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September 23, 2005



To each their own. Personally, rock music just irritates me. Classic hymns, and Anglican choral music, and Bach are my preferences for sacred music.


I generally avoid CCM like the plague. But on a trip home from college one year, I shared a tiny plane from Charlotte to Roanoke with Jars of Clay (and their manager, who sat next to me). I didn't even know who they were until we got off the plane and my sisters freaked out a bit - I just thought they were some tiny unfamous band flying on a crappy tiny plane. We all chatted throughout the trip, and they were some of the nicest people I've ever met. And they really, really wanted to go bowling. Later on I bought the CD, out of curiosity, and was surprised to find that I really liked it.

I can totally do without Third Day, though.


What? No Michael W. Smith?



Now there is a co-incidence. I'm listening to Third Day as I write. They're my favourite too.


Actually, Ive been listening to a lot of Christian-inspired music lately. My friends think I'm nuts.

One interesting band is the Danielson Familie, an actual family that puts out avant garde, Biblically-inspired music. It's quirky and weird, but always makes me smile. Their father, Lenny Smith (I believe) is also releasing several records of his musical archives and live performances this year. The song "I Saw a Mighty Angel" is absolutely fantastic.

Additionally, indie rock god Sufjan Stevens "came out" as a Christian two years ago with his album "Seven Swans." I highly recommend it as well as his other albums. All of them are all-ages friendly with solid composition and truly interesting arrangments and instumental choices. Almost all of his songs deal with moral stories or personal tales of hardship, but nonetheless capture the beauty of humanity. Just wonderful.

Hugo, if you're interested in some sample downloads let me know via email. I'm so enthusiastic about these musicians I'm more than willing to share. And that's coming from a die hard atheist! :P


I guess this is a delurking post and a content post all in one. You and I briefly talked about my need for thesis advice, but times got busy...although that is a conversation I hope can still happen, over e-mail at the very least. My thesis topic relates to theories of masculinity in the Christian church, something I think you might be a great resource for. I am a Women's Studies and Histoy major at Pomona College and am interested in advocacy for the poor. My politics and commitment to social justice, as well as my formal academic training push me to the left...
I am also an active member of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an unapologetically evangelical organization. I love Caedmon's Call, Derek Webb, Jennifer Knapp, and Jars of Clay. I don't think that my two identities are fundamentally incompatible, but I'll admit that I often struggle to make my world work. I think that the strength of my experience, and probably yours as well, is that I am challenged by both my feminism and my evangelicalism. As feminists we should be particularly open to contested identities. When they disagree, to whom do we owe our allegiance? Always to Christ, and that's all that God asks for. Remember that we are human- body, mind, and spirit. We should pursue God with everything we have in all three. That's the embodiement of worship.
And I agree with Lauren about Sufjan, all of his albums are great.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

My first thought is that I have, after all, been emotionally pulled by the stately Episcopal liturgy (but more often when they had music I really liked). Though of course, like anything else, I've gone through it in a more routine way.

My second thought is that, though I like the standard hymns, I also like some gospel, Christian rock, lots of different kinds of religious music, actually. For instance, a friend of mine once played a song for me called "Washerwoman God" that I'd really like to find again.

I'm OK with being moved by melodies and seeing that as part of my way of being touched by the Holy Spirit. Grace builds on nature.


I listen to medieval chant frequently, even at work...but turn it down if students come in...

Emily H.

I just discovered Bruce Cockburn (it's a sign of MY terminal unhipness that the new artists I keep discovering are inevitably the ones my mother listened to at my age) and remembered being just floored by the gentle spirituality in his songs, as well as the left-wing political songs--

We're the insect life of paradise
Crawl across leaf or among towering blades of grass
Glimpse only sometimes the amazing breadth of heaven

I find most CCM makes me wince, not because of any aesthetic concerns, but because I can't listen to it without thinking in terms of a theology that's just too intense and scary for me.


My rational mind tells me I'm being moved by the melodies rather than by the Holy Spirit

Or perhaps you're being moved by the melodies to the Holy Spirit. It certainly seems clear that you've arrived at a state of reverence that's no less genuine for having been gotten to by means of guitars. Insofar as I believe in God, I believe he works through secular physical processes, not through some parallel supernatural substance.


Beyond Christianity, there are other belief systems, paths, and whatnot that give you that "ecstasy" feeling, among other feelings such as "one with the world," "vibrations," "consciousness expansion," "all-powerful," etc. Taoists have written about such phenomena, as have Hindu yogis, Zen masters, Buddhists, and, I'm sure, many other systems I'm unaware of. Some sub-groups embrace such feelings, others warn against becoming too attached to them.

