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Sniffing Glue

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July 15, 2011

A childhood in Christian pop.

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Photograph via Flickr by Charlie Hallin

It’s 1994, and Michael Stipe recently lost his religion. It’s before Bieber and bling, before ordering a latte required six qualifying adjectives. In coffeehouses across the country, bored teens slouch on thrift-store couches nodding along to the Cranberries’ “Zombie.” Weezer breaks into the alt-rock scene with the Blue Album; Green Day tops the charts with the first punk rock song to whine about a lousy therapist. In April, hordes of fans gather in Seattle Park to mourn the death of Kurt Cobain. A few months later, 350,000 people make the pilgrimage to Saugerties, New York for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Woodstock.

The same summer, in Peoria, Illinois, the gospel artist known simply as Carman takes the stage at a sold-out stadium concert. Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, high-top sneakers, and neon Ray-Bans, he calls out to a crowd of cheering young people: “Who’s in the House?”

If you’re not familiar with the 1990s contemporary Christian music scene, Carman was kind of a big deal. Born Dominic Licciardello in Trenton, New Jersey, Carman began his career as a Las Vegas lounge singer, then got saved and spent much of the ’70s and ’80s dominating the Christian adult contemporary market. At this concert, he opened with the hit single from his 1993 album The Standard, a project designed to court a younger audience.

This was the golden era of MTV, and Christian leaders, perhaps sensing they were up against a larger beast, opted for a more positive approach by promoting sanctioned (and sanctified) alternatives.

“Who’s in the House” is a hip-hop track about the presence of the Lord. Through megaphone distortion, Carman rapped a few lines: “You take him high / you take him low / you take JC wherever you go,” then led into a call and response hook reminiscent of ’80s-era De La Soul. “Tell me who’s in the house? JC!”

If you’re wondering what teenager in her right mind would listen to a forty-year-old Vegas showman with a Jersey accent rap about Jesus, the answer is: me. In junior high, I saw Carman in concert three times. The Standard was the first CD I ever bought. I rocked out to Carman on my Walkman on the way to youth group and dished with my girlfriends about what a hottie he was. At the concerts, I bought his T-shirts and posters, and when he called out “Who’s in the House?” I made my arms into letters, YMCA-style, with the rest of the crowd and shouted “JC!”

I was homeschooled up until tenth grade, and my social life revolved around church. I grew up submersed in evangelical youth culture: reading Brio magazine, doing devotions in my Youth Walk Bible, eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Left Behind series, and developing a taste in music that ran the gamut from Christian rap to Christian pop to Christian rock.

While born-again rockers can be traced back to the Jesus People movement in the 1960s, the 1990s was the decade of Christian contemporary music, or CCM. In my early teens, new bands were popping up faster than I could follow. And Carman wasn’t the only established act revamping his sound for a younger crowd. Jon Gibson, a pop artist who produced what is generally considered the first Christian rap song (1986’s “The Wall”), argued that Christian musicians needed to be savvier in presenting teens with the gospel. He told CCM Magazine, “I want to sneak into their hearts with the music. Contemporary Christian music needs to branch out a little more, get a little sneakier.”

“Meeting kids where they’re at” was a relatively new concept for the church. My parents had grown up in an era when teens were supposed to sit in the pew and sing hymns along with everyone else. When I reached middle school, Christian youth leaders were anxiously discussing the battle for “cultural relevance”—one of the many marketing terms adopted by evangelicals. In the ’90s, mainline Protestant churches were losing members to the growing evangelical movement. With the explosion of rock-concert-style megachurches, many traditional congregations incorporated contemporary worship services in order to attract young people. For our dwindling Baptist congregation, this meant scrapping the organs and old hymns with arcane lyrics like “Now I raise my Ebenezer,” and replacing them with praise choruses led by “worship teams” of college kids with guitars and electric violins. It meant sermons full of pop culture allusions, with juicy titles (“Marriage in the Line of Fire,” “The Young and the Righteous”) designed to make conservative values seem radical and hip.

Traditionally, the church’s approach to secular music had been fear tactics: denouncing rock bands, staging record burnings. But this was the golden era of MTV, and Christian leaders, perhaps sensing they were up against a larger beast, opted for a more positive approach by promoting sanctioned (and sanctified) alternatives. Christian concerts became popular youth group events. My friends traveled to blowout festivals with names like “Acquire the Fire” or “Cornerstone.” Our youth pastor let us spray-paint the basement teen room with graffiti and tack up posters of born-again acts like Third Day and All Star United. At Wednesday night youth group, in lieu of a message, we’d often watch CCM music videos.

By the time I was finishing up eighth grade, I had ditched my Carman albums and moved on to bands like Audio Adrenaline and Jars of Clay, groups who sported flannel shirts and surfer hair and did songs that sounded like praise choruses transposed into a minor key. “Lift me up—when I am falling / Lift me up—I’m weak and I’m dying.” Or the Newsboys, who produced albums like Hell Is For Wimps and Not Ashamed, and gained popularity for the track “Shine,” which assures teens that their faith can appear attractive to nonbelievers: “Shine, make them wonder what you’ve got / make them wish that they were not / on the outside looking bored.”

The title song impeccably mirrored that “Yeah, I’m a loser, so what?” attitude: “I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak.”

By far the coolest CCM band when I was a teen was DC Talk. Short for “Decent Christian Talk,” this trio of young men from Virginia—one black, two white—started their career as a hip-hop group. They gained popularity with tracks like “Jesus Is Just Alright,” which sampled the Doobie Brothers’ song and laid down lyrics like: “I’m kicking it Jesus style / to the ones who think they heard, I did use the J-word / ’cause I ain’t too soft to say it, even if DJs won’t play it.” They sang about the decline of Christian morals: “In reality our decency has taken a plunge / ‘In God We Trust’ is an American pun,” and occasionally broke into rhythmic harangues against racism, hypocrisy, or premarital intercourse: “I don’t want your sex for now / I don’t want it till we take the vow.” I’m not going to lie: DC Talk was pretty damn good. I might be guilty of still listening to their albums occasionally when no one else is around. Despite the cheesy lyrics, they had a fresh street dance sound—close harmonizing and poppy rap verses. I once played their album Free at Last for a friend who hadn’t grown up in the church, and he thought it was Color Me Badd.

This, by the way, is considered the ultimate sign of quality CCM, even amongst Christians: the ability to pass as secular. Every band’s goal was to have teenagers stop their grooving mid-song and exclaim, like a soda commercial actress who’s just realized she’s been drinking diet, “Wait, this is Christian?” The logic was that the more these bands fit in with what was playing on the radio, the more someone like me would feel comfortable passing their album on to my non-Christian friends (supposing I’d had any), giving them a chance to hear the gospel. Korey Cooper, guitarist of a gospel band called Skillet, said it was crucial for artists to prove themselves musically before kids would entertain the message. “You get up on stage and try to rock as hard or harder than everybody else and then you have some cred,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, they can rock and it’s okay, and they love Jesus.’” Likewise, the website Metal for Jesus argued that “Christian metal is just as brutal and heavy as the secular when it comes to the music. What differs is the lyrics.” Yes, there’s Christian metal. There’s even Christian death metal (Living Sacrifice). There’s Christian glam rock (Stryper), Christian punk (Relient K), Christian ska (Five Iron Frenzy), Christian techno (World Wide Message Tribe), and Christian industrial (Circle of Dust).

There were still some conservatives who insisted that genres like rock, metal, or rap were so inherently evil that no amount of uplifting lyrics could redeem them. They claimed that beats were hypnotic and certain chord intervals belonged to the devil, and called attention to the fact that Satan’s role, before being kicked out of heaven, was the celestial music director. Some quoted scripture like 1 Thessalonians 5:21-23, which instructs believers to “abstain from all appearance of evil”—not just evil itself, but the accoutrements, like electric guitars and tattoos. But these voices quickly faded into the wilderness. For the most part, believers came to agree with Frank Breeden, President of the Gospel Music Association, who said “There really is no such things as a Christian B-flat. Music in itself is an amoral vehicle.”

In 1995, DC Talk shocked their fans by releasing Jesus Freak, an alt-rock album full of double-tracked power chords and grungy bass lines. It was a dramatically different sound for them. In their album photos, they’d traded in their parachute pants for Carhartts, their Jordans for Chucks. Except for an occasional chanted bridge (the first appearance of rapcore in CCM) they’d abandoned their hip-hop roots. The concept was unlike anything that had been pitched at born-again teens: a celebration of the marginalized believer. The title track alludes to Biblical prophets like John the Baptist, portraying them as outcasts: “With skins on his back and hair on his face / they thought he was strange by the locusts he ate / the Pharisees tripped when they heard him speak / until the king took the head of this Jesus freak.” Band member Toby McKeehan explained that the idea was to reclaim the term Jesus freak. “It was a negative phrase back in the late sixties and early seventies,” he said. “If you were a ‘Jesus Freak,’ that was people talking down to you. We’ve chosen to take the opposite approach and say that that’s something to be happy about.”

It’s worth pointing out that this was around the time Beck was singing “I’m a loser, baby,” and Thom Yorke was droning “I’m a creep.” If I had flipped through FM radio that summer, I might have heard The Offspring (“I’m just a sucker with no self-esteem”), or Green Day (“Sometimes I give myself the creeps”), or Gwen Stefani (“Guess I’m some kind of freak”). The irony is that DC Talk’s album, for all its glorification of ostracized misfits, was the most culturally relevant CCM album of the decade. The title song impeccably mirrored that “Yeah, I’m a loser, so what?” attitude: “I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak.” The concept was pretty brilliant. My friends and I were getting to the age where we were beginning to sense that being a believer wasn’t exactly cool. Being a born-again could get you called a goody-goody, a narc, or a tight-ass. Being a Jesus freak, on the other hand, seemed kind of OK—edgy, authentic, and biblically sound.

