Next year I turn 30. One of my blogging themes for next year is that every 30 days I am going to publish a reflective post relating to a “top ten” sort of list. As a practice post, and because I’ve been thinking about music lately, I present for you the “Ten Albums that Helped Shaped My Spiritual Formation as a Christian.”
dc Talk- Jesus Freak (1995) At the time that this album came out, I was annoyed with “church music.” Pop radio was playing music from bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and The Offspring. My friends’ parents were listening to rock radio stations that played music from bands like Metallica, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, etc. I was tired of listening to the “sissy music” of the Church which sounded like little more than a bunch of adults who couldn’t let go of the fact that the 80s were gone. My brother Pieter and I complained about this notion continually. I don’t know whether my parents’ move was a moment of giving in or encouraging us to find our own faith, but that bought for me dc Talk’s Jesus Freak.
I wish I could say that it played a role in my faith because of a message of Gospel, social responsibility, and love. But in actuality, it was significant because of the church in which I was raised. The church was an independent, full-gospel (with a lack of true Gospel), fundamentalist church where the only acceptable music was praise music which could be sung by a choir or in the corporate Church setting. Suffice it to say, I was labeled rebellious for listening to dc Talk, and the elders of the church had an “intervention” style conversation with my parents because I had bootlegged a copy of the album on cassette for another girl in the youth group. What I took away from this time period is that “leadership” is not always right; determining God’s call and will takes time and prayer and not just blindly accepting what others say.
Blink-182 – Enema of the State (1999) Back in 1999, who didn’t like Blink-182? Answer a lot of fundamentalist Christians, especially upon realizing that the woman who graced the cover of Enema of the State was a full-fledged porn star. So I did what any good Christian boy would do, I waited until none of the fundies I knew were around and bought the album of my own, hiding it in a blatantly obvious spot (a toolbox in my bedroom which was locked- no I didn’t own any tools).
After listening to the album, I was (not) shocked to find out that satan was not waiting outside my house to take my soul, that I didn’t have an overwhelming urge to have illicit sex, and that I didn’t want to do drugs. What I learned through this album is that while “everything is permissible, not everything is profitable” (1 Cor. 10:23).
MxPx- The Everpassing Moment (2000) Blink-182 got my psyched about pop-punk music, but after a while I tired of the crassness. A band I had started listening to a couple years before Blink was MxPx., a band labeled as “crossover punk.” About the time I was searching for something Blink-esque with more lyrical maturity, The Everpassing Moment was released. This was a feel-good album from a group of believers that was not blatantly Christian in its lyrical content.
While many of my Church friends were attending the local private Christian school and spending all their time memorizing Bible verses to avoid earning demerits, I was learning to play the guitar and making friends with classmates who also played in bands. Faith should be something that unites people; unfortunately, it seems to be complicated by people who use it to divide more often unite so sometimes music has to do the job that people can’t use faith to do.
Dashboard Confessional- The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most (2001) By the time I came across this album, Chris Carrabba had already parted ways with Further Seems Forever. I discovered The Places at the end of 2001 when I was nursing my first serious heartbreak. This was the first album I had heard with such raw emotion and blatant sincerity in its lyrics. I started wondering why Church music was never this brutally open and honest. Everything seemed to be raindrops, roses, and Jesus is my boyfriend.
At 16, all my youth group friends were swearing off dating and staying away from anything that could incite in them anything that came close to resembling lust. I had no one at Church to talk to about issues of teenage love and depression; The Places spoke to me in a way that those who I was supposed to count on couldn’t do because they were so busy demonizing things like teen dating that they didn’t have an effective way to stand beside teens who actually were dating other than to give them a copy of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Sometimes faith is not about giving people the “right answers;” it’s about coming alongside them as they try to find the answers.
