Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another Annual Rant

Over on Facebook there's a bit of a conversation going on [which may well become bigger] on why so many Christians don't listen to Christian music.

Matt of the strong opinions* wrote:

When it comes to Christian media in general (books, movies, music, and so on), a lot of the stuff out there, maybe even the majority of stuff out there, is [garbage]. Complete [garbage].

Sorry Matt, I know it's not cussing, but I don't like that word. Moving on. . .

And yes, I'm generalizing, but bear with me.

I think the reason for this is because the artists have to make their stuff "Christian" in order for it to sell, which leads to music or other media that is forced, non-creative, and shows a complete lack of talent.

I'll admit it, I'm one of those Christians who likes listening to just about any music except for Christian music. Which isn't entirely true, there's a few artists I enjoy from 10-15 years . But long story short and generalizing like crazy, the musical quality I find in non-Christian music tends to be much better than Christian music.

I think it's unfortunate, I think it stinks. But I think I speak for most people in this category when I say that I'm not going to listen to Christian music solely because it's Christian.

*as his aunt Rosie once said, "What's the use of having an opinion if you don't state it emphatically?" which is kind of the Smucker family motto.

I don't know much about music, except that Steven loves to listen to K-Love and to me it all sounds breathy and whispery and shallow. And most P&W songs are like eating marshmallows. Not that everyone has to share my opinions, but really, would you sing this stuff if you were sitting in prison for your faith?

I like hillbilly gospel and hymns sung with enthusiasm and--gotta mention them--Voice of Praise, whose one member asked me point blank at the breakfast table how many of their cd's I have--zero, but I plan to change that.

I think I'm a bit more knowledgeable about books.

Thanks to Amy's love for ordering books from CBD, we have been getting a rash of their catalogs in the mail. I normally leaf through just long enough to see that once again they're not listing my books, and then I toss them in the recycle bin. As an author, it's overwhelming to see how many books are out there competing with mine, and we are all happier if I don't think about this.

But for some reason I looked through this last catalog in a bit more detail. And read the descriptions. My zeit.

"Kumme to Amish country, where the simple life offers hope and healing! In A Cousin's Prayer, Katie Yoder's boyfriend is killed in an accident--and she hides in the shadows of depression. Freeman Bontrager will make any excuse to be near Katie, hoping to win her love. But how far will he go to gain her trust. . .and her heart?"

"A tender love story set in the rolling green fields of Ohio Amish country! When newly widowed Hannah relocates from Pennsylvania to Ohio with her sheep, she's determined that her new life won't include romance. . .until she meets widower Seth Miller. Is the gentle farmer drawn to Hannah--or her productive flock?"

There is a whole catalog of this sort of thing. As someone in the industry said recently, "Just put a bonnet on it and it'll sell."

In stark contrast, I just finished
Schindler's List, one of the most moving books I've ever read.

I realize I rant about Christian books about once a year, and I know very well there are good Christian authors out there. And the catalog-description writers make every book sound like another dollop of Cool Whip, which likely isn't fair, since I see that Jerry Eicher is now featured in CBD, and he at least is authentic.

But really, what does it say about us when Christian authors and publishers fill the grocery store with Cool Whip, so to speak, and we Christian readers eat it for lunch every day?

Quote of the Day:
Me: Jenny, don't shove him!
Jenny: I wasn't shoving him. I was poking him with my nose.


  1. I haven't read the book Schindler's List, but I watched the movie... and that's one of the most moving movies I've seen in a while. Will have to read the book.

  2. Love the Cool Whip analogy. So very true.
    At the library the other day I was wondering why there is so much fluff in the children's dept, Christian and non-Christian. Where are our A.A. Milne's and Laura Ingalls Wilders? The occasional Newberry Award winner is pretty good but I wondered if anyone is creating classics for children these days? We like Patricia Pollack and Bill Peet, any other suggestions?

  3. Many years ago, at a writers' conference, I heard Christian author Walt Wangerin say that many secular novels were wonderfully written but their final message was (often) desolation. On the other hand, he noted many Christian books with their hopeful message were poorly written. He urged writers to aim for excellence.

