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mrmando

Take THAT, Kebbie

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kebbie,

What you say is tight. I agree with you that

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This book forever changed my life as well as this one.

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mrmando   
Here in all its hastily edited glory is the latest round of feedback at CT Music. Thank you for playing!

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Maybe there are a few poindexters out there, like Pruitt, but they seem to be a dying breed.

I am surprised by this response (saying that the argument kebbie is making is so 15 to 20 years ago). I know that the point is not new, but my experience is that Pruitt is not a dying breed. I think that the church is going in the right direction, but that there are plenty of poindexters out there, as well as less volatile but still in the dark Christians who need to read Schaeffer, Ryken, and Turner, but probably won't get there on their own, so thanks to kebbie for writing something someplace where they do read, CT online, and hopefully they'll get to Turner (who she references) and others from there.

Sure, this may be an old debate for those on A&F, but not for the majority of readers of CT, is it?

Working at colleges, maybe kebbie and I are educators at heart, and are looking for ways to teach those that haven't considered these things. I'm planning a conference in the fall for college students, and Steve Turner will be the plenary speaker. We'll be discussing a lot of these issues, and I know that there are students who need to hear this stuff (for the first time).

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I am surprised by this response (saying that the argument kebbie is making is so 15 to 20 years ago).  I know that the point is not new, but my experience is that Pruitt is not a dying breed.  I think that the church is going in the right direction, but that there are plenty of poindexters out there, as well as less volatile but still in the dark Christians who need to read Schaeffer, Ryken, and Turner, but probably won't get there on their own, so thanks to kebbie for writing something someplace where they do read, CT online, and hopefully they'll get to Turner (who she references) and others from there.

Sure, this may be an old debate for those on A&F, but not for the majority of readers of CT, is it?

Working at colleges, maybe kebbie and I are educators at heart, and are looking for ways to teach those that haven't considered these things.  I'm planning a conference in the fall for college students, and Steve Turner will be the plenary speaker.  We'll be discussing a lot of these issues, and I know that there are students who need to hear this stuff (for the first time).

I'm coming to this discussion late, but I agree with you, Jeff. The argument may have been made twenty years ago (thirty, if you count books like Schaeffer's "Art Needs No Justification"), but the responses to kebbie's article show that it's still viewed with deep suspicion by many Christians. Which makes it worth mentioning again, and kebbie expressed it very well.

Perhaps the best response to the naysayers is this:

http://www.metacritic.com/music/bests/2005.shtml .

Here is an evangelical Christian who has released an album that is quite open and quite positive in its references to the Christian faith, and it is being almost universally lauded in the secular world. With apologies to Bruce Cockburn and Bill Mallonee, who I love, and who have been doing it for a long time, no one since U2 has had this kind of impact in the secular media. And that's worth celebrating, not so much because it's "Christian" music, but because it's excellent music informed by a Christian worldview. Somebody's doing it right.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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The real problem is that this is old news of 20 to 30 years standing and that there are those who have such a narrow standard for modern pop music. And only modern pop music. Let a few hits rot for 10 to 20 years and some of these folks will celebrate that ossified corner of secular music. Further, no one will sustainedly apply such shallow reasoning to much of classical music either. Ironic since many, like Schubert, tossed off song after song to merely pay for dinner. Bach was forced by contract to write cantatas and other sundry pieces every week for the Sunday service.

OTOH, the fact that it is old news also implies that those of us who are weary of the argument have still failed to carry the debate successfully to many corners of the church.

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mrmando   

New piece at CT's Feedback page:

I think it may be telling that you called the original article a "thoughtful commentary" and the response "controversial." This may be showing the overall bias of Christian Music Today.

Oh, so there should be nothing controversial about Christians publicly sledgehammering other Christians' motives.

As far as artists like Mallonee and Sarah Masen, on an indie label they only have about 12 listeners anyway. They may be reaching a few people who like to listen to more esoteric music, but the spiritual message in most artsy albums you have to peel away four levels of poetic nonsense to get the message.

Funny how you have to do that with a lot of Jesus' parables too. I still am not convinced I understand the message of the Parable of the Unjust Steward, for example.

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I want to ask this question. Isn

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mrmando   

I'd have to see some demographic stats to know whether hardcore fundies are losing numbers. It does seem obvious that they don't have the cultural/media clout they once did. Much of that clout has gone to evangelicals, who don't seem to have a problem with CCM. Even Dobson, in some ways the most bluenosed of the prominent evangelicals, gives CCM plenty of play in his youth publications.