The international “Freakshow” tour came through Peoria that summer and I attended it with my friend Jenna, both our little sisters, plus her mom as chaperone at the packed Peoria Civic Center. Much to my relief, we didn’t stand out: Most of the kids there were our age—preteens, many of them girls, towing frazzled adults in their wake. There was a mosh pit, there was crowd surfing. There was also a presentation of the gospel and an altar call. Toward the end, DC Talk did an acoustic set, complete with an unfurled Turkish rug and candelabras just like MTV’s Unplugged. Then they amped up again, for a high-voltage cover of “Purple Haze” and left the stage, only to be goaded back for an encore. (CCM concerts often included secular covers. DC Talk sometimes closed with Nirvana’s “All Apologies”—except instead of singing the line “everyone is gay,” they changed it to “Jesus is the way.” I’m not making this up.) We left the stadium ecstatic. Riding home, we four girls sat in the back of the minivan headbanging to the CD, which we’d asked Jenna’s mom to please play at full volume.

Jesus Freak went double platinum and won a Grammy for Best Rock Gospel Album. It climbed to number sixteen on the Billboard 200 and led to appearances on Jay Leno and Arsenio Hall. DC Talk produced a gritty music video for “Jesus Freak,” which was spliced with black and white newsreel footage of race riots and World War Two propaganda films. Billboard claimed that “the clip’s slick style and in your face imagery could easily fit between cutting edge videos from the likes of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails.” DC Talk told the magazine that the intention of the clip was to “push the envelope” of the Christian music community and “reach a wider audience.”

I couldn’t have told you what the word “irony” meant, but I knew I’d been cheated by Christian rock. This was crack, and I’d been wasting my time sniffing glue.

Some Christian critics accused them of trying to cross over. It was the height of the grunge era, a convenient time to hop on the rock bandwagon. But DC Talk repeatedly resisted making the switch, unlike U2, a band to whom they were often compared (and who Christians disowned around the late ’80s when Adam Clayton got arrested for possession). The reason they never gained mainstream appeal is they refused to tone down their gospel message. As McKeehan put it, “Music is our tool. Our message is Christ.” Like most CCM artists of that era, they saw themselves primarily as evangelists. One reviewer noted the same about Carman: “He doesn’t make music for the sake of music, or artistry. He makes music as an evangelism tool. Indeed, Carman is more like a singing evangelist than a singer.” This was the reason Christian rock had a reputation for being shoddy, and it was also the reason why so many Christian artists switched genres—not just evolved but completely changed their sound and look and ethos. The music was always a vehicle for the message, and if artists believed there was a more effective way to reach kids with that message, by all means they’d do it. DC Talk simply had a more ambitious ministry than anyone else in the game. When asked about the impetus behind Jesus Freak, band member Michael Tait said “We wanted to write songs that would hopefully touch a generation.”

***

I saw MTV for the first time when I was thirteen. My parents, like most of my friends’ parents, didn’t have cable, and I literally had to go halfway around the world to see it. In November of 1995, my grandfather went on a trip to Moscow and took my sister Sheena and me along. He was on the board of an organization that was lobbying to teach “Christian ethics” in Russian schools. It was supposed to be an educational experience, but we hardly left the hotel. All week, he attended back-to-back meetings while Sheena and I stayed in our room, eating duty-free chocolate and gorging ourselves on Euro MTV.

On one of those gray afternoons I saw Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. In a smoky warehouse, the band and a team of tattooed cheerleaders performed for bleachers full of kids. As the song progresses, the scene dissolves into anarchy: the students jump off the bleachers, strip off their clothes, destroy the band’s equipment, and light the entire set on fire. I watched this perched on the edge of my bed, about three feet from the TV screen, while Sheena was taking a nap. I didn’t catch any of the lyrics, but I was mesmerized by Kurt Cobain stumbling around the set, squinting into the light, barely suppressing a sneer. I couldn’t have told you what the word “irony” meant, but I knew I’d been cheated by Christian rock. This was crack, and I’d been wasting my time sniffing glue.

In the mid-’90s, MTV was producing a product superior to just about anything pitched at teens, largely due to its revolutionary market research. The Brand Strategy and Planning division of MTV was a new department dedicated to researching kids in the channel’s target demographic (ages twelve to twenty-four). They conducted hundreds of in-depth ethnography studies, where researchers would visit a typical fan—say a sixteen-year-old girl—in her home. Armed with a clipboard and trailed by a camera crew, these researchers would hang out in the fan’s room and listen to her talk about her favorite pair of shoes, or what’s in her CD player, or her relationship with her boyfriend.

The department also conducted focus groups that brought together teens who had been identified as “leading-edge thinkers and tastemakers and stylemakers” in eighteen American cities. Another study polled three hundred kids from up-and-coming neighborhoods of New York and Los Angeles to find out what they were listening to. Additional research was contracted to “cool-hunting” companies like Youth Intelligence that had hundreds of field correspondents snapping photos of street fashion, getting down in mosh pits, chatting up kids outside bars, and collecting similar information that was compiled and sorted into a web database to which MTV—along with other clients—subscribed for an annual six-figure fee. “It’s principally to make our programming relevant,” Todd Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Brand Strategy and Planning at MTV, said in a 1995 interview. By comparison, the CCM market of this era seems tragically naïve. Christian bands could mimic what was already mainstream, but it was difficult to compete with a product created with the help of millions of dollars worth of demographic research. Cultural relevance could be bought, and MTV, part of media conglomerate Viacom, had a very large budget.

That trip to Russia was a conversion experience. The images I watched on TV were more vivid than anything I saw from the charter bus window was. The Smashing Pumpkins were on rotation then, especially “1979” with the suburban kids knocking over liquor-store shelves, giving the finger to their town from the top of a hill. There was Garbage’s “Stupid Girl,” fronted by Shirley Manson with her combat boots and sexy nihilism, and Metallica’s “Until it Sleeps,” a tableau of grotesque religious iconography. I stayed up late watching the same videos over and over.

I spent the following years obsessively listening to the radio and befriending the youth group kids whose parents didn’t child block MTV. I wrote down the names of bands I didn’t know, then biked to the local record store, Believe in Music, and spent my babysitting money on albums I had to smuggle back to my room. With very few exceptions (i.e. Disney soundtracks) my parents didn’t let me listen to secular music, but there were a few bands I managed to pass off as Christian, like Soul Asylum or Collective Soul. It was an easy feat at the time: Christian rock was becoming more sophisticated and the secular industry was oddly fascinated with God. Artists on heavy rotation on MTV included Joan Osborne: “If God had a name, what would it be and would you call it to his face?” Alanis Morrissette: “I am fascinated by the spiritual man,” Counting Crows: “She says she’s close to understanding Jesus,” and Tori Amos: “I’ve been looking for a savior in these dirty streets.”

This wasn’t coincidental. One of the “macro trends” MTV uncovered in their research was a growing interest in spirituality among teens. “Trendsetters feel as if music today has no depth, no meaning,” Cunningham said. “They are looking for meaning from their music. And music that expresses their search for meaning.” The Music Trendsetters Study coined the word “pessimysticism,” an attitude that expresses “a simultaneous dissatisfaction with the inauthenticity of commercial music, and a search for higher emotion and expression in music.” For most of my high school years, I noticed an odd disconnect: everyone at church was bemoaning the fact that kids were no longer interested in spirituality, and yet all I heard on MTV was stuff about God. As CCM strove to keep up with an industry teens resented for its spiritual vacuity, MTV reached the acme of its marketing genius: its ability to take its audience’s disenchantment with commercialism, repackage it, and sell it back to them.

I listened to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” dozens of times during those years, and yet I never caught on to the words. Cobain slurred his words, and the liner notes to Nevermind didn’t include lyrics. It wasn’t until I was in college, listening to the track on campus radio, that I realized the song was a taunt—a wry dare to an industry that panders to young consumers: “I feel stupid and contagious / Here we are now, entertain us.” It nails the rage of teens who have been asked for nothing more than their passive, profitable attention—and their cynical awareness that this rage will inevitably be aired on a media conglomerate network, between commercials for deodorant. I didn’t catch all of that at thirteen; all I knew was that this music made me stop feeling like a sheltered and naïve homeschooler. I knew it made me smarter and hipper than the kids at church—that it made me less of a sucker in a world that was trying, on all fronts, to dupe me.

***

Few evangelical teens today are probably familiar with the name Fanny Crosby, but if you were to open a Christian hymnal, you would see her name on dozens of the choruses. Before praise and worship bands took over, our church sang her hymns like “Blessed Assurance” and “He Hideth My Soul” in our Sunday services. Crosby—a blind rescue mission worker during the Civil War—is considered the “Queen of Gospel Music,” but before she became a Christian, she wrote popular songs. Her most famous tune, “Rosalie, the Prairie Flower,” earned her nearly three thousand dollars in royalties—a staggering amount in her day. Once she began writing hymns, she claimed that she sometimes had to reject the melodies musicians proposed because they sounded too close to the secular tunes that were currently in fashion. She believed in an ideal that today seems ridiculous in all but the most fundamentalist circles: that Christian culture should remain set apart from the trends and caprices of the world. She feared that in using familiar tunes, people “would think that Fanny Crosby who once wrote for the people in the saloons has merely changed the lyrics.”

