Sunday, January 21, 2007

Southern Gospel Music & Why I Like It

Following up on the problem of prejudice, I want to take a pot-shot at my generation of Christians. If there is one thing young Christians are prejudiced against, its gotta be Southern Gospel Music.

For many of the contemporary Praise & Worship crowd, Southern Gospel is just too old to be relevant. Its the music of your parents and grandparents. Its the music that you play at Billy Graham crusades, not for people who talk theology at Starbucks.

For many conservative Reformed thinkers, Southern Gospel is too akin to the revivalistic Pentecostalism and the Arminian worldview from which it sprang. It is too performance-driven and performer-centered to be spiritually edifying. Or perhaps, it's just too southern to be taken seriously.

There is, perhaps, some merit to each of these suggestions. One has to consider whether a song about the birth of Christ is best celebrated by mass foot stomping and clapping. Furthermore, Southern Gospel can easily fall into a similar trap as most modern praise & worship music as being primarily taste-driven with watershed theological depth.

However, in spite of the potential for abuses of the genre, I have to believe that much of the modern distaste for Southern Gospel comes from an a priori, fundamental prejudice against music that is associated with the traditional South. Both the Contemporary Praise & Worship movement and the Reformed tradition typically have more success in the climate of intellectualism than for the backwoods of Tennessee.

Southern Gospel Music is recorded in Nashville (a city which still suffers from the hick-town stigma despite its current metropolitan status) and appreciated by people in small towns. That doesn't mean that every church will have special music with untalented people trying to sound like Gospel singers (though it happens). Neither does it mean everybody who likes Southern Gospel has big hair, excessive jewelry, and bad suits.

Some Southern Gospel songs bring a tear to my eye for the piercing nature of the truth it teaches, other songs make me cringe on account of the shallowness of the doctrine (or lack-thereof). But there are at least two good examples that I want to showcase that should resonate on some level with most believers in Christ.

The first is a fairly recent song by Steve & Annie Chapman entitled, "Don't Unpack Your Bags." It is, essentially, a story about a young preacher coming to a new church and dutifully trying to introduce himself to every town-member he could before beginning his pastorate. One woman, having been a former member of his church, warned him against the power-hungry, back-stabbing nature of that very congregation notorious for demolishing the spirit of their pastors. Her recommendation for the pastor is laced with a bittered, sarcastic truth:
"Touch a feather to their ear
Tell them what they want to hear
Give ’em milk, don’t give ’em meat
Make it short, make it sweet
If you wanna stay around
That’s what you’ll have to do
But don’t unpack your bags, young man
If you plan to preach the truth

The second song, "Excuses" is by the Kingsmen Quartet (I absolutely love men's quartets!). It lampoons the motives of everyone who thinks of ways to criticize their church and spend their Sundays at home:
"Well, the preacher he's too young. And, maybe he's too old.
The sermons they're not hard enough. And, maybe they're too bold.
His voice is much too quiet-like. Sometimes he gets too loud.
He needs to have more dignity. Or, else he's way too proud.

Well, the sermons they're too long. And, maybe they're too short.
He ought to preach the word with dignity instead of 'stomp and snort.'
Well, that preacher we've got must be 'the world's most stuck up man.'
Well, one of the lady's told me the other day, 'Well, he didn't even shake my hand!'"

My point is: many Southern Gospel songs have excellent content presented in a harmoniously balanced musical style. Yes, it is Southern. Yes, it is primarily listened to by people in their 50s and up. Yes, it is not respected by mainstream intellectuals. But is it worth listening to? I answer that question with a hearty, "Amen!"

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Day 2007

As a nation, America has come a long way since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Racial street riots are no longer common, de-segregation has been enacted nationwide, and despite the fact that hate crimes still occur; they are heavily persecuted. In that sense, I am sure that King would be very pleased if he were alive today.

King lived in a time when his very life was at risk the moment he stepped out of his own house. He witnessed the horrible hypocrisy in both the Church and America in general. He was ordained as a Baptist minister and devoted his life to living out Jesus’ call for all men to love each other as brothers. The Sermon on the Mount was King’s source of inspiration and gave birth to his mission to help in the fight to bring justice to the oppressed. As he wrote to Southern pastors in a letter from a prison cell in Birmingham, Ala.:

For years now I have heard the word, “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

King understood his Christian conviction was to fight the very law itself, and, if at all possible, to fight it with an attitude of nonviolence. Though he understood the meaning of turning the other cheek, he did not simply allow injustice to take place unrestrained. At the cost of his earthly life, he fought for what he believed was a great truth of the Bible. Though many personal injustices were committed against him and his family, he kept his focus upon Washington, where rules are created and revised. How would King have responded to a profanity ushered at him? Would he have tied up the judicial system just to win financial compensation and vengeance for emotional stress? I think not, King had witnessed too much evil in his life to be phased by mere racial slur issued from the mouth of a fool. In the 21st century world, no insult goes without retaliation. No attack on dignity is ignored. And hardly any sin is forgiven. Can’t take a dumb joke? Sue 'em.

Perhaps the opportunism promoted by pseudo-Kings are the reason Americans feel that the world owes them special treatment. When a civil-rights leader leads a march on a high school crying "racism" when a kid gets suspended for being involved in a brawl at a football game, the example of King becomes all the more refreshing. When an athlete calls NFL owners "slave-masters" for paying him millions of dollars and expecting him to play by the rules, King must role over in his grave. King pushed for equal rights, not special treatment

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Am I the Person of the Year?

Looks like I've just won Time magazine's Person of the Year award for 2006. Have to confess I didn't expect it, but I'll welcome the honor all the same.

Only problem is that if you read it you'll probably contest that you won the award too.