As an ex-fundie and presently sort of a post-evangelical (attending one of the more evangelical congregations in a somewhat liberal presbytery of a rather confused denomination), it's hard for me to remember that just because I no longer have much contact with people who think a certain way, that doesn't mean they've gone away. Or just because I changed my mind doesn't mean everyone else has.

In terms of spiritual development, perhaps being a fundie and then being a conservative evangelical were steps on the way to being whatever I am now. Maybe they correspond to "stages of faith." And if that's the case, then maybe different types/expressions of faith in music also correspond to stages of faith development. And if that's the case, then it's ridiculous of people who inhabit Stage 4 to say, "You people on Stages 2 and 3 should be more like us, and to help you get there, we demand that you set fire to your stages immediately." I think those who are meant to leave CCM behind and search for something deeper will find their way eventually. It's pointless to insist that everyone must take that leap.

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And if that's the case, then it's ridiculous of people who inhabit Stage 4 to say, "You people on Stages 2 and 3 should be more like us, and to help you get there, we demand that you set fire to your stages immediately." I think those who are meant to leave CCM behind and search for something deeper will find their way eventually. It's pointless to insist that everyone must take that leap.

And who is doing that pray tell?

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mrmando   
And who is doing that pray tell?

Well, I won't name names, but there are those among us who've called for CCM to "dismantle itself," "go away," "burn to the ground," etc. I am enormously sympathetic with their reasons, but I have been careful not to go that far myself. Even though such pleas are well-intentioned, they're certainly not perceived that way. I refer you to some of the comments left on a certain unnamed blog a few days ago. Edited by mrmando

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Sympathetic but would not call for the dismantling of CCM. Why not?

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stu   
And who is doing that pray tell?

Well, I won't name names, but there are those among us who've called for CCM to "dismantle itself," "go away," "burn to the ground," etc.

*Embarassed cough* Ahem. I think I may, possibly, have made some comments on a thread about a year ago that could, perhaps, have been construed as, er, basically being along those lines. I don't think "burn to the ground" was me though. dry.gif

I'm not sure if I still agree with myself. Maybe not. However, here is one point in support of the 'should dismantle itself' angle:

We should probably expect, in a society which values making money above most other things, there to be the kind of mass produced, soulless mediocrity that flourishes in 'the secular' music industry alongside more infrequent excellence and creativity (assuming for a second that we agree that at least in theory there can be a distinction between mere personal preference and objective aesthetic value...) But if something bears the name 'Christian', i.e. CCM, should it not have the some kind responsibility to be motivated by something more definite and positive than the 'secular' industry? If something has deliberately set itself up as a Christian version of something else (and surely that's exactly what CCM is) it should be guided by more than inertia and profit, and have a responsibility to live up to whatever reason it was created for in the first place. I can certainly see the point that it is unfair to expect other people to cease what they're doing just because you happen to have moved beyond it, but I think that the church should be able to articulate why it does what it does, and why it does what it does in the particular way it does it at the time. Maybe there is a clear vision for the ongoing existence CCM-style things, and I have either missed it, or just don't agree with it, but I guess I have this (possibly uninformed) suspicion that there is a lack of real underlying purpose other than inertia, and the need to keep a business going.

I'm not sure this really supports the view that CCM should just finish, but maybe it supports a major re-think of what it is there for. If is no longer there for in order for Christian artists to be able to express their faith musically (as this whole debate focuses on the fact that there are loads of Christian artists doing ok on mainstream labels), and if most Christians feel that listening to music made by (some) non-Christians is ok morally in any case, and if it does not function radically differently as a business from secular labels (i.e. if it markets products based on whether they will sell rather that whether it believes them to be inherently worthwhile in some way or not), then surely it is reasonable to ask it, maybe not to pack up and go home, but at least to say why it does what it does, being as it bears the name 'Christian'? Assuming that the answers 'beacuse we always have' and 'because we make money' are not enough, on their own.

Not sure if I have re-persuaded myself or not.

Edited by stu

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mrmando   
We should probably expect ...  there to be the kind of mass produced, soulless mediocrity

But people who like CCM don't accept that as a valid description of it.

(assuming for a second that we agree that at least in theory there can be a distinction between mere personal preference and objective aesthetic value...)

That's assuming an awful lot. Of course there can be such a distinction, but how on earth could you get everybody to agree that the distinction exists, let alone what constitutes objective aesthetic value and whether it's important?

But if something bears the name 'Christian', i.e. CCM, should it not have the some kind responsibility to be motivated by something more definite and positive than the 'secular' industry?

I think a proponent of CCM would say that the lyrical content is what sets it apart.