By the early 2000s, straddling the spiritual-secular line was precisely the goal of CCM groups. Popular bands like Creed, Switchfoot, and Lifehouse specialized in songs with vaguely romantic, vaguely spiritual lyrics, so they could be picked up by both Christian and secular markets. Jars of Clay, whose 1995 debut contained explicitly spiritual content, lightened up considerably by the release of 2002’s The Eleventh Hour. In a review of the album, NPR’s Scott Simon wrote, “to the uninitiated, many of the tunes could be taken for straight-ahead, modern-pop love songs… their subject could be God or a girl.” Guitarist Matt Odmark admits they made a conscious effort, in the project, to avoid “the noisy vocabulary of religion.”

Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything.

Lifehouse’s “Hanging by a Moment”—which topped the Billboard 100 for the year—is a more well-known example of this trend: “Desperate for changing / Starving for truth / Closer to where I started / Chasing after you.” Although singer/songwriter Jason Wade identified as a Christian and was embraced by the CCM market—his band met playing in a worship team at church—he claimed that Lifehouse was not a “Christian” band. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said, “We don’t want to be labeled as a ‘Christian band,’ because all of a sudden people’s walls come up, and they won’t listen to your music and what you have to say.”

Basically, CCM caught on to the number one rule of coolness: don’t let your marketing show. The best bands—the successful ones, at least—learned to gloss over the gospel message the same way TV producers camouflaged corporate sponsorship. Explicitly Christian lyrics prevented DC Talk from crossing over to the secular market in the ’90s; today it’s difficult to imagine their unapologetic faith making it in the Christian circuit.

This trend spreads beyond CCM into many areas of evangelical culture. The church is becoming increasingly consumer-friendly. Jacob Hill, director of “worship arts” at New Walk Church, describes the Sunday service music as “exciting, loud, powerful, and relevant,” and boasts that “a lot of people say they feel like they’ve just been at a rock concert.” Over the past ten years, I’ve visited churches that have Starbucks kiosks in the foyer and youth wings decked out with air hockey tables. I’ve witnessed a preacher stop his sermon to play a five-minute clip from Billy Madison. I’ve walked into a sanctuary that was blasting the Black Eyed Peas’s “Let’s Get it Started” to get the congregation pumped for the morning’s message, which was on joy. I have heard a pastor say, from a pulpit, “Hey, I’m not here to preach at anyone.” And yet, in spite of these efforts, churches are retaining only 4 percent of the young people raised in their congregations.

Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.

G

Meghan O’Gieblyn is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is working on short fiction and a collection of essays.

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96 comments for Sniffing Glue

  1. Comment by David Ohlerking on July 14, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    thanks for writing this.

  2. Comment by Ray Flavin on July 15, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Thank you Meghan. I am a bit older than you so I missed the Christian Music alignment, I woke up in time to enjoy Pearl Jam, Nirvana (and to treat Rush like they were just invented-although they had been crushing it for years.

  3. Comment by Wes on July 15, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    My tale is a near perfect carbon copy of your own, albeit that I was extremely fortunate to hear “Smells Like Teen Spirit” back in ’92 (eighth grade also).

    I hope you realize that you wrote something powerful for all of us who were fortunate enough to reach our intellectual awakening in the 90s.

  4. Comment by Anonymous on July 16, 2011 at 6:39 am

    Powerful stuff! Thanks.

    I suspect you know this: the authentic Christian experience is still out there.

  5. Comment by Ben on July 16, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    “Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity.”

    I’ve been saying this as I watch the church lose youth for years.

  6. Comment by JR on July 16, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    It’s “hordes” of fans if it’s a large mob-like group; it’s “hoards” only when it is a stockpile of fans kept for their perceived value.

  7. Comment by Bentley Owen on July 16, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    This is a lovely piece of writing. My early musical education involved Carman and DC Talk as well. But as I look back on it, I see some pretty sinister ideas at the heart of a lot of this music, and have a bit of a different take on the result of the synthesis of religious and secular in the modern church.

    If anyone is interested, I wrote about the subject on my blog: http://bit.ly/pXq3rK

  8. Comment by BK on July 17, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Wonderfully written and I know that even though you no longer call yourself a Christian. Christ is clearly still in your heart and I believe you still “Shine, and make them wonder what you’ve got!”

    Hope to meet you someday!

    BK

  9. Comment by Diane Valory on July 17, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Shine on you crazy search light. It’s a big job and someone has to so it . Love you. Always have and always will.

  10. Comment by Apologia and the Occident on July 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Brilliant. I was also raised during this time period, as was my wife. I specifically remember a DC Talk concert with Audio Adrenaline opening. This sort of pandering and lack of connection with the historical church was one reason I didn’t attend a single church service while attending an evangelical college, and skipped the vast majority of chapels. Thankfully, my wife and I have found our way into liturgical, conservative (both culturally and biblically), “high-church” Lutheranism, while still maintaining evangelical vitality. We even chant like the early church occasionally. There are churches out there that do offer an alternative to this sort of thing, but they are increasingly hard to find. I encourage you to seek in this regard, and if you do find, make sure you hold your new church accountable.

  11. Comment by Richard Hershberger on July 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    “I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything.”

    Excellent piece. It does, however, fall into the trap common to Evangelical Protestants. It conflates “Christian” with “Evangelical Protestant,” as if the two were synonymous. Evangelical Protestantism, for all that it is prominent in current American culture, is just one fairly new branch of Christianity. There are other, older branches. They have their difficulties too, but with a bit of effort you will be able to find a tradition not chasing the will o’ the wisp of popular relevance.

  12. Comment by Anonymous on July 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Meghan,

    As a fellow home-schooled “true-believer”, I just wanted to express my thanks for your well written dissertation addressing the hypocrisy and nonsense surrounding the christian “rock” genre that they tried to pan off on us growing up. While I too no longer call myself a christian, as a musician I still play the old hymns. They hold up a lot better than all that other nonsense. There is something to be said for standing by convictions that hold oneself to a standard of righteousness. Woody Gutherie knew it better than most… All the best!

  13. Comment by Denise on July 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    As a reformed Christian (some of you might relate better to the word calvinist) this is why I too left the type of Church this blogger is talking about.. to go back to REAL Christianity which is Christ and Him crucified first and foremos. Modern Churches have people believing that because they listen to this music, wave their hands in a “praise” service and go to Church that they are Christians. Being a Christian means believing Biblical truths about Christ that are taught in Scripture and can’t be given to anyone in a “sneaky” way. They must be presented by a Preacher not a Singer and this is the real problem with Christianity today. Too many singers not enough real Preachers.

  14. Comment by Iris on July 19, 2011 at 1:48 am

    Great story! I appreciate you sharing this. I’ve always wanted to know more about this era and you have definitely shed some light on the subject. You are an amazing writer!

  15. Comment by Dan on July 19, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Fantastic article that seriously could have been written by me: so many of the things you said you did were *identical* to what I did as a young teen!

    I suppose I’ve underestimated how common this story was among young Evangelicals in the 90s.

    Now, like you, I’m non-religious.

  16. Comment by Jess on July 20, 2011 at 2:07 am

    I kept thinking, did I write this? (although your writing is much more eloquent than the ramblings of my college journals) Thank you so much for sharing. The end! “When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything.” Sigh… yep.

  17. Comment by Violet on July 20, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Meghan: This is a fantastic article and I relate so strongly to your experience (and was thrilled that you included so many bits of lyrics from all my favorite “old” songs–I don’t have many happy memories of being a teenager, but mid-90′s alternative music still gives me such a peaceful sense of nostalgia). Your line about “This was crack, and I’d been wasting my time sniffing glue” is spot on. I had a similar experience as a disillusioned middle school church youth groupie in the early 90′s. Thanks for writing this.

  18. Comment by Whitney on July 21, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Meghan- Thank you for this article! I, too, grew up listening ot this music and was raised in the church, with many of the same “rules” you speak of in this article. Your article is very thought provoking. Thank you.

  19. Comment by Scott on July 21, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Meghan: The sad part of your story is that Christanity isn’t about the music. Trying to make it just about that misses the entire point. While music is a very powerful medium that teenagers gravitate to, it is only a message delivery mechanism, not the message itself.

  20. Comment by Avery on July 22, 2011 at 1:04 am

    Scott, without a medium, or with a bad medium, people won’t get the message…

  21. Comment by Tristan on July 24, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I always thought that I was the only person in the world who went through almost the exact same adolescense and upbringing. But now, I am relieved that there were others. I never really told anyone about most of my upbringing, except my wife, because it always seemed that I was the only one that had to smuggle tape’s into my house. And Weezer’s Blue Album my my first dose of crack. It either had to be christian or classical. One time i was playing Weezer to loud in my room, after I thought my parents had left for a movie, only to have my father barge into my room and confiscate the album. Which I would find 10 years later, and still have to this day. Nothing like retro tapes , right? So, Thank you Meghan. You have illuminated a collective past.

  22. Comment by Tristan on July 24, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I always thought that I was the only person in the world who went through almost the exact same adolescense and upbringing. But now, I am relieved that there were others. I never really told anyone about most of my upbringing, except my wife, because it always seemed that I was the only one that had to smuggle tape’s into my house. And Weezer’s Blue Album my my first dose of crack. It either had to be christian or classical. One time i was playing Weezer to loud in my room, after I thought my parents had left for a movie, only to have my father barge into my room and confiscate the album. Which I would find 10 years later, and still have to this day. Nothing like retro tapes , right? So, Thank you Meghan. You have illuminated a collective past.

