So I admit I have been desperately watching this Slice of Laodicea blog, which at times borders on the most frightening material I've ever read, for some part of some Christian issue on which I possibly agree with Ingrid Schlueter. I realize we're giving her lots of free press and that I have a tendency to settle into fixations, but hey – if something consistently generates interesting content, why not?
And so it came to pass that Schlueter recently blogged about a Christian music festival. She mocks this quote from a pastor involved in the CCM "Lifest" near Milwaukee:
The goal of living as a Christian individual or musician in a day when society is all too careful about excluding, discriminating against or making anyone uncomfortable with their faith is to walk the line, McGregor said. “It’s not to separate ourselves; it’s to expand, really. We try to keep our feet in both worlds."
Schlueter predictably pounces on the "feet in both worlds" line, pointing out that it's at best unscriptural and at worst anti-scriptural. I agree. The pastor's babbling is stupid on a number of levels: first, there's no evidence that the world at large is becoming increasingly exclusive or hostile toward Christians. In fact, it's just the opposite: Christianity has, generally for the worst, plunged itself into the mainstream of the American consciousness. And second, the whole concept of two separate worlds to which we must devote a foot each is unscriptural and generally idiotic. We are to be "in this world" but not "of" (tainted by, bound by) it, and not being "of" this physical world doesn't mean we're supposed to create a fantasy one in which to hang out instead.
I think Ingrid might be with me that far, but instead of picking apart the pastor's non-existent theology, she instead posits that Christian (bands, presumably) who reject the CCM label in order win souls by "stealth" are misguided:
Those who are dropping the label “Christian” as a strategic move are denying Christ. Those who think that some vague, cryptic message that references God in a culturally relevant, non-offensive way is going to convert souls, they need to think again.
I couldn't agree more, but I think she's talking about straw men here, as in people who don't actually exist. A lot of Christian musicians do not label themselves as such, but their goal in doing so isn't so that they can overcome their non-believing listeners by stealth and trick them into converting. They're dropping the label because it is the trademark of low-quality, self-serious, platitudinous excuses for music making and represents a false dichotomy between sacred and secular music. The very dichotomy that Schlueter is operating under when she simply assumes that any Christian playing music is doing so to either to lead worship or win converts. If these bands are dropping the "Christian" label in order to hide from potential converts, then Ingrid has them nailed. In the more likely event that they're simply trying to play good music without unnecessary marketing baggage, then I don't know why they're playing at Lifest to begin with.
So I'm all for Schlueter's low opinion of events like Lifest, especially if they, as she says, are billed as some sort of spiritual or religious event. But I think her distaste is coming from the opposite end of the spectrum. She says these Christian bands are pagans anyway, so they might as well stop pretending to be anything Christian. I say Christians don't have to justify having a rock festival by making it a religious or spiritual event, and should therefore drop the pretense and just play some damn music. But we're agreed on the fact that the Christian label is in fact nothing but a pretense and should be done away with.
The article on Lifest that sparked Ingrid's post has some wise insight (translation: eloquent reiteration of my opinion) from Jars of Clay, whom I respect immensely for their willingness to break down these artificial barriers:
Three-time Grammy winner and Saturday headliners at Lifest, Jars of Clay has spent 15 years dipping from fans at both ends of the pool. Front man Dan Haseltine said music shouldn't be restricted by labels, but be about creative expression.
"After many years of 'Are you a Christian in a band or are you a Christian band?' we've grown a bit tired of it; it's not a distinguishment that holds much merit," he said.
"Most of that label put on the artists, there may be all sorts of reasons for it that have nothing to do with the music they create. In that sense, we feel like the labels are a bit tired, unnecessary and we tend to fight them where we can."
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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