If is no longer there for in order for Christian artists to be able to express their faith musically (as this whole debate focuses on the fact that there are loads of Christian artists doing ok on mainstream labels),

But there are a whole bunch of Christian artists who would either never make it on mainstream labels or would have to radically change what they do in order to make it. Music that is specifically "worship music" or evangelical propaganda will NOT find a place on mainstream labels. I don't like most such music, but that doesn't mean those who DO like it should be deprived of it. Just because I like prime rib is in itself no reason to shut down McDonald's. Or Gerber.

I guess I'm either a laissez-faire kind of guy or a cynical realist. I mean, if I were omnipotent I would erase the Assemblies of God denomination from the surface of the earth. (For starters, they ordained both Swaggart and Bakker.) But, while that might make me feel better and maybe even beautify the landscape of American Christianity, it still wouldn't be fair.

(Disclaimer: I have said elsewhere that I hope more and more Christians-who-are-musicians will choose to work outside of the CCM industry and thence render it irrelevant. Maybe this is the "wither away" approach as opposed to the "violent and bloody revolution" approach.

Edited by mrmando

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Oh you mean Overstreet

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But there are a whole bunch of Christian artists who would either never make it on mainstream labels or would have to radically change what they do in order to make it. Music that is specifically "worship music" or evangelical propaganda will NOT find a place on mainstream labels. I don't like most such music, but that doesn't mean those who DO like it should be deprived of it. Just because I like prime rib is in itself no reason to shut down McDonald's. Or Gerber.

I agree. I don't like the vast majority of CCM. Most days I wish it would go away. But I do think there's a place for worship music, and if it's not in CCM, then I'm not sure where else that place might be. It's certainly not on the major labels, competing with "Drop it like it's hot" and "Hit me baby one more time."

But there is a genre of music that is intended to be an aid for worship. It doesn't work as passive listening. In fact, if you approach it that way, then the banal lyrics are going to be a huge deterrent, and you're going to come away irritated. But I would also argue that simple doesn't always equate to shallow, and that sometimes the simplest, most direct statements work quite well in the context or worship when they would fall flat as works of art.

In other words, I apply different criteria to worship music than I do to a singer/songwriter opus, in the same way that I read the Book of Psalms differently than I do the Book of Ruth. Their goals are different. And since David wasn't above repetition and over-the-top statements, I'm willing to cut worship music some slack.

Rather than putting it in gastronomic germs (McDonald's or Gerber -- still a big fan of the creamed bananas), I'd rather think of it as Faulkner vs. Hemingway. Faulkner, had he been so inclined, would have written beautifully complex hymns full of subtle theological ideas. Hemingway would have written praise choruses. I love God. God is great. Time to go fish.

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stu   
(Disclaimer: I have said elsewhere that I hope more and more Christians-who-are-musicians will choose to work outside of the CCM industry and thence render it irrelevant. Maybe this is the "wither away" approach as opposed to the "violent and bloody revolution" approach.

Not at all tempted by a the revolutionary approach? If you help me with CCM, I'll lend a hand to AOG. Once the dust of this peaceful(ish) revolution had settled, Arts and Faith would rule Christendom with an informed and artistically aware rod of iron. There would be compulsory reading lists, obligatory film viewings, an enforced musical canon, and so on. I can see it already...

More seriously, about this:

QUOTE

(assuming for a second that we agree that at least in theory there can be a distinction between mere personal preference and objective aesthetic value...)

That's assuming an awful lot. Of course there can be such a distinction, but how on earth could you get everybody to agree that the distinction exists, let alone what constitutes objective aesthetic value and whether it's important?

I think the point I was trying to make was not that we can ever say definitively what excellence consists in, or should even try, but more the recognition that excellence, however slippery and impossible to define it is, is what should be aimed for. I can't help but think that the people at the top of any big record company must secretly admit that what they are looking for is not primarily excellence, but sellability (not that the two are always incompatible), and an understanding that to do good business they must market things that they do not honestly believe to be all that good (and marketing tends to be aggressive; not just giving people what they already want, but influencing what people want in the first place). A new band turns up, with something genuinely interesting and original, and then there is a huge rush to find something else a bit like it, that can be quickly put out to strike while the iron is hot and shift units. This also has an impact on bands trying to 'make it'; they primarily have to try and show that they are marketable, not that they are excellent, in order to get picked up, and there ends up being little joy in the whole affair. I guess this is all pretty obvious, but if it is the case that this kind of thing is at work in CCM/related labels, as well as major mainstream labels, then surely some kind of encouragement to change is in order?

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kebbie   
New piece at CT's Feedback page:
As far as artists like Mallonee and Sarah Masen, on an indie label they only have about 12 listeners anyway. They may be reaching a few people who like to listen to more esoteric music, but the spiritual message in most artsy albums you have to peel away four levels of poetic nonsense to get the message.

