Elise Arsenault | Reporter
On Friday, January 16th, a dozen students met with Micah van Dijk to discuss the place of lyrics like these on our playlists. Songs considered that evening were “Take Me to Church” by Hozier (excerpt above), “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift, and “Every Other Freckle” by alt-J. Students jammed to Room 213’s gnarly sound-system for two hours, while applying a model from the book Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling to each tune.
In this book, award-winning author Andy Crouch divides possible Christian postures toward music into four categories: we can condemn a song by not listening to it, critique it by discerning the good and unhealthy elements as we listen, copy it by Christianizing secular musical concepts, or consume it by listening uncritically.
The evening saw many valid arguments as we selected the most appropriate approach for each song. Some pointed to scripture, noting that songs like Hozier’s could be considered blasphemous in replacing God’s sovereignty with that of fleshly desires. This may call for its condemnation. Others resolved to critique the lyrics, claiming it does give certain insights to a secular understanding, or misconception, of the church.
Listeners unanimously deemed “Shake it Off” harmless, choosing to take a posture of consumption. It’s a style of song we’ve hear several times before, with its catchy beat and positive yet unsubstantial lyrics; it is likely to be replicated lyrically and instrumentally in the years to come.
The final song emphasized instrumental effects and musicality, with a backdrop of inaudible lyrics in alt-J’s “Every Other Freckle.” The dilemma came when the words were discovered to be sexually graphic. Is it acceptable to listen to such a song if said words are difficult to decipher? How about if you are perfectly aware of their content? Here the lines blurred and the discussion lulled. Its contemplation was valuable in provoking thought despite a lack of consensus.
Briefly mentioned was the worship acoustic-folk band Rend Collective, which was offered as a potential poster-child of the copy stance. Songs like Rend’s “Build Your Kingdom Here” were argued to mimic the style of mainstream group Mumford & Sons. While this mirror in genre is no crime, writer Andy Crouch suggests a more effective way for Christian artists to influence musical culture: by creating music of their own.
The songs and morals that will make the most noise in the media are the original kind. Innovation prompts thought, revelation and the second, third and fourth listenings. As a teabag releases less and less flavour when steeped from one mug to the next, the weight of creativity is lessened when it is replicated. Each artist is fearfully, wonderfully and uniquely made, and so is the well of music within them. In other words, to opt for mimicry is to deprive creative growth.
While the discussion left us with many thoughts, two challenges stand out. The first is to avoid passivity when listening to music - no matter its source. This is especially relevant since, in this day and age, music is omnipresent. From elevators, to grocery stores, to virtually every mobile device - it surrounds us whether or not we are aware. Be sensitive to the way you feel as you listen to the piece’s authenticity.
Secondly, consider the muse from which your favourite artists’ ideas are drawn. Since the music we listen to creates an atmosphere, it is wise to be aware of what kind our own playlist is cultivating. This is one more way to guard our thoughts and further foster the “renewing of our minds” that scripture speaks of. Music has a bewildering kind of influence on us, and I believe God intended it to do so. Seek truth in each artist’s agenda, in every verse’s value, and every melody’s motive.