Disclaimer: As they say in Israel, “al ta’am v’al reach, eyn l’hitvakeach” – “on taste and on smell, there is no argument.” The music you enjoy may be vastly different from my tastes, and that’s okay.
I ordered Redemption Songs from Amazon for a friend, and when the post office apparently lost it in the mail, they quickly shipped me another copy, which I gave him. A few days ago, the original finally managed to make its way into my mailbox. I debated whether I should feel morally obligated to go through the hassle (on my part and Amazon’s) of returning it, given that they didn’t even ask me to do so.
Pragmatically, I decided that I’d listen through Amazon’s clips from the CD to see whether I even wanted it. The first Jars of Clay album was and is incredible, especially for its time, but I have a deep-seated cynicism about the quality of self-identified Christian music. It’s not that none of it’s good – Starflyer 59 or Pedro the Lion are great counterexamples – it’s that, by and large, it’s at least as shallow and superficial as secular top-40 music, with a smaller initial pool of talent. At any rate, I pulled up the page and started to listen.
Well. It’s not that I found the album bad, per se. And I’m not even sure if it’s a good thing to be such a musical snob. Nevertheless, in the last year or two, I’ve been introduced to a lot of really excellent music, songs that are musically inventive and lyrically insightful and exquisitely performed, music so powerful you want to just put on the best headphones you can afford and listen with your eyes closed. While, from the segments I heard, this would be a nice, above-average worship album, I decided that, even aside from the guilt of quasi-stealing, I’d rather read the lyrics for my worship, and buy Seven Swans for my acoustic theology.
(Speaking of which, if anyone wants to get me a birthday present, it’s on my wish list . . . )
A further addendum: this article has a much more eloquent version of what I’m trying to say. “By implying that the sole value of Christian music is God-centered lyrics and reducing the music to a mere delivery system, the Christian recording industry simultaneously dismisses the aesthetic value of the music and undercuts the authenticity of the message. To sing about the glory of God and his creation while neglecting to fully express our capacity for beauty is a disservice to the very message being proclaimed.”
I do think that Jars of Clay has a considerably higher respect for aesthetics than many of their peers, but . . . that’s really not saying much. And I wonder sometimes if it’s even possible to revive yet respect the old songs. When we brightly sing “And all three hours His silence cried / for mercy on the souls of men. / Jesus our Lord is crucified,” with a pleasant guitar rhythm, to what degree are we wrestling with the ideas of sorrow and mercy and death? Better to spend a pensive song, as Sufjan Stevens does, meditating on the implications of the line “Take instead the ram / until Jesus comes.”