  23. Comment by Tristan on July 24, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I always thought that I was the only person in the world who went through almost the exact same adolescense and upbringing. But now, I am relieved that there were others. I never really told anyone about most of my upbringing, except my wife, because it always seemed that I was the only one that had to smuggle tape’s into my house. And Weezer’s Blue Album my my first dose of crack. It either had to be christian or classical. One time i was playing Weezer to loud in my room, after I thought my parents had left for a movie, only to have my father barge into my room and confiscate the album. Which I would find 10 years later, and still have to this day. Nothing like retro tapes , right? So, Thank you Meghan. You have illuminated a collective past.

  24. Comment by chuck pearson on July 24, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Scott said this already, I know, but it simply needs to be stated as many times as is necessary to make it plain:

    It is very difficult to believe that what is being preached in the vast majority of churches today, and certainly what has been sold by “Christian” artists and “Chrsitian” media outlets for nearly forty years now, is actually the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    There was nothing said of that Gospel in this article; nothing at all. It was about a marketing brand, plain and simple – JC as everybody’s best friend, not the Christ who was dead, who is risen, and who we believe will come again.

    Jesus’ own apostles in the time when he was alive (a time that can hardly be said to be laden with convenience) protested that Jesus was delivering a hard teaching that few people could accept. How in God’s name does anybody believe that putting that teaching in a package that is cool and hip could possibly be intellectually honest? And as a generation who did that in the name of “evangelism” is found out, the spiritual harvest is being won…and it’s not the Christians who are winning it.

    Meghan, thank you for this article; I can even say with confidence that I’m glad you left the Christian label behind. I pray that dropping that label helps you find the Christ.

  25. Comment by rwarn17588 on July 24, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Meghan, your desire for authenticity is nothing new, nor is it an end-all-be-all for staying within the Christian fold. There’s always been a tension in the church between tradition and evolving into the modern era, and always will be.

    As a former evangelical who loves music then and now, I think the big problem is there are too many who say they’re “Christian musicians” and not enough rockers who happen to be Christian. If you’re in a trade (music), it’s best that you hone that trade first and worry about the message second. I heard far too many Christian acts that worried about their message first and, as a consequence, the music sucked. It was like listening to someone trying to shoehorn Shakespeare sonnets into a Judd Apatow movie.

    As for Christian-based music nowadays, I’ve found that the Blind Boys of Alabama in the past 10 years or so satisfy my desire for gospel, R&B, and blues music all in one.

  26. Comment by DE on July 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Thanks for the amazing article, Meghan. Not often you can read someone who seems to share so many experiences – I was also home schooled until grade 10, had to sneak non-religious music past my parents, lived in a no TV household and had work hard to get my dose of pop culture.. If I was in Wisconsin I’d ask you out for coffee to chat and share some laughs.

  27. Comment by DE on July 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks for the amazing article, Meghan. Not often you can read someone who seems to share so many experiences – I was also home schooled until grade 10, had to sneak non-religious music past my parents, lived in a no TV household and had work hard to get my dose of pop culture.. If I was in Wisconsin I’d ask you out for coffee to chat and share some laughs.

  28. Comment by Meghan on July 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Ha. I grew up in the same exact era, it seems, but I wasn’t so closed off to the outside world, as my parents purchased The Wallflowers for me for Christmas, just as I asked, and my brother was listening to Counting Crows AND the Christian stuff. It was quite a while, though, before I started seeking out other records. And it was my freshman year at Christian college when I discovered Weezer’s Blue album… THAT was it for me.

    It’s funny – both my brother and I had access to non-Christian stuff, but we often found ourselves immersed in the Christian indie market, where being “Christian” was a fact, but not a selling point – where the music was good and interesting, and sometimes they talked about Jesus. In fact, I started listening to Switchfoot at the beginning of their career, but I still consider them my favorite band – 14 years later, not because they’re “Christian” and “good”, but because I relate so well to their music.

    What has happened over the years is that the lines between “Christian” and “secular” music have blurred quite a bit, and instead I feel that many Christian artists are feeling more freedom to simply write what they feel led to write, instead of trying to market some sort of agenda. It’s refreshing.

  29. Comment by Meghan on July 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Ha. I grew up in the same exact era, it seems, but I wasn’t so closed off to the outside world, as my parents purchased The Wallflowers for me for Christmas, just as I asked, and my brother was listening to Counting Crows AND the Christian stuff. It was quite a while, though, before I started seeking out other records. And it was my freshman year at Christian college when I discovered Weezer’s Blue album… THAT was it for me.

    It’s funny – both my brother and I had access to non-Christian stuff, but we often found ourselves immersed in the Christian indie market, where being “Christian” was a fact, but not a selling point – where the music was good and interesting, and sometimes they talked about Jesus. In fact, I started listening to Switchfoot at the beginning of their career, but I still consider them my favorite band – 14 years later, not because they’re “Christian” and “good”, but because I relate so well to their music.

    What has happened over the years is that the lines between “Christian” and “secular” music have blurred quite a bit, and instead I feel that many Christian artists are feeling more freedom to simply write what they feel led to write, instead of trying to market some sort of agenda. It’s refreshing.

    My boyfriend grew up on secular music, but never went to small shows. I, however, grew up on Christian indie, and the most important shows of my adolescence were in basements and tiny clubs – talking to bands after shows, and adoring bands with cult followings. I wouldn’t trade that for seeing the Smashing Pumpkins at an arena – ever.

  30. Comment by Jacob on July 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Good article. Just a quick fact-check: dc Talk’s album Jesus Freak is NOT the first example of Rapcore in CCM music. The earliest one I can think of off hand is XL and DBD’s album, Sodom and America, though I would be surprised if there were earlier examples.

  31. Comment by Matt W on July 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Thanks so much. We apparently lived the same adolescence. This quote “I was mesmerized by Kurt Cobain stumbling around the set, squinting into the light, barely suppressing a sneer. I couldn’t have told you what the word “irony” meant, but I knew I’d been cheated by Christian rock. This was crack, and I’d been wasting my time sniffing glue.” could have been written by me with equal conviction. I’m in my mid-30′s and I still feel like, to a certain degree, I had my experience of being a teenager stolen, or at least mitigated; filtered through the tawdry mirror image of culture offered by evangelicalism.

  32. Comment by David F on July 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    What’s not mentioned in the article and comments, and seems the true core to me, is over-parenting and simple teenage rebellion. The author didn’t know there was different music and when she found it, rebelled and switched over, viewing the stuff forced on her by parents as lesser. But my experience is those, like me, who could listen to anything but chose CCM (be it dc talk or da band) never felt duped because it was their choice.

    … not to take away from the article’s other argument that CCM of the 80s and 90s was chasing and inferior to secular pop. I can accept that argument, but I’ve realized my taste in music is not refined and think DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” is as good as any other pop song I’ve heard :)

  33. Comment by Matt on July 25, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    The sad part of the story is that you’re not a Christian anymore.

  34. Comment by Doug Hamm on July 26, 2011 at 6:23 am

    Thank you for your openness. What is the solution? I understand what you are saying and why you removed “Christian” from your life story. And I understand your frustration with the church. What should the church be doing or not doing? You may have some insight that pastors and elders should hear.

  35. Comment by Seth on July 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    I really enjoyed this. Weirdly like reading my own memoirs. Funny thing: the Christian acts’ imitation of secular artists (eg: DC Talk’s oft expressed admiration of U2′s music) motivated me to give them a listen and discover they were actually better. So those early naysayers were correct in warning of the slippery slope of so called “Christian rock.” And I’m just happy and grateful I went down that slope.

  36. Comment by Nikki on July 27, 2011 at 8:46 am

    I think the Christian Music scene has both tpes of Christian music: the subliminal messages in ‘trendy’ tunes and unashamed biblical truth. I don’t think anyone could call either of them wrong: as you quoted, music is merely vehicle and it is preferencial. I think the span of Christian genre and the depth of ‘authenticity’ appeals to different Christians in different parts of their walks and its availability is equal parts both ways.

    If what might appeal to you is ‘unashamed authenticity’, I’m sure you would’ve heard of “Jesus Culture”. Well, they’ve got wonderful, passionate and blunt gospel which sort of hits you point blank: much about love and reverence for God. I suppose just because some CCM is in popular light, it is not all that is available: just what has been ‘more popular’: merely reflections of consumers. The ‘authentic’ music you spoke of never diminished or lessened.

    Hahaha, Christian music needs no defense, for to each their own. But I must admit I am much more drawn to the point-blank Christian gospel music types than the subliminal tunes. Though I think both serve their purpose.

    Hey, beautifully written and honestly sung! I don’t think the music lost you, I think the church did…sadly.

  37. Comment by Anonymous on July 28, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Really enjoyed this piece. Beautiful done. Enviable prose style.

  38. Comment by Anonymous on July 28, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Really enjoyed this. Beautifully done. Enviable prose style.

  39. Comment by Leah on August 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Wonderful! You really connected with me and from reading the comments, with many of us. You were able to capture an experience that so many of us had. Thank you for putting this into words.

  40. Comment by Kelly Ogden on August 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    This is a very intelligently written article that perfectly surmises a lot of my experiences growing up in an overly pop christian scene. As an Episcopalian in a conservative area of my diocese, I was sometimes deemed “stagnant” in my faith by christians from other denominations because I preferred old fashioned hymns and organ music to popular christian music that always felt a little vapid and less genuine than the 19th century lyrics I treasured.

