Sunday, January 01, 2023

Semi-Random Musings (28)

Somewhere back in December — wait, I should be able to do better than that.

December 11, 2013 was our first post ever. So this post, published on December 10, 2022, marked the completion of our ninth full year of daily publication, though I didn’t notice at the time. Today’s post means we’ve published across eleven different calendar years, for whatever that’s worth. So we thank the Lord for unanticipated longevity and for the endless wonders of the word of God and the person of Christ. We have yet to beg anyone for subject matter.

Let’s just say that in 2013 I didn’t really expect we would still be writing blog posts in 2023. I didn’t expect not to either. In 2013, that sort of thing was just too far away and too unreal to spend time thinking about.

How long will we keep at it? I can’t answer for IC, who still graces my inbox with the occasional Word file when the mood strikes, but every time I ask myself that question, I come up with pretty much the same answer: until the Lord takes me home, until I become incapable of typing or thinking straight, or until the Lord gives me something else to do that is a higher priority — unless of course I have enough room on my schedule to do both. On that short list would be Bible teaching in small groups in homes, which I vastly prefer to platform ministry because the presentation of doctrine is only the beginning of the dialogue. There is almost nothing better than a question that stops me cold. Those exchanges are precious because everyone learns.

That said, on the whole I prefer writing to speaking. YouTube is full of people airing their opinions verbally. The visuals are often nice, but unless the presenters are reading a script, they tend to blather. I haven’t the patience anymore to follow a line of thought that isn’t tightly edited and well considered. With writing, the time lag between the original thought and publication (usually a week or more) doesn’t guarantee we’ll get everything right, but a bit of sober second thought definitely helps us get it less wrong. Reading is no longer something everybody does, but those of us who love the written word are disinclined to replace the experience of creating it or devouring it with inferior substitutes, no matter the bells and whistles that may accompany new technologies.

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Where the melodies of Christendom are concerned, I find myself a bit of an outlier, which is why I’ve pretty much let IC handle the musical commentary on this site. I’m way too biased to write about modern Christian music from any kind of reasonable emotional distance.

I love the old hymns, by which I mean pretty much anything written before 1900. I especially love singing them in large groups with a little bit of musical accompaniment to keep the pace consistent and reasonable, and with people capable of picking up the harmonies and belting them out with gusto or sensitivity, as required.

Time is the best test of a good song. I start to lose interest once we hit the 20th century. All the Gaither-type stuff and the rah-rah mid-century revival tunes leave me cold. Too much “me, me, me”. And once we get to the rock era, I cannot abide much of anything Christians have written, even on the easy listening side of things. That’s true even when the lyrics are good, and some of them are. I quite like them on paper. I just don’t want to listen to them, and I certainly don’t want to sing them. I have tried, believe me. I bought a bunch of popular Christian music in the eighties and nineties and played it to death. I have to grit my teeth to listen to any of that today, let alone attempt to sing anything from that era, even if anyone else remembered it, which they don’t. Stryper, anyone? Petra? Michael W. Smith? Save me, please.

That’s not because it’s rock, pop or has too much secular influence. It’s because most of the newer music is written to be performed and watched rather than shared by the whole church. Performance invariably turns into affectation.

Now, I’m not the least bit offended by affectation when I see secular musicians doing it. We all know they are in the biz to make a living and sell their songs, and whatever puts them over with the masses is what we can expect them to do. We expect their work product to be largely fake and relentlessly commercial, and we get exactly what we have signed up for. So I’m totally fine with crouching vocalists, grimacing guitarists, posing bassists and stick-twirling drummers in the world of secular music. I’m fine with the lights and amps and mics and costumes. I’m fine with the whole schtick. It is what it is, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more profound than that.

I just don’t want to see Christians doing it. Affectation of any kind kills the song for me. Even when the song is a cappella, and the performance aspect is limited to a few carefully chosen facial expressions.

I watched this video with friends at Christmas. Very pretty. It even features the original songwriter, so it’s about as authentic as these things ever get. But I just can’t get past the singers trying to look sincere, reverent, prayerful, devout, joyous, ecstatic or whatever else it is they are contriving to appear for the camera.

Is that fair to highly skilled Christian writers and singers trying to do what they are doing for the glory of God, as more than a few of them are? Probably not. But the fact that there is any contrivance at all in the process finishes me before I can even get started. Once I see affectation, I can’t see anything else. Even when I hear the song later on, I still visualize all those little calculated manoeuvres in my head, right down to what the participants were wearing when they went on camera.

I wonder what the singing will be like in the New Jerusalem. I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure we won’t be dressing up and pulling faces to capture the most convincing take on video. Until then, I’ll settle for traditional hymns sung in a congregational setting, thank you.

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And by the way, a very blessed and Happy New Year to all of you from everyone here.

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