I was complaining to my wife’s brother-in-law the Episcopal priest one night about modern liturgical folk music, and how much it sounds like bad U2 to me.
Contemporary Christian songcraft, I say, feels corporate. It is not that punk rock doesn’t; it is that praise music reverses the usual workflow of commodification. In the secular world, corporations monitor the street, looking for Next Big Things and meal tickets. Using secret rubrics and predictive algorithms, they decide which trends to cherrypick, bowdlerize, and sell back to the good people of Kardashia declawed of whatever might have been genuinely transgressive, except, of course, the sex.
Christian pop, on the other hand, seems conceived in the corporate boardroom and planted on the street in a comically near-miss wardrobe of credibility. It aims for the “now,” and, after much research, street reconnaissance, focus grouping, and seven layers of committee sign-off, arrives somewhere in the early to mid Nineties.
Yeah, that’ll win with the kids of today, who can’t get enough Bono, who is Christian already, by the way.
What, I ask him, does God care for relevance and trendiness? We dance to his tune, not he to ours. His authority, already absolute and unquestioned by those of faith, only gains in gravity and conviction by association with antiquity, an unchanging tradition of ritual, magic and dread. The lesson of time is always the same: you dance on a huge pile of bones you are soon to join. Awesome in the oldest sense of the word.
If you’ve already got J.S. Bach and the King James, I say, why exactly this interest in Coldplay and Mitch Albom?
When I step into a church, I say, I want to hear tunes that have been piped into that fusty room for at least a hundred years, maybe two, maybe three! If I’m Europe, five, six, seven! Ten! Music as old as the dust from the flue! Chant me in Latin! That kind of haunted historical continuity is the church’s greatest and most compelling asset.
He smiles and says with a fatigued nonchalance, “I hear that opinion all the time, and it’s always from people who never go to church.”