Oh, my God. I give up.

Edited by kebbie

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But if something bears the name 'Christian', i.e. CCM, should it not have the some kind responsibility to be motivated by something more definite and positive than the 'secular' industry? If something has deliberately set itself up as a Christian version of something else (and surely that's exactly what CCM is) it should be guided by more than inertia and profit, and have a responsibility to live up to whatever reason it was created for in the first place.

There are certainly negative elements in CCM. This would be one of those negatives. And it is THIS that I think is what REALLY bothers MOST Christians about CCM. But this can be found in Church and yet we don

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Darren H   
but the spiritual message in most artsy albums you have to peel away four levels of poetic nonsense to get the message.

I think I might have that put on a T-shirt. I especially like how the author repeats "the [spiritual] message." A sentence construction just can't have enough objects, as far as I'm concerned.

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mrmando   
But I would also argue that simple doesn't always equate to shallow, and that sometimes the simplest, most direct statements work quite well in the context or worship when they would fall flat as works of art. 

Agreed. I just wonder why people think worship music needs to be on CDs. For me the point of worship music, and I say this as a long-term player in worship bands, is for a group of people to sing the songs together with God as the audience. It's a participatory act. I would never just sit around and listen to most worship music (except maybe Kate Miner, Michael Card, a few others).

Rather than putting it in gastronomic germs (McDonald's or Gerber -- still a big fan of the creamed bananas),

There's the band name I've been looking for!

I'd rather think of it as Faulkner vs. Hemingway.  Faulkner, had he been so inclined, would have written beautifully complex hymns full of subtle theological ideas.  Hemingway would have written praise choruses.  I love God.  God is great.  Time to go fish.

Another analogy that occurred to me is that it's silly for butterflies to go around saying, "Caterpillars must die."

I think the point I was trying to make was not that we can ever say definitively what excellence consists in, or should even try, but more the recognition that excellence, however slippery and impossible to define it is, is what should be aimed for.

Well, once you get someone to admit THAT, then you're over the hump and all the other conclusions about Christianity and music will naturally follow.

I can't help but think that the people at the top of any big record company must secretly admit that what they are looking for is not primarily excellence, but sellability (not that the two are always incompatible), and an understanding that to do good business they must market things that they do not honestly believe to be all that good.

Lynn Nichols, former guitarist for the Phil Keaggy Band and Chagall Guevara, is an A&R guy at Word. I've heard Lynn quoted as saying that three days out of the week he wonders what the hell he's doing at the office, the fourth day is neutral, and the fifth day he feels like he's actually accomplishing some good. (Hey Lynn: Just stay home those first four days!)

I guess this is all pretty obvious, but if it is the case that this kind of thing is at work in CCM/related labels, as well as major mainstream labels, then surely some kind of encouragement to change is in order?

Sure, but "Please change" is more encouraging than "Here's a rope, please hang yourself."

Oh, my God. I give up.

Which part of that did you feel compelled to edit? wink.gif

Taproot Theatre is Seattle's theatre-company-run-by-Christians-striving-for-excellence; they've been at it 29 years and have very, very gradually introduced more challenging material into their seasons. As they do, their audience shifts this way and that ... more conservative types are offended by certain things and cancel their subscriptions, while others discover that a company with a Christian mandate can still do some great theatre. I could be wrong, but I see the same sort of development taking place with CT Music and CT Movies ... trying to educate (to whatever extent possible) the audience they've got while developing new segments of said audience.

All of which is to say, please don't give up.

Edited by mrmando

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This is ridiculous.

I will admit that I am always skeptical about the artists I listen to, but that does not mean that each artist is looking to glorify himself or herself. Look at people like Rebecca St. James. Your walk always talks louder than your talk talks and her walk is definitely talking. The Bible tells us that we will know true Christians "by their fruits." When we use that verse as a magnifying glass, we can begin to exam our own character as well as the character of the artists. In this way, we will find music that glorifies God and not a human being.

I applaud RSJ for her efforts, but even more so, I thank God that He has gifted His children with different talents to glorify Himself. It is He who gives our lives a purpose and a meaning. Glorifying Him.

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stu   
This is ridiculous.

I will admit that I am always skeptical about the artists I listen to, but that does not mean that each artist is looking to glorify himself or herself.

What specifically are you objecting to? There are a lot of different views expressed above, which particularly bits do you think are ridiculous?

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I started a Blog and this was one of the first issues I spoke about. You can view it here at Brandon's Blog.

This is my first time doing this, so please excuse the technical difficulties, grammar and what not while I get use to the blogging experience. I will add more to the blog on this issue hopefully on an almost daily basis, but this is all I have for now.

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