Project 86- Truthless Heroes (2002) By 17, I had figured out three things: life is not simple, faith is not simple, and that if I had issues, there were probably others dealing with issues (whether they wanted to acknowledge it or not). By this point, I had amassed a rather large CD collection. A band on this compilation album I had purchased at the local faith-based bookstore, Project 86, has a new album out and I do not know why but I was excited about it. By this point, I was an angry teenager doing his best to fake happy. On its release date, I drove to the local bookstore and bought a copy of Truthless Heroes and drove home with my car’s stereo turned up as loud as I could stand. Of course, two months later when the Christian Right protested against the album because it seemed very anti-war and media in a time period when it was socially unacceptable to be so because of 9/11, that same bookstore pulled the album off its shelves.
I was unfamiliar with the idea of controversy of this kind in an album from “Christians,” and I was intrigued. The story short, not everyone is going to agree all the time. They especially won’t agree when you express negative sentiments in a worldview that is supposed to be love, joy, peace, etc. Christianity, however, should be about being open and real with each other and not trying to hide from reality.
Haste the Day- Burning Bridges (2004) This album came out during the spring semester of my senior year of high school; the aggression and passion were something that I had never heard on record before. It sounded nothing like “Church music,” but was everything like Church music. This was an album I instantly “got.” It made sense; it was a way to talk about all the different aspects of being a Christian, but without sounding like a sissy. There were other bands doing this at the time (see Norma Jean, Stavesacre, P.O.D., or Blindside), but there was something different about Haste the Day.
This album got me thinking that perhaps there was hope for faith-centered music, and that it was okay to push myself musically in that direction. Learning how to be a guitarist in a metal band did not mean I was setting myself up for eternal damnation.
Hillsong United- United We Stand (2006) If someone had told me that at 21, I would actually put a CD into my stereo that could be filed under the category of “Praise/Worship” and play it endlessly, I would not have believed the person. But that is exactly what happened when United We Stand was placed into my hands. This album sounded nothing like what was being released in music stores or what people in the Churches I would go to were singing. There was something sincere, authentic, and real about the music and lyrics; I couldn’t help but want to sing words at the top of my lungs when listening to this in my car (which created some awkward stoplight moments in the summer when my windows were rolled down).
At this point in my life, I was in the middle of a period of what I could summarize as agnosticism. I knew there was Someone out there, but I didn’t feel that I or anyone else around me was talking about God accurately. I still don’t feel that I can talk about God in accurate terms (ideas maybe), but this album helped me to see that just because the word we use come up short doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Put like this, “That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.”
David Bazan- Curse Your Branches (2009) It would make perfect sense to find an album of music that reflects lyrics antagonistic to a Christian worldview to be in a list of music that shapes faith. But that is exactly what this entry is. Since confronted with the idea in my teens that the people of the Church don’t have it all together, I started having doubts and questions. These doubts/questions have stuck with me my whole life and I haven’t known how to compartmentalize them or express them for fear of being ostracized (it happened with people from the Church when I was younger; I didn’t want it to happen again).
Curse Your Branches was a chance for me to let someone else meditate on some of the questions that I had. Through it, I learned to accept the fact that doubt is really a part of faith and that it is okay to have questions, express those questions, and not try to answer them but just let them be.
Mumford and Sons- Sign No More (2009) Although this album came out in 2009, I didn’t hear it for the first time until the next year after I was married to my hottie of a wife. Since the first listen, I have come to realize that an album such as this is a much more sincere reflection of life and faith than much of what is found on contemporary, uplifting radio today (listen to Mandisa, Jamie Grace, Jason Castro, etc. for good examples of what Mumford and Sons isn’t). I actually have found myself in moments of praise to Almighty through the album Sign No More more often than some of the music that can be found in the Church today.
Music does not have to be about God explicitly to be anointed or holy (these are church terms used to reflect the pureness of something and whether it can be considered set apart for enjoyment by the Creator). God is reflected in his creation. Period.
Bon Iver- Bon Iver (2011) There is nothing really poetic here. Music should be about the total experience, and music in the Church is no different. As Rev. Vince Anderson states, every music team from every church should have at least one good break-up song. Bon Iver is a good example of music that should encompass the whole experience of living. Much like faith is.
Jars of Clay- Much Afraid (1997)
P.O.D.- The Fundamental Elements of the Southtown (1999)
Brand New- The Devil and God Are Raging Inside of Me (2006)