Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lost in the Music

So there I was yesterday morning, tooling along in the truck on the big drive to work, hitting the buttons on the radio. I hit the classic rock button and the cab was filled with the tight harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young singing Carry On. I've always loved the style and rhythm from Stephen Stills' guitar on that record. Then there was that harmony.

I remember seeing Crosby, Stills & Nash (hold the Young) in concert back in 1985. On that night the trio was dead on. I could've sworn they were even talking in perfect harmony. For someone who likes good harmony as much as I do, it was heavenly. Oddly enough, a couple of weeks later I saw the television broadcast of Crosby, Stills & Nash performing at the Live Aid concert and it was horrible. I thought I was listening to Clinker, Stinks & Clash. How things could have been so different was beyond me. The songs aren't fun to hear with these three guys so out of tune. The main component that appealed to me wasn't there.

In the truck yesterday morning, I found myself singing along with Carry On, alternating between the four parts. As I sang, I ralized that I knew most of the words but really had no clue what the song was about. I still don't know. Something to do with a breakup, but that's as far as I can get with it. There are probably hundreds of songs which I know the lyrics but have no idea as to the point of it all. Sometimes it's better that way. Stephen Stills did a tune in the early 70's called Love the One You're With. The premise of this song (as near as I can figure) is free love. Witness the lyrics, "If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with." As a college student I saw a few guys try this line of reasoning with co-eds.
"Yeah, I know I have a serious girlfriend, but she's at home, you know, and we have this understanding. And she's not here and you're here and you look sooooo gooooood and my roommate is gone for the weekend, so I was thinking..."
I never knew that line to work, but maybe I didn't go to school with a ladies man like Stephen Stills!

But the point is that if a song has a good beat and it's easy to dance to, or maybe if it reminds you of something or someone in your past, or perhaps it just makes you feel good, we tend to overlook the lyrics. If the guitar is cool, we'll belt out, "If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with," at the top of our lungs even if our personal moral code believes this sentiment to be ridiculous. Even more so if we don't know what the lyrics mean. I heard a father say that he came home from work to find his four year-old daughter strutting through the house singing, "Do me baby one more time!" Certainly the girl didn't know what Brittany Spears meant by that, but the song was cool, so she was singing it -- much to the chagrin of Daddy! I'm still amazed when I really listen to the lyrics of songs I grew up singing along to, at what those songs were really about. I find myself thinking, "I used to walk around the house singing THAT?!" It's the power of the music, making meaning meaningless to us.

I find that Christian music is the same way. Unless we go to the effort, we don't really get what's in those psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. I have stopped the congregational singing of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing on a Sunday morning to ask if anyone has any idea about the definition of an "Ebenezer" since they had just sung about it. No one did. After a brief exposition of the Old Testament passage where this is explained, we went back to our singing.

Even the songs on Christian radio have the same problem -- singers singing along with no idea of the point of the song. There are plenty of songs with almost no meaning and just two or three repeated lines. Those songs are popular, I believe, partly because they are so simple. Precious little brain use is necessary to understand, "I am a friend of God, He calls me friend." We get the "friend" part, but we don't contemplate how costly it was or how amazing it is. We've come to this weird idea that there is no thought needed in worship or anywhere in our relationship with our Creator. Just have faith that everything will work out without your own effort and wait for the next sensory experience -- don't think. And that's just plain wrong.

I love a good emotional worship experience as much as the next person, but a real relationship isn't built solely on feelings. There's got to be more. Just as many newly-married couples find emptiness once the infatuation stage is over, we too can lose our spiritual fire without a regular tingle up our spine unless we have a stonger foundation for our relationship with the Divine. We crave words without thinking. We need more. We want to lose ourselves and not worry about anything, but we are told to actively seek God's will.

We have to move past a dependence upon feeling. We can't subsist on a catchy tune and a good beat. We can no longer sing the words without understanding the meaning. We have to dig deep in our personal relationships with Christ. That means actually reading and studying the Bible instead of relying upon what we already think we know. That means stopping to pour our hearts out to the Master in prayer instead of simply knowing in the back of our minds that He is there. That means seeking His will instead of doing what we want and asking forgiveness later. That means not just singing the lyrics, but understanding the song.

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