  4. Voice of Praise at your breakfast table? They must have been in Oregon or something.

  5. Just wondering if you've read Jan Karon's books; The Mitford Series. Many people consider these Christian Fiction although they are not the "caliber" you talk about in your post. They are excellent, awesome character description, intriguing plot and story line with a hint of mystery and not a lot of "fluff" like the books you described!! I own each one of her books. (I own yours too, except I haven't gotten the last one yet.) :O)

  6. Well...what to say? At the risk of generalization, we as Mennonites decry the current state of the arts, but we're scared of engaging the culture. Until we get out there to be salt and light, it's still going to be flavorless and dark.

    Freaky, yeah, but maybe the Christian walk wasn't meant to be as "safe" as we've made it.

    I'm not saying this to be divisive or cynical. Just wishing there were others who shared this vision--and that we wouldn't have to automatically be labeled "weird". :-)

    Not that I intend to allow man's labels to keep me from God's call.

    Enjoyed your musings.

    -Anonymous Coward

  7. I agree with Anonymous. However, as I watch what happens when Mennonites (and Anabaptists in general) attempt to engage the culture, I understand why there is fear... But the problem is not with engaging the culture... the problem is that so many Anabaptists do not think Christianly, have a solidly Biblical worldview and so often do not base their thinking on Scripture alone.

    Something that is absolutely horrifying to me, is that Mennonites/Anabaptists gravitate toward theologically liberal thinkers like Peter Kreeft, or Henry Nouwen, and/or shallow psychological manipulation (i.e. Eldredge, Larry Crabb and the like). Seriously, how many Mennonites/Anabaptists have read The God Who is There, He is There and He is Not Silent, How Should We Then Live? (Francis Schaeffer), Psychobabble (Richard Ganz), The Death of Truth (Dennis McCallum) The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Leonard Verduin).

    I had a Mennonite Minister (!!!) tell me point blank that "words don't matter," -that it is what is in the heart that counts, not the words that are spoken, and basically that there is no absolute truth, that reality is relative, etc.

    But in the Bible I read,
    "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks... But I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Matthew 12:34b, 36-37)

    Why such a disconnect? Reading "Christian" psychological trash, to put it bluntly, instead of basing worldview and thinking on Bible principles...

    I'm an Anabaptist young woman, but most of the time, I feel like a fish out of water with my peers because they rave about trash like "Captivating," "Fascinating Womanhood," etc.

    Anyway, I shall get down off my soap box. And with the last statement there, I have just decided that I shall remain anonymous :-).

  8. From my experience as an Anabaptist/Mennonite we have long majored on our words being the ultimate judge of our hearts.

    Maybe those who say things like "words don't matter" are really reacting to that rather than deeply believing it. I'm not defending that, but saying that either end of the spectrum is wrong. There is also the verse - 1Sa 16:7 But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. (KJV)

    A lot of us have scars from the outlook of just doing/saying things correctly and out of that often come reaction.
    Now it seems like there is reaction to that reaction.
    Living out of reaction (I seem to be stuck on that word) is seldom redemptive.

    This seems to have strayed rather far from the original subject matter, sorry Mrs. Smucker.

    And now I think I shall see what remaining anonymous feels like :)

  9. Lots of anonymous people :) I think I'll join them, just this once. I agree with your post Dorcas. I just hear this song being sung by the Altar of Praise Chorale and couldn't help think, why aren't songs of this calibre written by today's "top Christian music artists"... maybe because we are satisfied to buy Coolwhip instead of demanding a five course meal?

    Savior, Thy dying love Thou gavest me.
    Nor should I aught withhold, dear Lord, from Thee.
    In love my soul would bow, my heart fulfill its vow,
    Some offering bring Thee now, something for Thee.

    O’er the blest mercy seat, pleading for me,
    My feeble faith looks up, Jesus, to Thee.
    Help me the cross to bear, Thy wondrous love declare,
    Some song to raise, or prayer, something for Thee.

    Give me a faithful heart, likeness to Thee.
    That each departing day henceforth may see
    Some work of love begun, some deed of kindness done,
    Some wanderer sought and won, something for Thee.

    All that I am and have, Thy gifts so free,
    In joy, in grief, through life, O Lord, for Thee!
    And when Thy face I see, my ransomed soul shall be
    Through all eternity, something for Thee.