    The popular christian music scene was very formative for our generation (believers and non-believers), and you really hit the nail on the head about mainstream evangelism losing a lot of authenticity in its quest to be “cool.”

  41. Comment by elsp on August 8, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    This sad and boring disconnection from the historical church, and floundering around for some other bit of culture to immitate, has deep roots. It goes back to our ancestors abandoning the liturgy, and allowing any yahoo with a Bible to preach and invent theology.

    The church had (and some congregations still have) something special, something deep and old and spiritual and beautiful, in our liturgy and annual rituals. You don’t have to water it down for children; my three-year-old is fascinated by our Episcopal service. Everyone in the family gets something spiritual out of it.

  42. Comment by Matt on August 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Nice job! I remember going to a DC Talk concert around 1990. I loved Jon Gibson (Christian music’s Stevie Wonder). My parents didn’t like the “style” of music but they couldn’t argue with the lyrics being focused on Christ. All of this seems to point at a deeper problem. The real problem is not church or music, but the bigger problem is our un-Biblical idea that we should “get something spiritual” out of music or church. What I love about DC Talk and Audio Adrenaline and Carmen is that it wasn’t “spiritual music”, it was relational… it was focused on Christ. Maybe the style fit the times. Maybe it was cheesy. But it was focused on Christ. That is living out the Gospel. And what we see today is bands and churches and families more concerned with “getting spiritual” than focusing on Christ. You seemed to portray that well and it is something that is definitely missing in today’s Christian music and churches.

  43. Comment by Gopher on August 16, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Well written. Not to say that the author is immature, because obviously, she’s writing from a truthful perspective, but, there’s a lot of wisdom to be found in her words. It’s just sad that both her and many, many, people are seeking God through experiences, music, or what have you. Eventually, what you have is someone, who seeks something stronger, something more meaningful, something with more and more feeling. The high of glue just isn’t enough anymore, you need something stronger to feel something. It’s no different than a drug or alcohol addiction but in this case you’re seeking rest for your soul when only God can provide the rest you’re seeking. One day I hope you realize this, many people don’t figure it out until later in life, when experience becomes a rather unfortunate teacher of wisdom. In other words – I’ve been exactly where you are.

  44. Comment by Ethan on August 17, 2011 at 12:27 am

    This is a wonderful article, particularly so for me because I lived in that culture until I was saved by authentic Lutheranism, the only reason I can still call myself a Christian. While the Lutheran world has many problems of its own–including that chase after relevance–an authentic Lutheran church, if you can find one, offers exactly the opposite of the type of Christianity that this article talks about. In fact, confessional Lutherans pride themselves on NOT being “relevant,” “with it,” “progressive,” or anything like it. We preach the same Word the church has preached for 2000 years, and if we have anything to say about it, we will preach the same Word for 2000 more.

    Also, worldwide, the Lutheran church remains the third largest Christian denomination, after the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox. American-style evangelicals, no matter how numerous they seem here in the States, and no matter how major and relevant they would like to think themselves, are actually quite a minority.

  45. Comment by Bob on August 17, 2011 at 3:18 am

    What in the world are you talking about? Is your post a joke? “In fact, confessional Lutherans pride themselves on NOT being “relevant,” “with it,” “progressive,” or anything like it. We preach the same Word the church has preached for 2000 years, and if we have anything to say about it, we will preach the same Word for 2000 more.

    The only thing I think of when I think “Lutheran” is big time gay fest. In case you missed it, the only reason Lutherans are well known is because they were only in the news every hour, on the hour, a couple of years ago. I think of strap-on sex devices and lesbians and guys fondling each other when I think of Lutherans, as does the rest of the world.

  46. Comment by Bob on August 17, 2011 at 3:22 am

    I have never heard any type of “orthodox” subject matter when I hear Lutheran. Lutherans are ONLY known for their big support of gay marriage. I used to think of old ladies when I heard the term “Lutheran.” Now I think of old ladies making sweet love to each other. Gross! But their granddaughters making sweet love to each other is hot! Believe me, most Americans only think of porn movies when we hear the term “Lutheran.” Please get over your sanctimonious crap about how “orthodox” they are.

  47. Comment by Jonathon on August 17, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Avery said “with a bad medium, people won’t get the message” Ahh…and there’s the rub…”a bad medium”. Who says the medium is bad? “Bad” music is taste driven. I could listen to Gregorian chant, art song, opera, country music, hymns, or speed metal. Taste in music rules what I choose that day. I choose lyrical content over musical expertise sometimes in my choice of what Christian music to listen to. I used to say that Eminem was my favorite musician that I never listen to because I would watch him TV whenever he was on a broadcast channel, but I wouldn’t want to hear him in his uncensored form. He is an amazing musician and lyricist; a creative genius. There are creative geniuses in the Christian music scene as well, but you have to wade through the hype in the genre, just like you would in the secular world. It sounds like this author has traded one marketing machine for another. Really, MTV chooses her musical taste? Welcome to the marketing machine’s next sheep.

  48. Comment by kopernikuz on August 17, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Interesting article… but it does nothing to address disillusionment with Christianity… simply with the wheels and cogs of marketing it. You left following the God of creation because you felt marketed to? Am I supposed to see this as noble or feel sympathetic? You simply chose to follow another marketing trend… I did the same… but I learned a different lesson in the end.

    It sounds to me that you put way to much stock in the purveyors of the gospel than into the gospel itself. You blame the marketers for making Christian just a “label” on your Facebook page… but if Christian becomes a “label” that fault lies within ourselves.

    Either God is real and Christ is real… or he isn’t… regardless of how authentic and real those purporting to be delivering the message. You walked away from the creator of the universe because some PEOPLE were not authentic? Does this not ring contradictory to you?

    People are broken, God is authentic.

  49. Comment by Ethan on August 17, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Bob, the “Lutherans” you are thinking of are not Lutherans at all, historically speaking, but a faddish subculture of their own that have a lot more to do with American popular culture than with the historical church. If you actually knew anything at all about the word “Lutheran,” you would know how completely superficial and shallow your definition of it is. What you said is like saying “All Baptists forbid card-playing and drinking and bash gays” because that’s what “most Americans think” when they hear the word “Baptist.”

    Honestly, I don’t really care what “most Americans think,” because that phrase these days always seems to come before the most shallow, stupid, and boring statements known to man.

    Tell you what: I’ll get over my “sanctimonious crap” when you get over your need to post shallow, abusive, ill-informed and pornographic crap on a public thread.

  50. Comment by kopernikuz on August 17, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I guess my point can be summed up as: Were you ever really following God or simply a crowd of God-followers? Unfortunately many are disillusioned with the church because they are following the God-followers instead of God Himself naturally they are going to find themselves disillusioned by broken fallen people.

    People are broken, God is authentic. Stop following the crowd and follow Him.

  51. Comment by AJ on August 17, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Dearest Meghan,

    I am grieved as I read your story and know all to well, the truth of the sham! The church in large part has forsaken the “foolishness of the gospel” to be led by the blind.

    I can only pray that whatever truth of Christ and Him crucified that you were exposed to, will be the seed of life in the hands of the Holy Spirit. You are right, you were sold a bill of goods, but you are mistaken that the world will give you the fulfillment longed for. Only living for the glory of your creator can truly satisfy, and I pray that you seek it and find it Christ alone!

  52. Comment by Anthony on August 17, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Yeah, Christians were/are behind the curve with popular music, but that doesn’t mean that it’s irrelevant. It was relevant to you at one point, and stopped being so. That’s the case with almost everything. We change, and so do the things that speak to us.

    MTV stops mattering to you, and you stop mattering to MTV. Cruel world of marketing that we live in.

    Modern music is still a squalling infant compared to Scripture. 2000+ years old and it still speaks to people all over the world, regardless of cultural climate.

  53. Comment by Gopher on August 17, 2011 at 11:49 am

    kopernicuz – Amen.

  54. Comment by Bob Kauflin on August 17, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Meghan,

    A friend pointed me to your article. Thanks for writing it. Sad, sobering, and all too common.

    I’m a dad who raised four of his 6 kids to listen primarily to Christian music, but with discernment. By the time the last two came around we were looser, partly due to a change in perspective, and partly because it was too difficult. All my kids (from 16 to 31 years of age) are following Christ, and we like all kinds of music.

    I’ve been a pastor for 26 years and have spent the last 14 writing, arranging, and producing music for congregational worship. I couldn’t agree with your last statements more: “Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity.”

    I only wanted to comment that your ultimate problem wasn’t one of your upbringing, but your idolatry, which every living person faces. Either we worship the true God or we try to find something else to worship. I pray that your experience ultimately leads you to receiving the grace, forgiveness, and truth that we can only find through trusting in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  55. Comment by Kevin on August 17, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    My thoughts exactly kopernikuz… just people trying to do what they feel God is calling them to… it does not always work but they are doing it unto Him and many find hope and life in Christ even through all our mistakes and failed efforts. I came to Christ because I need his help to become a better… well… everything… and I want every one to be given the opportunity to at least have the choice to know and follow Christ also.

