique of the entire Christian music industry, accusing many artists of writing “Christian” music with no true Christian inspiration.
Pretty proud of myself and my new, brilliantly insightful review, I showed it to my Editor-In-Chief, awaiting his approval. Instead, he quickly replied, “No. This is two articles.” Thanks, Greg!
So I quickly wrote away at separate articles: one simple (but still slightly scathing) review, and one entertainment blog entitled “Stop the Uninspired Music.” The former received little attention, (and it probably didn’t help that plenty of Christian critics disagreed with my opinion.)
The blog, conversely, began receiving a lot of attention and feedback for our online newspaper. You can read it for yourself, if you’d like – and I definitely made some good points in there – but I’m not here to talk about why I think that article was great.
I’m here to talk about how I’ve changed. So first, let’s recap briefly on where I came from.
I’ve been writing, for better or worse, different forms of gospel music and Christian rock since I was in elementary school. Ever since 6th grade, when I started taking music seriously as not only a hobby but also as a subject of personal study, my personal “expertise” had been in finding the very “best” that Christian music had to offer. In other words, I became very picky and very elitist. If you weren’t as groundbreaking as dcTalk or as musically impressive as House of Heroes, I probably didn’t want to have anything to do with you.
Then came the article. I accused Christian labels of doing everything for money and Christian artists of often playing with little talent and little divine inspiration. I came to the conclusion that “Christian music” as a specified genre should not even exist, even stating that there are “thousands of artists who pick up a Bible and a guitar and consider themselves ready to write for the Lord and lead peers in worship.”
To that statement, my dear friend Sophie responded, and rightly so, saying, “I do believe that anyone should be able to ‘pick up a bible and a guitar’ and worship in the way they feel led. My music may not be genius musically, but it is one of my ways to bring praise to the Lord.”
Not wanting to be wrong, I rebutted: “Anyone is free to worship God as they please. I’m sorry if my writing misled to the presumption that no one should use music to worship unless they are specifically talented. I too agree that anyone should be able to pick up a musical instrument and use it for the Lord. However, there is a big difference between someone using music to worship and someone using music to lead others in worship. This was the differentiation I was trying to make.”
Following this, Sophie said something much more profound than anything I had written personally: “All I know is that, I don’t write the most outstanding music, but I do it out of a want to praise. I fear to label myself as a Christian artist because that label now cheapens what is being done through the music.”
Thank you, Sophie. We both agreed on one thing – that the more unfortunate ends of the music industry were ruining the Christian label. But I think she had a far greater grasp on this concept of “what is being done through the music,” that being, worship. Worship.
For me, Christian music was all about being the best. I wanted Christian music to have their own Radiohead’s and Queens of the Stone Age’s and Foo Fighters’s. But I totally missed the point of what the true meaning was – worshipfulness. And even though I personally tend to write more technically impressive songs than you’re likely to find in any non-Mars Hill church, I never have and probably never will write a song that makes people worship the way songs by people like Chris Tomlin do. (Hint: I used to hate Chris Tomlin.)
So, what changed me?
I actually started playing worship music…and I started playing in worship bands…and I started worshiping. You see, when I attempted to school Sophie on the difference between worshiping and leading others in worship, it wasn’t a concept that I actually even understood yet. I wouldn’t say I really came to grips with this idea until the summer of 2012, two and a half years after I originally wrote these articles.
Learning this difference was key for me. I learned that, when I’m on the stage, the way I prefer to worship (which usually involved lots of guitar riffing and singing that approaches outright yelling) is not the best way to bring a group of others into worship. And honing in my skills and stylistic choices in order to bring others into better worship is a much better service to God than me worshiping however I prefer.
In other church bands, I used to get super bummed out when we had to play one of those boring 3-chord songs, or when the leader would ask me to stop playing so many guitar riffs. Now I love plenty of simple, three-chord songs, as long as they are worshipful and true.
Philippians 4:8 (NIV) says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Now, I haven’t given up on finding the bands that fit into the more “excellent” section of this verse (like Gungor), but I used to ignore every other adjective in this list. I now see how pure and lovely a Hillsong United song can be, and there’s probably nothing I love more now than leading others in pure and lovely worship.
The reason all of this has been on mind is because I had the opportunity last night to lead the worship at my church here in Germany. Out of the 7 song set, the 5 middle songs were all in the key of C. And it was incredible. Playing acoustic guitar, I kept things fairly simple so that the pianist and violinist playing with me could do essentially whatever they wanted. They both got to worship, everyone who attended yesterday evening got to worship, and I got to enjoy being in a room filled with a joyful, heavenward noise.
(Go here to read a short follow-up post I wrote to this entry, continuing my thoughts on imitation within art.)