  11. One of the last of those all-the-rage-Amish books I saw had a girl on the cover wearing a giant covering...and definitely lots of makeup.

    Very authentic. Ha. ha. ha.

  12. T. Bontrager7/27/2009 8:30 AM

    I wonder what anyone one of the people who died for their faith, in SCHINDLERS LIST,would have to say about this post?

  13. I rant with you, and more frequently than once a year. I am angry at the fluff that is 'Christian'. I believe in the power of story and good literature, and why don't Christians tap into that power?
    I rarely read novels, and then even more rarely 'Christian' ones. My reason is maybe arrogant, but I resent spending the time/money on a book that doesn't stretch me in some way. I don't know a Christian novel that surprises you with its conflict and resolution. Read the first chapter, and you know what's going to happen. I resent that.
    And then I remember that before I criticize something, I should be prepared to offer a better alternative, and I'm not doing that. Maybe when I'm 60 I can write fiction. For now, I'll enjoy 'The Secret Life of Bees' and Rummer Godden.

  14. This echoes a rant I've given often. Although the dark worldview reflected in a lot of "heavier" music isn't necessarily healthy as a major part of the diet, I see it as much more "true" than the mindless positivism I see reflected in a lot of the "Christian" drivel produced today. My favorite example, from the last Wow CD I purchased a few years back, is a song by Raze. An excerpt: "Follow your dreams / and you will see / anything you want you can achieve! Time to begin / fly like the wind / tearing down these walls you will be free." Shane Claiborne has an excellent term for such stuff: "chicken poop for the soul."

    I'm glad to read good Christian writing when I find it, and to listen to good Christian music when I find it. I believe a lot of each exists. But, I think we need many, many more consumers like Matt, people who will resoundingly"garbage" even if its producer tries to hide mediocrity behind a "Christian" label, and will find good content wherever it exists.

    Christianity shouldn't be a consumer-goods demographic. Christianity is about loving the Lord with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and our neighbors as ourselves. In that sort of passionate pursuit, there is absolutely no place for producing garbage. There's no place for consuming garbage. Doing either is, ultimately, proclaiming a worthless god. Though I'm hardly a perfect ambassador, I do get peeved at the prevalence of such gross misrepresentations of God.'s late, and there's far more to say than time in which to say it, and my wife's waiting for me.

    Excellence--good, wherever it is found. Mediocrity--bad, wherever it is found. Alignment with God--good, wherever it is found.

  15. The last comment spiked my interest- interestingly enough "Raze" was dismantled a few years ago after one of the members was convicted of improper relations with a minor.

    Reminded me of the hugely popular group "Plus 1" a so-called Christian boy band of yesteryear. Same shallow lyrics, multiple body piercings, tattoos, you name it. The group apparently broke up after only producing 2 CD's, and now some of the members are part of a mainstream hardcore rock band, who happen to claim no part of Christianity.

    However, I think we are mistaken to classify all mainstream Christian music as shallow and insincere. While certainly many, or perhaps most are in it for the money, I find musicians like Fernando Ortega to be completely inspiring.

    I do find it interesting that artists such as Ortega, Chris Rice, and Michael Card are completely at home singing the "same old hymns" our grandparents grew up singing. They recognize, or at least appear to recognize, that worship goes just a bit deeper than simply appealing to one's emotions.

  16. Interesting stuff...
    VOP has been told that we try to hard to be good. Doesn't make sense to me...

  17. I too find it difficult to sort through everything available today to find wholesome, inspiring, and spiritually stretching books and music for my family. Some of the artists on Christian radio sound so sultry that it's impossible to believe they are singing praise to an awesome and amazing God instead of their romantic interest. Sometimes I think artists go into the Christian genre because its easier to break into.
    There are some, though, that bless and uplift my spirit, remind me of my higher goal instead of letting me wallow in tedious details of daily life, and that soften and bruise my stubborn and prideful heart.
    I have a feeling that if the catalogs only sold the "good stuff" they would soon only advertise the good stuff. Somebody is buying that "garbage" or it wouldn't be getting the paper space and ink. Too many Christians are buying the junk, and maybe too few are buying the good.