  56. Comment by Martin on August 17, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Wow. Great writing, and I want to say this… as a church leader I am saddened that the inane aping of secular culture by the evangelical church led to your current conclusions. You are very perceptive and I think in your heart of hearts you perceive a golden nugget still in the gospel, tarnished as it is by crazy Christian culture. I would ask your forgiveness if it were possible because this was an awful hurt and deception. That said, I firmly echo what several others have said… there is authentic Christianity still to be had, even if authentic Christians are hard to find. Please don’t confuse the cultural confusion from the weird evangelical “cloaking device” with the transcendent truth of the gospel.

  57. Comment by Cliff on August 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    I’m a very old school Baptist, and I remember as a kid back in the mid-80′s going to church conferences that talked about the dangers of worldly “Christian” music, and to this day, I’ve never listened to DC Talk, Carmen, or any of those others, mostly because it didn’t sound any different from actual rock music to my ears, and not very Christ-like either. My parents banned MTV and cable from our house, so I continued to listen to either Christian Country or the traditional hymnal music in church, like Fanny Crosby.

    Too many churches have given in to the whole thing about being hip. I don’t like listening to or even singing contemporary music in church, and I find it real hard to find a Baptist church whose music program is exclusively songs from the hymnal, unless its a church that has less than 50 people and are generally over 60 years old.

    I want Christian songs that speak to my soul, not to my flesh.

  58. Comment by rev.spike on August 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Refreshing. A cautionary tale for evangelicals that perhaps it is more difficult than imagined to be ‘in and not of’ ‘the world’.

    I particularly am moved by your statement about authenticity. Mark Solomon in his book “Simplicity” deals with much of this. This idea that somehow by camouflaging Christianity we can win people over; like we can convert people to “the truth” via a subtle subterfuge in a word preoccupied with ‘authenticity’. Painful irony indeed.

  59. Comment by kaged27 on August 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Great article. I really appreciate your insight and find similarities in my own upbringing.

    I’m reminded of something CS Lewis said, about how we took the fact out of the word ‘gentlemen’ and turned it into an opinion. Similarly, if we’re not careful, we can turn the word ‘Christian’ into a useless word, and I wonder if that plays a role here.

    What does it truly mean to be a Christian? Does it mean what the marketers say it does? The people whose job it is to package and sell a product? Are they simply pandering to a very large market with a powerful economic punch?

    Unfortunately CCM in the 90′s did exactly that.

    You’re absolutely right when you talk about authenticity at the end of your article. But I maintain that my relationship with Christ is mine and mine alone, and I refuse to let society influence that (even if it’s the church society). Though it’s a difficult balancing act because, while remaining open minded, one must be very discerning about what influences we choose to give more weight than others. It seems as if you choose to give more weight to the influence of music.

    I myself cherish the musical influences of my youth, which progressed from rap (Gospel Ganstaz) to CCM (Michael W Smith & Rich Mullins) to alternative/rock (DC Talk & Switchfoot). I knew then that the music I was listening to couldn’t hold a candle to the secular music I heard on the radio, but that didn’t matter because I was in it for the message. If I was in the mood for better music, I’d listen to Pearl Jam or whatever.

    Today, I love music, and I feel it is an expression of artistry as well as a medium. Therefore I can seemlessly transition from a classical rendition of “Be Thou My Vision” to something hard like Flyleaf to singer songwriters like Amos Lee and Jon Foreman to a worship album (think Chris Tomlin).

    Music is what it is, nothing more and nothing less. Music is not the Gospel, only a medium. I learned that in my youth, and I’m sorry this wasn’t your experience as well.

  60. Comment by jan on August 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Meghan, you a gangsta!

  61. Comment by HopefulLeigh on August 22, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Wow, this brought back fond memories. DC Talk, Cornerstone, even dear old Carman. CCM played a big part in my formative years, even as I discovered Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and the like. Ultimately I made peace with the faith of my childhood and teen years- and gained much better taste in music.

  62. Comment by Andrew on August 23, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Great article – but sad ending… as a Christian I couldn’t agree more your views on the current state of the church. But… don’t shoot the messenger – in fact, get past him to the real message of Jesus. There are still true Jesus followers out there – did you leave because of the church’s inauthenticity or because you lacked the resolve to truly be one? Only God knows…

    Thanks for writing.

  63. Comment by Corey Greaves on August 25, 2011 at 1:26 am

    thanks for the walk down memory lane. that was awesome!

    I haven’t quit following The Jesus Way, but as a Native American I am deconstructing colonial/western christianity and trying to find a more indigenous christianity. Which in my little pea brain makes sense because Yeshua was a tribal/indigenous person too. We Natives have alot more in common with a Hebraic/Judeo Christian world view than does a western evangelical worldview. Because we’re both tribal!

    So, as I continue my journey to break free from the Western cultural captivity of the church, I enter this dialogue with you as well.

    Creator watch over you…

  64. Comment by Jason on August 31, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Great article… to much truth in one reading!

    Thanks for sharing

  65. Comment by Electric Bassplayer on September 1, 2011 at 10:26 am

    “But DC Talk repeatedly resisted making the switch, unlike U2, a band to whom they were often compared (and who Christians disowned around the late ’80s when Adam Clayton got arrested for possession).”

    “K-Max” just never got busted.

    Great post. Thank you!

  66. Comment by Jeff Dolan on September 2, 2011 at 12:08 am

    Very powerful writing. Thanks for sharing. I hear your pain and disillusionment. Those who see what is happening and act on it are the few.

  67. Comment by Alexandria on September 4, 2011 at 2:43 am

    WOOOW.

    I literally feel like you have written my own childhood. I was homeschooled. My first CD was a Carmen CD. I remember exclaiming “This is Christian music!” & being utterly delighted. I packed up with my BRIO in hand & headed to ATF. And on and on I could go reciting your story as my own.

    Even down to the last paragraphs where you stop calling your self a Christian.

    There is a nice reassurance to know I’m not completely crazy hearing your thoughts that mimic my own. Thank you for sharing!

  68. Comment by MJ on September 5, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    I think I understand. In fact, all your information started to give me a sick feeling because becoming relevant has often preceded the truth in many churches. What is the intent of our hearts anymore? The church in some cases has become a middle schooler succumbing to a constant social pressure to say and do the right things.. in short, to be cool. I hated middle school! Who wants to continue in it?

    Thanks for writing this! I really enjoyed it, and you’re a fantastic writer.

  69. Comment by RuthintheDesert on September 5, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    This was very interesting! I’m a homeschool grad, a little older than you, and I lived such a sheltered life that I had to hide my Amy Grant tapes in the closet because she was just too wild for my parents. I grew up in the same town as Kurt Cobain but I had no idea who he was until he died. I worked with his cousin and his best friend’s mom. I had to buy a People magazine to find out who he was!

    I listened to Christian music briefly in the early 90s–Amy Grant, Petra, Michael W. Smith, etc. And then I found myself incredibly bored with CCM so I switched to country music. The djs on the Christian station were so cheesy and seemed to live in a constantly sunny world, but country music…that was real life.

    Now I’m a homeschool mom–though much cooler than my mom. I wear makeup and skinny jeans and I live in Las Vegas.

    I’m still bored by most Christian music, though I find some updated versions of hymns with their intricate rhymes are interesting. I still like country music–though some of the themes are not child-friendly.

    But I’ve learned that different music touches people’s hearts differently. I’m thankful to live in an era when music of all flavors is so readily available.

  70. Comment by J Lee Harshbarger on September 17, 2011 at 3:09 am

    I’m quite a bit older than you, Meghan, and read with amusement some of the things you identified as 90s phenomena that to me go back to the very beginning of CCM. Although Larry Norman is recognized as starting “Jesus Rock” with his first album in 1969, the CCM phenomenon didn’t really take off until 1974 with Christian labels appearing. I was a teenager in the 1970s as this music was born and began to clash with the traditions of the church.

    In the early days, CCM was mostly just Christians enjoying playing their music for Jesus, but already by the late 1970s there was this big effort to “cross over” to the secular market. In 1980, a couple Christian artists made top hits by masking their words, as you have described here that Lifehouse and some other bands did.

    I am so sick of people getting all wound up with anticipative excitement about how this or that Christian musician is so good that they might become accepted by the secular market. It’s never going to happen. If they keep their Christian message, they’ll never become truly mainstream. If they try to play the fence, both sides usually abandon them — not Christian enough for the evangelicals, too sneaky-evangelical-creepy for the mainstream. But it seems this will never die down…getting close to 40 years and still counting…the same old thing keeps happening.

    As a teenager, I listened to both Christian music and the likes of Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, The Who, and Iron Butterfly. Like some other commenters here, I wonder if your not having access to the secular music all along created a full-fledged flip from all Christian to all secular.

    The end of your article was quite sad, that you perceive the church to be a big marketing gig for the evangelical message. Throughout much of my life, I’ve gone to the churches that have the big rock bands, the movie clips, and all that “culturally relevant” stuff. At times, I also tire of it, but at least at the places I’ve been to, I’ve never felt it’s insincere. I can worship more easily in such churches because I can relate to the music, though sometimes I also wish the lyrics had more depth like hymns (but I don’t want to do hymns!!). And the churches with settings like this that I’ve attended have had challenging sermons on a regular basis, helping me to grow in my relationship to Christ. A few years back, I did the traditional Lutheran thing for awhile and could relate to worship there too, but found that the sermons were not helping me grow.

    You seem to have rejected God because of evangelical culture. I find evangelical culture to be annoying quite often, and not just the silly stuff, but even some of the tactics of evangelism that have been used in evangelicalism. I wrote about these things that have put me off on my website, an article called, “Identity Crisis of an Evangelical.” But I chime in with some other commenters here — don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Evangelicals are often fruity, but they’re not Jesus. All Christians, evangelical or not, have varying degrees of Christlikeness; whatever camp of Christianity that we plop ourselves down into, we need learn to discern the difference between relationship with God and customs of the tribe.

