Monday, 9 May 2011

God's Army in Old-School Music

Let's take a short trip down music memory lane. Who remembers the old days of CARMAN? I remember running around the living room as a kid with my sister, "dancing" to Sunday School Rock and then later doing a better job of it as a part of Corps Bara (or was it still "Dance Choir" then?) 7 Ways to Praise was the finale my first year at Crossings, and I remember watching other students dance to R.I.O.T. Crossings used a lot of Carman music in the early days, probably because he was one of the few Christian artists with dance-worthy music available at the time.

Recently, on a trip to visit family and poke through old photos in Saskatchewan, I packed a bunch of Carman CDs to help while away the long drive. It was a bit nostalgic and quite enjoyable, with the exception of one track that made me shriek and think my windshield had just badly cracked. I sat there hoping the entire thing didn't shatter onto my lap while I was zipping along the highway for a good few anxiety producing minutes until I had the brainwave to repeat the last song and see if I heard the glass cracking again.

Breaking glass sounds aside, I still appreciate Carman's musicality. You can't really get bored listening to his stuff - there's a wide variety of instruments and styles and each song is distinct from the last. I particularly appreciate his narrative story-style tracks, a style I've never heard imitated before, but tend to enjoy. However, I guess that over the last decade I've become a little more critical of some of the content of his songs. His theology occasionally gives me pause, as in I'm not sure that speaking to demons like dogs is a particularly good idea. And I don't know that his word-picture of heaven is exactly accurate. Also, I can point out places where I would be concerned as a producer that he is possibly going to unnecessarily offend someone, such as when he puts on a thick German accent and plays up German stereotypes as a joke. Being of German descent myself, I'm not offended, but I could see it rubbing some people the wrong way.

Perhaps the most repeated issue that leaves me cocking my head is Carman's heavy use of militant language and imagery. It keeps coming up. Our Turn Now speaks of rising up to take back schools by storm, and Satan, Bite the Dust talks about being "authorized and deputized" to "blow away" Satan and his influence. Again, Revival in the Land ends with a call to do battle against Satan and his legions while Jericho-Shout of Victory follows the theme of war and battle. God's Got an Army and R.I.O.T - well, I don't have to explain the content of those ones, do I? These are just some of the examples. It's not always about the military per se, but the idea of forceful, battle-ready, powerful Christians is easily apparent.

I can't help but think back to some of the sermons our pastor delivered recently on grace. Pastor Murray discussed how we want to have power as Christians, how we want to be a force to be reckoned with. We want to "take back" our world for Christ. He pointed out, however, that this isn't really how it's supposed to be. We come up from underneath, quietly, subversively, with grace. We forgive, we love, we are completely counter-cultural, we don't dictate culture. Scripture itself says we are to be in the world, not of the world. Is it possible for us to rule the world and yet not be of the world? I don't think so.

Emperor Constantine tried to do the whole regulated, powerful Christianity thing, and look at how it cheapened and distorted things. Christianity became a religion, not a faith. It became something you did to be popular, not something you did because you believed. Even if people are successful at bringing back Christian values into the legal systems of their nation, does that mean that any souls have been won? Or does it just mean that we have the legal right to punish wrongdoers? And if we are busy punishing people for not obeying the rules, when will we be able to show them grace? Will they listen?

Again, there is a limit here. I am not suggesting that we abandon people to their bad decisions and let evil carry the day. If the government is trying to do something patently evil, of course we are called to oppose it. If someone is running around killing people, of course we need to stop him. And I'm not saying that Christians shouldn't run for office or should never hold high-ranking positions. I'm saying that the basic tenets of Christianity, that is Christ and His grace, aren't things that you can bean someone on the head with. It just doesn't work.

The Bible talks about putting on the armour of God and no one can claim that Revelations doesn't have militaristic imagery. Elsewhere, archangel Michael was doing literal battle with demons. But is it our job to march into a place, try to take control, and "blow away" evil, top-down? Or are we called to sneak in where no one expects us, stun them by showing grace, and otherwise start a grass-roots, bottom-up movement that just keeps getting bigger and bigger but that never knocks people around? I agree with my pastor that grace is subversive, not aggressive.

Perhaps I would be more comfortable if the militant language in Carman's music were replaced with spy imagery. Oh wait, he did do some of that, too. Mission 3:16, anyone?

Tangentially related to the topic at hand, by means of my trip to Saskatchewan, this year is seeing the most back-and-forthness of the Albertan and Saskatchewanian Heinrichs relatives ever. Our worlds are kind of merging. This is good.

"There will be moments when you will feel perplexed, especially in the presence of human sin. You will ask yourself: 'Must I combat it by force or try to overcome it by humble love?' Always choose humble love, always." Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky

P.S. Neither am I suggesting that we try to show grace to demons - I'm just not so sure it's a good idea to being "commanding" Satan around.

1 comment:

art said...

I remember Carman. He had some good songs and was not scared to do unconventional things. I also question his theology a times.

I remember one move he did where we all were thinking, "What??" I am not sure where he got his ideas from. I have receive emails from church people that talk about visions they had where Jesus turns into a militant to "crush" his and our enemies. I suppose people like being on a "winning" side. That theology is out there and has appeal to many people and I am sure Carman found that appealing too.

The song that of his that bothered me is "The Red White and Blue". There are some pretty bold claims in that song like "We will never fall, We're America, America" and to put the voice of George Bush who was perhaps the most corrupt, dishonest and evil president the Americans ever had in a "Christian" song is too much.