Recently I told my wife we ought to call a lot of them "me's," not "hymns." I suppose I'm getting more curmudgeonly, such that I cringe upon hearing a congregation warble what sounds dandy when crooned by an individual over the airwaves, but seems corny and too "me-and-Jesus" for corporate worship. My Savior does indeed love, and live, and He is always there for me, but now that I am here with all my brothers and sisters, couldn't we see our way clear to sing a song that has a little more reverence or community or-God forbid-theology? Perhaps what I'm really seeking is less individuality in an American Church that has been overrun with it.
By way of hip Christian bona fides, one of my favorite albums is Strong Tower, by Kutless, in part because they take "Word of God Speak" and run an electric backbone through it. Likewise for Redemption Songs, by Jars of Clay, whose rendition of "I Need Thee Every Hour" can, trust me, bring a grown man to tears. And, of course, I dig Sufjan Stevens, rendering me a better Christian in a few circles and suspect in most of the rest. So I'm not old-fashioned about music by any means.
But I am getting pickier. I say this with reticence, because I despise Christian Gotcha, which involves jumping all over someone who refers to the Book of Revelations when good Christians know it's Revelation, or looking down on someone's New International Version of the Bible because committed Christians use the King James or the New American Standard, or seizing on his comment about happenstance in order to lecture him about how all things have been foreordained by God. Yet what is one to do with lyrics like this, from a song that is at the time of this writing, No. 3 on the Christian charts?
The singer is talking to God, I suppose, though she equally well could be addressing her grandfather. I admit I'm intolerant of clumsy wording; to this day I can't hear Casting Crowns' "Voice of Truth" without muttering to myself, "'Step out of my comfort zone'? You couldn't spend another five minutes to find a lyric that isn't one of the worst clichés of the 1990s?"
I know I put too high a bar on words, but still, this up-on-God's shoulders business reminds me of physicist Wolfgang Pauli's famous comment about a colleague's inept paper: "This isn't right. This isn't even wrong." There are a lot of things that the Christian walk entails, but I don't think freedom to be me is one of them. I don't even think a halfway decent grandfather lets you get away with that.
Then again, maybe I'm being uncharitable. Maybe what the singer means is that God frees us from the sin that destroys what we were intended to be before the Fall. And maybe the up-on-God's shoulders part isn't intended to supplant the down-on-our-knees part that is how some Christians still think about approaching Almighty God. A teenager well versed in Christian dogma, then, shouldn't find this song a stumbling block. But what of the narrow handful who-through no faults of our own, of course-haven't quite internalized what they need to know about the faith they claim as their own?
This is why, as you can see, I am unable to listen to the radio without getting into an argument with it. Perhaps the solution is for me to stick to instrumental music and indie songs with imponderable lyrics. I don't quite understand what Sam Beam means when he sings, "The creek drank the cradle you sang to," but I'm pretty sure it isn't heresy, no matter how you slice it. However, I can't say the same for some of the songs played on Christian radio stations, which is ironic.