  71. Comment by J Lee Harshbarger on September 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Meghan, I just wanted to add…I have listened to your interview on the Paul Edwards Program. It was really good! The questions he asked you were a lot of the same questions in my mind as I read this piece. I admire your insight, thoughtfulness, and open-mindedness. It sounds like you’re sorting through a lot of things now, and I think you have all the background, knowledge, and wisdom to figure it all out.

    I also wanted to let you know that this piece and your radio interview have started a conversation among some of my peers, as we ponder the points you have brought up. Who knows, you may become an influential person who effects change in the church.

  72. Comment by richard flohil on October 8, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Oh, all this is so WHITE. Doesn’t black gospel music — especially the early stuff – touch your souls, or did none of you ever hear it?

    Most “Christian” music I hear is boring, bland, pious (in Britain we would have said po-faced) and predictable.

    I’m a convinced (if nervous) atheist, but I love black gospel music more than anything else. The white, pale, cliche-ridden “praise” music lacks conviction, fire, energy, disrt and drive… Just sayin’

  73. Comment by Amanda on October 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    I find this article extremely well written and it hits so close to home. I was also home-schooled by a German Lutheran mother and a father who loved black music from the 50s and 60s…quite the combination. I listened to Carmen, DC Talk, Jars of Clay…and many other artists who were popular in contemporary Christian music…I also listened to Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Otis Redding and many more. I’ve probably seen Sister Act 30 times…it was my favorite. My mom sheltered me in some ways (what do you expect…I was home-schooled ;-)) and I didn’t listened to most popular music until I went to college in 2004. I remember bringing home an Amy Grant CD and obsessing over the song “Lucky One”…my mom was not impressed and asked me if I had really thought about what I was listening to. As a home-schooler, I was thrust into Evangelical Fundamentalist culture and adopted much of their lifestyle, but I was never good enough for them because I was Lutheran. Lutheranism that is not trying to be evangelical offers substantial church music with depth of lyrics and I became mesmorized by it…so much so that I became a church musician at age 16. But the switch to Lutheranism and at that CONFESSIONAL Lutheranism (surprised to see that term used on here actually…few know what it is) brought with it similar feelings to how I felt in the evangelical home-school movement…confessional Lutherans like confessional Lutherans and don’t really want to be around anyone else who doesn’t worship being high church and using historical writings from approved Lutheran authors. When I married an Evangelical, my confessional Lutheran pastor refused to come to my wedding…even though for the love of God-it is the same Jesus!

    I think what I am saying is- every denomination, every church, every Christian movement has its flaws, we look stupid when we pretend our brand or our genre doesn’t. And Christians hurt people. Even after such a conflicted childhood and adolescence and into adulthood, I have found that the one thing that hasn’t changed for me is my conviction that Christ is my Savior and that worship should reflect my gratitude for salvation. That’s why I think that good music should be used in church- whether that is black gospel (which makes my heart sing), hymns (LOVE Fanny Crosby) or well written contemporary “white” Christian songs (I have to say I still love “In the Light” by DC Talk). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is life changing and should never be masked…it is itself relevant- it doesn’t need to be made that way. And I am sorry that we (the church) misrepresent Christ so gravely.

  74. Comment by Dick Pilcher on December 9, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Page 47 is Dan Brown and the Holy Grail

  75. Comment by Sue on December 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Your piece makes me sad and thoughtful. I’m a parent, probably the age of your parents. We didn’t home school but we did try to keep our kids in Christian music through their early teens, anyway, and took them to Christian music festivals. They did eventually begin to listen to other music, and now hate “CCM,” but I’d like to make a bit of an explanation — it seems easy to you to that kids could discover Kurt Cobain at 13, but what happened to him? If you were a parent, is that what you’d want to happen to your child? Sure, we were protective – but remember, we’d never been parents of teens before. Yes, we wanted you to have the experience of knowing Jesus we do, and we were sold that this “more relevant” way would communicate Christ to you. In fact, that’s what I hear missing your story (and it is missing for some of my grown kids, too) – I don’t hear that you ever truly met the living Christ. Getting kids to conform in an outer way to a set of behavioral standards, and keeping them safe within a cocoon of like-mindedness, isn’t necessarily going to bring about that essential meeting. We kept you safe until you were older (and that’s not nothing – one of my friend’s sons became a heroin addict at 15 and didn’t make it to 21); we couldn’t control or direct a spiritual encounter. And so we continue to pray.

    Now I’m a pastor, and I’ve broken out of the evangelical subculture, too, and I agree that it was co-opted by consumerism and became something unChristian. I hope you grow to see it all with more charity, and more than anything I hope you encounter Jesus, if you haven’t yet.

  76. Comment by Stephanie on December 15, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Hi there – I resonated a LOT with your piece. I grew up listening to all the same stuff, and haven’t listened much to christian music anymore as an adult. There’s a point I want to make to you though.

    There’s something abrupt about this piece. You’re trying to wind together the story of your personal faith journey with the story of Christian music (particularly CCM style stuff). You have a good handle on that music history stuff. However, your transition from being immersed in christian culture to smuggling secular music jumps very suddenly all the way to “i’m not christian anymore”. i resonate with your search for authenticity, and that the larger evangelical church has failed you in that. I personally HATE the big church loud rock-concert style worship that’s becoming so popular. But it seems like you’ve cut off your faith for reasons that don’t hold up to examination.

    Jesus isn’t the problem – its evangelical mega-church rock-concert style that’s the problem. You’ve accurately recognized those things as trappings. They aren’t Jesus – they’re just people being desperate.

    Jesus hasn’t changed. He’s still amazing, authentic, radical, defender of the weak and marginalized, savior of the victim and the victimizer. Author of redemption.

    I challenge you to continue your search for authentic Christians. They’re around. Some people have found them in Orthodox, Catholic, or Anglican traditions. We’ve found them in an RCA church (reformed church of america). Find people who want to be as authentic as you are, who like to listen to whatever music is GOOD MUSIC (with or without the “christian” label), who are active in supporting causes you can get behind, who love others, who have the humility to admit they aren’t better than any of the non-believers.

    Good luck. I’m praying for you.

  77. Comment by Flip on December 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Another reason for Exclusive Psalmody in worship…

  78. Comment by Mitch on December 22, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Beautifully written. Turn it back about 15 years and yours was my experience. Chasing cassette tapes of the latest “hip” Christian rock. I recall an issue of CCM somewhere around 1983-84 that included a chart comparing Christian acts to their secular counterparts. A sort of “If you like this, you’ll like…” Frank Schaeffer wrote a great book in the ’80s titled “Addicted to Mediocrity.” It was a pretty brutal indictment of the whole notion of “Christian art.” Art, obviously, can be used to sell. Some advertising can be downright beautiful. But what Christian rock did was reduce the Christian message to sloganeering. Maybe that’s what evangelism does in general.

  79. Comment by Andrea on December 27, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Great article. As a passionate music fan and struggling christian, this hits me on several levels. I’m enjoying reading the comments; it’s interesting what a different range of people are identifying with the article. I agree with what someone said above, that church isn’t about music. But MUSIC is about music, and authenticity has always been something I instinctively crave in music. I always thought the problem with “crossover” Christian music was that it wasn’t from the heart, it was more about trying to manipulate a message into a product. The best art (in my book) comes from the actual wrestlings of a person’s heart, and that may or may not be something that the christian community (or any community) approves of. Art should take risks. That said, for artists to be successful, they must also be well marketed. I think your article also does a great job of illuminating the particular uncomfortable tension between art and marketing.

  80. Comment by Romeo Butzke on January 1, 2012 at 8:52 am

    When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any manner you may remove me from that service? Thanks!

  81. Comment by Gregory Hyde on January 9, 2012 at 9:56 am

    I certainly agree there are flaws in the genre of so-called “Christian” music, yet I can’t help but notice all the emphasis here from Meghan and most of the people leaving comments is on marketing and the social impact of the CCM product being pitched.

    I’d be much more interested to hear your thoughts on Jesus Christ. No longer calling yourself a Christian (or Christ follower) is a pretty heavy decision, especially when it is made without connection to anything Christ himself did or didn’t do.

  82. Comment by Pete Guajardo on January 17, 2012 at 7:17 am

    If you think being a christan makes you uncool or something watch these two videos

    http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY

    http://m.godtube.com/watch/?v=FMF12FNU Those 2 videos are my answer to any of you who reject faith because”God is not real” I pray for all of you who say that

    God Bless,

    Pete

  83. Comment by James R, on January 25, 2012 at 11:49 am

    You have to be careful when choosing what christian music to listen to. There is way to much “cheesy” christian music out there nowadays. And just because it is ABOUT Christ does NOT mean that it is automatically good quality music.