Kristie Vosper

Ah Hugo, I remember one of our first conversations in the C Building hallway where we discovered that we were each christians...who loved Jennifer Knapp. Christian music, for better or worse, has brought me back to a sweet tender spot in my walk with Jesus over and over again. And it's so good. I know the tears you speak of, the ones that make your heart ache inside and long for that intimacy that is so real, so incredible to live with. I'm discovered that contrary to my former belief, it is available in more periods that "conversion aftermath" and it's so good. I think that is what growing in relationship with Jesus is about, finding out how you can make space to tap into and make yourself aware of the sweet presence of God that is in our midst, surrounding us in each day.

I have had recent exposure to some of the CCM community...through a friend that is working with a well known band. My friend is living in Franklin, Tenn in the midst of it all. ANd you know what, we're all the same. We're all trying to make sense of what we see in the world, and what we read in scripture...and its good. In many ways loving the world is about overlooking the contridictions...and doing it anyway. You know? I always tell my kids at church,what my Youth Pastor said to me... "understanding God is like teaching your dog to do your Algebra homework...you're dog will just never really get it."

Hugo, I appreciate your honesty...it's always a gift.
And I know the answer to your dilema: Become a Presbyterian. :)
What was that NY Times article this summer "Onward Moderate Christian Soldiers"? May grace fall like rain on your face today Hugo and may you be filled to overflowing with love and intimacy with Jesus.


Kristie, I'll never forget that conversation either... but I'm not ready to be Presby just yet... but given that it's one avenue to the Lord I've never taken, who knows?

Stentor and Lynn, thank you. Point well-taken.

Aldahlia, I never got into Michael W. Smith. The late Rich Mullins, yes, but never Smith.

John, I just knew you liked Third Day. You and I are more alike than we ought to admit.

Aaron, let's speak soon, or try to get together for coffee. Email me and we'll compare frenetic schedules.

And Lauren, I can't find your email on your website. I need to know who this Sufjian person is.


Although I have avoided CCM like the plague ever since my dad was "born again" when I was 18 and started giving me Christian CDs for every holiday, your post reminded me of a really neat church moment I had a few years ago. I'm in Texas, and have been fortunate to find pockets of liberal and intellectual Baptists (I think we also think of ourselves as "backsliders") to worship with. A few years ago, I was at a women's retreat, and one of the woman whom everyone thought of as a pillar of our small church was not able to be there, so it was a fairly emotional time. At the end of the retreat, one of the pastors started talking about gospel music, and how many of the women had grown up with it, but had then gone to seminary, or graduate school, or a retreat, and become uncomfortable with the simplistic messages of many of the songs and stopped singing them. Someone suggested that we ignore those issues, just this once, and we all sang "I'll Fly Away" together. The woman we were all missing died later that week, and "I'll Fly Away" was sung at her funeral. I love that my churches have been complicated and questioning and intellectual and fairly liberal, but I also really love those moments when we put aside the meta-discourse and choose to be in the spirit in a way that feels right to us at that moment. Thanks for reminding me of that.


I, too would say that you might want to look and see if there is a Presbyterian, Methodist, or UCC church in your area with a strong social-justice commitment and a contemporary service.


Hugo, I posted some mp3s at my site that you should check out. All these artists are truly great. Feel free to post a link from here to there -- I want everyone to love these artists like I do.


One of the best things about Wiccan spiritual practice for me is that my feminist, tree-hugging, progressive politics and analytic, academic mind can sit comfortably side by side with ecstatic religous experience.


I was raised in an evangelical Christian church, and witnessed ecstatic worship and speaking in tongues from a very early age. I was never attracted to it, even as a child who didn't know anything else, and never felt that my own personal Jesus was listening to my prayers. Of course, for years I felt as if there was something gravely wrong with me because I didn't have the feelings I saw everyone around me having. It eventually ocurred to me that religious belief is tied to a person's temperament, and that I don't have a need for the type of emotional release offered by a Pentecostal church. The problem for me is that fundamentalist churches tend to couch the experience they offer in terms of absolute truths, not in terms of the type of ecstasy they offer and that so many folks so obviously crave.


