Does Music+Saying Jesus=Good Music?

The other day I bought a new christian cd because someone I respect said I should. I headed out for a run and a listen. Now my runs are usually 3-6 miles of hilly-ness and the biggest hill I tackle first in order to get it out of the way. I go 1/2 a mile down and then run 1/2 a mile back up and when I say up, I mean UP! This day started out no different but by the time I got back up the hill I was mad. So upset in fact that I turned myself back around and ran the hill again. Here I was again, one second hopeful and the next disappointed. My husband Jonathan warned me to not be so optimistic before I headed out the door but that only seemed to make me want to be more hopeful. Those hopes came crashing down accompanied by sweat and lung ache. Here was another cd of christian musicians trying too hard to be cool and as a result coming off as frauds. I think christian musicians/songwriters etc. are divided into a few groups, let’s say 3. On one side there are those who work within the machine that christian radio has built, then there are those who abandon that machine and find a home in mainstream music by cleverly cloaking their faith based lyrics so that the general public will still listen, and finally a third group that falls somewhere between. This group will never fit into the christian radio machine, which means they will ultimately never really “make it” in christian music, because they can’t find a way reconcile being honest in their musicality as well as their lyric and following the strict rules that christian radio has set. They will also never be successful in the mainstream market because lyrically their songs are far too blatant about their beliefs. Should these bands/artists be punished from both sides for not playing along? Should they loose heart and start to lean one way or the other compromising their craft? It is a weird game to play. On one side you have musicians, who are christians, that are writing songs as if they are playing “Catch Phrase” and they say every description but the one everybody wants to say. You just want to yell “Stop saying ‘Well it’s warm and makes me feel fuzzy and it’s bright and it’s the opposite of dark….'” I just want to shout “Say the word! It’s LIGHT!”. Those christians are being just as dishonest as the christian music producers that slap too much compression on everything to try to keep you from being able to tell there’s no life in the music or the christian staff songwriter who’s focus is strategically placing a lyric in a song to get you to cry instead of writing from a real experience about a real God. There is an unspoken belief that if you want to make technically “good” artistic music you have to do it in a non-christian outlet. There is also an idea that as long as you have the name of Jesus in your song then it should be good enough and the musicality doesn’t have to be current or relevant or interesting. I’m tired of that though. I want music that is great because it has lyrics that are about a great God as well as being creative/artistic/boundary pushing/revealing/challenging/inspiring/gifted music. King David was brought to Saul, in the bible, because he was skilled at what he did. People were talking about him. Word got around and eventually there he was sitting before the king. T. S Eliot says, “Poetry takes something that we know already and turns it into something new.” I want christian music to do this AND be accepted. I want christian musicians who do this to be able to make a living and continue. Ahhhhh…Well that is enough of a rant from me. To leave on a good note…there are bands/artists that I think are doing each of these types of music right. Some making a better living than others because of the machine they are tied to but there is honesty and truth and talent in what they do. Here are a few that come to mind(I realize you might not agree with me on these):

Trudging through mainstream music without watering down their beliefs: Switchfoot

Carefully treading the christian radio water and maintaining life in the music: Phil Wickham

Balancing on the high-wire in between the two: John Mark McMillan

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About sarah macintosh

I am Sarah MacIntosh, formerly the lead singer for a band called Chasing Furies. I am a writer. Some writing has melody some doesn't. Some writing is for myself and some is for others. The songs tend to bubble up inside for quite some time and eventually burst out later with or without a guitar in my hand. Recently there have been towering highs and plummeting lows in my life all which have been carefully guarded by my Savior, Jesus. It is these things that have been written about on scraps of paper, tattered journals, and my faithful mac laptop. These words jotted down have swirled around in my head until they have finally come out of my mouth in melody. Melody and words have joined together and are now being carefully placed and suspended in time on tracks that will eventually be a cd. I will crack the door so that you can see what has been written... here and there...in a plane...in a hotel... View all posts by sarah macintosh

5 responses to “Does Music+Saying Jesus=Good Music?

  • josh mac

    sarah,

    this couldn’t have come at a better time for me. i’m in the struggle of how to create great art and be unapologetically Christian at the same time. Switchfoot has been a solid example of this.

    i would argue that the Furies lone CD release was an example of how the Christian industry doesn’t know what to do with music that has too few JPM’s (Jesus Per Minutes). it’s a deeply meaningful album for me…love it.

    not much to say really, but your thoughts were great to hear from someone else (i feel alone in this sometimes)!

    thanks,
    joshmac

  • Matthew B

    Sarah, I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. There is something to be said about threading that needle… not being worldly, but not religious.

  • Rachel D

    I work in christian radio & I totally agree with you. We are one of the few independant stations left that hasn’t been bought out by a larger syndicate. So we get to pick our own music. We play lots of your stuff, Phil Wickham & JMM. My brother and I are always looking for new and good music, so keep it comin’!

  • Dan

    So nice to know that it’s not just me who has thought about this and ended up at the same conclusion!
    I think that last time the the CCM industry actually put out a great album was when you and your siblings (Chasing Furies) put out your CD.
    My music project will never be on a CCM label because we refuse to do the high JPM (Jesus per minute) count. We write what we feel, and a lot of it deals with stuff that is not “happy and sappy”. But since we get very positive interactions with the people to whom our music speaks, we are content. Still gotta’ have the day job though!

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