  84. Comment by Igrice on January 31, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I find this article extremely well written and it hits so close to home. I was also home-schooled by a German Lutheran mother and a father who loved black music from the 50s and 60s…quite the combination. I listened to Carmen, DC Talk, Jars of Clay…and many other artists who were popular in contemporary Christian music…I also listened to Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Otis Redding and many more. I’ve probably seen Sister Act 30 times…it was my favorite. My mom sheltered me in some ways (what do you expect…I was home-schooled ;-)) and I didn’t listened to most popular music until I went to college in 2004. I remember bringing home an Amy Grant CD and obsessing over the song “Lucky One”…my mom was not impressed and asked me if I had really thought about what I was listening to. As a home-schooler, I was thrust into Evangelical Fundamentalist culture and adopted much of their lifestyle, but I was never good enough for them because I was Lutheran. Lutheranism that is not trying to be evangelical offers substantial church music with depth of lyrics and I became mesmorized by it…so much so that I became a church musician at age 16. But the switch to Lutheranism and at that CONFESSIONAL Lutheranism (surprised to see that term used on here actually…few know what it is) brought with it similar feelings to how I felt in the evangelical home-school movement…confessional Lutherans like confessional Lutherans and don’t really want to be around anyone else who doesn’t worship being high church and using historical writings from approved Lutheran authors. When I married an Evangelical, my confessional Lutheran pastor refused to come to my wedding…even though for the love of God-it is the same Jesus!

    I think what I am saying is- every denomination, every church, every Christian movement has its flaws, we look stupid when we pretend our brand or our genre doesn’t. And Christians hurt people. Even after such a conflicted childhood and adolescence and into adulthood, I have found that the one thing that hasn’t changed for me is my conviction that Christ is my Savior and that worship should reflect my gratitude for salvation. That’s why I think that good music should be used in church- whether that is black gospel (which makes my heart sing), hymns (LOVE Fanny Crosby) or well written contemporary “white” Christian songs (I have to say I still love “In the Light” by DC Talk). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is life changing and should never be masked…it is itself relevant- it doesn’t need to be made that way. And I am sorry that we (the church) misrepresent Christ so gravely.

  85. Comment by James Y on February 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    This goes right to the heart of the question of what Christian music is for. Is it meant to appeal to the body or the soul. I think this is a question we all need to seriously ask ourselves.

  86. Comment by JD on April 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    I grew up in the times of Sweet Comfort, the Rez Band, Amy Grant. I even fell asleep at a Stryper concert (seriously, those guys are BORING). I still listen to my Leon Patillo albums and Wendy and Mary. But at no time did I consider my CCM the cornerstone of my faith. And I suspect that’s where you’ve gone wrong, Meghan.

    In reading this I have to wonder if you were spending as much time reading your bible as listening to the Christian rock who’s lack of relevance prompted you to forsake you Lord? Just an observation.

  87. Comment by Amanda Barber on April 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Wow. Thank you for writing this. Christianity needs to hear from people like you. Maybe someday they will understand how feeble they have become by trading God’s beautiful truths for senseless dribble.

  88. Comment by Rev. Zachary Bartels on May 27, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    So, your affiliation with the Christian faith was/is contingent on the coolness/uncoolness of the associated pop culture? Seems like you were only a Christian in the cultural sense to begin with.

  89. Comment by mike on June 7, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Thanks Meghan very much! I am a pastor and couldn’t have said it better! I only wish you discovered the deep meaning and joy, that is found in Christ, and not the bane of man-made religion.

  90. Comment by Paul on June 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Jesus is still everything He claimed to be.
    Coming to grips with that, while in the wilderness, haunts our thoughts.
    I will either surrender to His love, or harden my heart.
    The real Church is out there. Don’t settle for the devolved version. You sound as if you have rejected that, and that’s good. Now seek the real, while He may be found.

  91. Comment by Luke on June 8, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    You’ve hit the nail on the head regarding the compromising nature of the Christian church, which is full of sinners (both believers and unbelievers). The real question is what do you and I do with the problem of personal sin? We can’t let society and professing Christians influence our decisions regarding the destiny of our souls – which is just an excuse to justify the selfish indulgence of being our own lords. Jesus Christ is the only standard, the Way the Truth and the Life. God is Holy and our sin will be judged by Him and no one else. His grace is freely given to all who repent. Jesus is LORD!

  92. Comment by Olivia on August 23, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Meghan: I am a teen growing up immersed in the Christian music that is out there today. Believe it or not I still listen to Newsboys and Tobymac (Toby McKeehan) and many others. Their message still holds true today. I have also noticed, though, that Christian rock is very similar to secular music, except for the lyrics and powerful messages. I also grew up in church, but I have attended public school my whole life. I am exposed to all kinds of secular music out there, but even with that, I gravitate towards Christian music. And even most Christian rock does not suit my need for satisfying music. While it may be fun to listen to, easy to pass on to non-believers, and contains a good message, I still find it hard to believe that some of the artists really mean what they are singing about if their appearance is so similar to the world. My church is traditional and we still sing hymns by Fanny Crosby and many others. I am wary when it comes to Christian rock for the exact reason that a lot of artists may just be in it for publicity. I go towards those who really mean what they’re singing about, so that I am not caught up in a business scam. That’s why my church still follows traditional values including traditional music, so that people know the truth in what we sing about and so that it holds true to our Christian (Baptist) beliefs. I hope this inspires you or at least gets you thinking about accepting Christianity again. I hope you are able to seek out a genuine faith in Christ.

  93. Comment by Chris Jones on September 24, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Spectacular piece. You really know your 90s Christian subculture. I’m a child of the same era and the same subculture–I met my wife at a Christian rock concert (how 90s is that?) Was doubly thrilled to see you’re at (or were at?) UW-Madison. I’m a dissertator here in Hebrew studies.

    What I love best about this piece is how it situates the explosion of Christian rock within the broader cultural context. You account for the cynical marketing behind Christian rock without impugning the motives of the artists (who really do see themselves as evangelists who use music and marketing in the service of a holy agenda).

    And I liked the last paragraph, too. It reminds me of the scene in the Mad Men pilot when Don Draper tells Rachel Menken that romance is just something advertisers made up to sell leggings. When the message can be “repackaged” any which way, what does that say about the substance of the message?

  94. Comment by Klayton on September 27, 2012 at 2:15 am

    Circle of Dust!
    Still listen to it today.
    Still love it.

    Seriously: listen to CoD and then listen to what was on the market at that time (Front Line Assembly’s Tactical Neural Implant or Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine) and the “secular” stuff is boring and simple compared to the electronic wizardry of CoD. I remember borrowing Pretty Hate Machine from a friend and listening to it several times trying to get into it. It was just too boring and repetitive. CoD blew me away.

    And while FLA’s Hard Wired (1995) would give us the utter genius of “Infra Red Combat,” the album as a whole can’t compete with Argyle Park (1995).

    Or listen to “Saviour Machine I” (1993) and “Saviour Machine II” (1994). This was the prelude to the “Legend” series. It would be 1995 before Ayreon would release their first album and there would be anything of comparison on any market.

    Or listen to Sanctum’s “Lupus In Fabula” (1996). Brilliance to this day.

    Sure, there were utter geniuses at that time and before, like Coil, but oftentimes they were too “out there” for most people. The “Christian” industrial, electric, and experimental market was WAY ahead of the popular pack for its time.

    (PS, long live Fatal Blast Whip)

  95. Comment by John H on January 31, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Well done.

    It seems like you experienced a much larger scale version of what many Roman Catholics of the early and middle baby boom generation went through with religious music. When we were very young, before the impact of the second Vatican council took hold, the hymns we sung were classical in nature, usually accompanied by an organist. Very uplifting. For special occasions we got to hear Gregorian chants. When done well they are a unique mystical and spiritual experience. After the impact of the council we got the weak tea of the folk mass, complete with sappy lyrics and monotonous guitar strumming.

    I haven’t practiced Catholicism or any other Christian variant for many years. I doubt that the unfortunate change in the music was the only cause for my loss of faith, but it sure didn’t help.

  96. Comment by Jacqueline on May 30, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    I go back and forth on this issue. It seems like she has two different points, and I’m not sure they should be mushed together…..
    On the one hand, she makes an excellent point about the Church trying to catch up to or mirror popular culture. This made me really sad to think about, especially since historically the Church was at the forefront of culture, art, and science (think of who founded our universities, who wrote classic literature, the focus of classical art and music – so much of it was centered on the Gospel!). Unfortunately, the Church has reversed itself. Instead of setting its own trends, now it’s trying desperately to keep up with them, and in a really (as my husband would say) *lame* way. In an attempt to attract the world, they’ve watered down the Gospel so much that they have become OF the world. I love what she says at the end: “In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity.” I agree, and I think it’s why so many whose parents fell in love with the “entertainment church” have either turned back to the traditional liturgical denominations or left the Church altogether.

    On the other hand, her point about Christian music is wrong. Or at least mostly wrong, in my opinion. I grew up with that music (and from her description, she and I are about the same age and we grew up in the same Chicago suburbia). With the exception of an “I want to be a cool Christian” phase in jr. high, I had a completely different experience from this author. I didn’t listen to DC Talk or Audio Adrenaline to be cool, I listened to it because I wanted to hear fun music with a positive message. Although I still enjoyed Alanis Morissette and Green Day, they ultimately left me feeling angry at the world and extremely self-centered (something a teenager definitely does NOT need!).

    When I listened to Out of Eden or the Newsboys, I felt uplifted. “THIS is what I stand for, THIS is who I am, and regardless of what the world around me thinks, I’m going to stand for who I am,” I thought. I’m not arguing it was great music or anything (which is what she meant when she gave the sniffing glue vs. crack metaphor – I think most of us who grew up on that music would agree it was pretty terrible music!), but it kept me focused on Christ and my higher purpose in life rather than on what secular music predominantly focused on: sex, getting drunk, and how much life sucks. It helped me keep a pure heart while listening to music my friends and I could sing along with and dance to. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

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