I think it's incredible of God draws us to those who struggle with simliar contridictions. My parents (as am I) are die-hard liberals and for the most part we live as much. I have been a vergitarian since I was six, done yoga since 10 and won't get my license 'till I can afford my own electric car. When I was born, my parents took it upon themselves to bring me to every kind of worship/religous/spritual group possible. I have obeserved and exprienced countless religous practices and learned much about my self in doing such. When I turned 14 I was ready to make the most important choice of my life. On May 16th, I was babtized in the prysbeterian church. However, now as I exmaine my faith and politics stuggleing to co-exist I have realized two things. One, I know my faith has been infulenced by every service and by every relgion. I often borrow ideas from Islam, Hinduism amd Buddaism, and I don't belive that makes me ady less of Christian, just someone who understands the pulurism of today's society. Secondly, I belive firmly in a seperation of church and state, and no matter what they say there is no "party of God." Conserviatives are no closer to hevean that we are becuase what it comes down to is faith. How can any one know what God wants and what God meant? We live life through interprentations and only when we see God face to face will we understand. On a final note, who said God wouldn't be pro-earth, pro-peace, and pro-equality. I think Jesus would have liked yoga.
May God bless you and guide you

The Gonzman

What's a bleeding-heart liberal who teaches gay and lesbian studies supposed to do when he feels more "fed" by the certainty and the passion of conservative Pentecostals than by Anglicanism?

Very simple - come to the dark side of the force, my son....You ain't lived until you have been in a fully-dressed Tridentine Mass with all the trimmings - Incense, processions, a choir singing responses and antiphons in Gregorian Chant, and all the pageantry and saecerdotal pomp the church can muster. Transcendant doesn't even describe it, for a brief time only You and God exist in the universe.

Resistance is ... futile... ;)


I've been wishing lately that I could find good recordings of Jewish religious music. I've had some truly awesome musical experiences in worship (all at Elat Chayyim, the Jewish retreat center where I go a few times a year) -- when the harmonies and the music, the words and the kavvanah (prayerful focus), all blend together into a seamless upswell of spirit. But I've never been able to find anything vaguely like that experiences through listening to recorded music, and I find most "spiritual" recordings saccharine and syrupy. So in a way, Hugo, I envy you the experience you describe, of being moved by music to genuine joy in your connection with God!

As it happens, there are a few songs I've come to know recently which do move me in genuine religious ways -- "In the Sun," by Joseph Arthur, which I first heard on the soundtrack to the movie Saved!, tops that list. But it's not the same as what I feel when the music of a really great worship experience sweeps me up. Maybe it's the difference between listening and singing myself -- between being a consumer of the music, no matter how beautiful or spiritual, and being someone who's helping to create it.

By the way, did you happen to see Saved!, and if so, did you blog about it?


I got to your site somewhat randomly through a Google search and have enjoyed reading this stuff- I'm totally with you on the political/spiritual division, mostly because of gay and lesbian issues as well. I converted to Catholicism after worshipping for a few years with an wonderful, diverse parish at the SAcred Heart cathedral in Raleigh, NC. After the church desegregated, the African-American church closed and they added a noon mass at the white cathedral. By the time I went to the church that mass was about about evenly split, 50% white/non-white 50% upper-middle class/working class. The music, though, was Gospel, traditional southern black music all the way from slave spirituals to Amazing Grace, sung with so much devotion that I nearly cried often in mass. To me, that's the best of both worlds- beautiful emotional music with concrete, solid theology. That was also a very accepting parish, which contrasts somewhat to the hardline anti-gay stance coming out of Rome right now. I want so desperately to believe that God has made The Church and that it's therefore God-given and right, but we screw it up, don't we?

Well, in terms of music I have to echo the reccomendation for Sufjan Stevens and would also point you to Dolorean. Yeah, like the car. I haven't seen his albums in the store, but I know you can get it on emusic.com. You can download "Violence in the Snowy Fields," probably the best single from the band, here.



Rachel, I did see "Saved", loved it, and didn't blog about it. Like "Dogma",it was one of those films that a confident believer could relish without being offended...

Glen Peterson

Thanks to your commentors for pointing out some cool music. I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to the CCM scene since the 80's. When it comes down to it, I like creative people using their music (or any art) to engage themselves with God. A new Irish hymn by Keith and Krysten Getty, In Christ Alone, caught my attention last weekend when a group of friends played it in Memorial Church at Harvard. The Newsboys have it on a record as does someone named Rita Springer.


Rachel and Hugo,

I watched Saved too. It was hillarious. They didn't understand us, but it was hillarious anyhow.

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