Tuesday, February 28, 2006

At the risk of sounding chauvinist...

"Just because God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, doesn't mean your music has to suck."

That was the commerical I heard recently on Revolution, SIRIUS Channel 67. It's a great station for someone like me who likes loud guitars and Biblically-based lyrics. For those of you not familiar with it, it's not a typical sanitized, adult-contemporary, Newsboys-kind-of-station. It freakin' rocks. Everything from Pillar to U2 to old-school Stryper. If James Hetfield followed Christ, he'd play here.

But recently I heard Mark Dristoil, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, say:
"As a heterosexual male, I had a hard time coming to Christ. I'd show up to church and we'd sing worship songs that were almost homo-erotic. Stuff about walking hand-in-hand in the garden while the dew was on the lily. It really freaked me out because I'd go home and read the Scripture and see where God was described as Father, King, Lord, and Warrior and think 'what kind of Will-and-Grace church is this?' All I can do to worship is sing these 'lily' songs and cry to God? "

It seems to be that the feminization of the church is worse than I'd thought. There's nothing wrong with being feminine... but it seems we're missing the balance on the testosterone side. Female without the male. Estrogen without testosterone. The Gardener without the Warrior. Yes, we are to cultivate and nurture. But, we are also at war. And it seems that femininity is a problem when you're at war.

Perhaps there are enough churches in existence that wage enough war for the all of us. There are certainly enough estrogen-laced worship services out there for all of us. At least, for me.

Is it generational? Is it cultural? Am I just a freak who'd love to have some adrenaline-charged worship music in his life? Maybe it's out there and I just don't know it. Maybe I'm too jaded. Maybe I wish we had more Real Men who passionately loved God without apology and didn't relegate 'worship' to gentle harmonies. Again, nothing wrong with gentle harmonies...but there's another side to the coin.

Maybe I'm just in the mood for some P.O.D. After all, their fans are known as Warriors...


At 1:35 PM, Blogger James said...

the quote in the beginning... i'm gonna make a shirt or something. freak sweet. i've thought this a bunch when we sing peace love and harmony songs only in church. one thing i love about Mosaic is that the music is honest. some songs are sad... purposefully. to reflect on the suffering of Christ or us or the poor or whoever. some are funky and upbeat to celebrate what we have in Christ. But all in all its honest. and i love it. wish more places would do that, because there is estrogen and testosterone, joy and pain, happiness and sadness... we're amazingly too complex to have one type of "please-everyone" worship song. why be honest in our lives and not sing about it together? or maybe not everyone is being honest in their lives... so its easy not to sing that way...

At 2:37 PM, Blogger James said...

haha.. i meant to say "freakin sweet in the beginning there.. and thought about changing it.. but decided to leave it for the world to love as i love it.

At 6:10 AM, Blogger tom cottar said...

yeah, definitely. There are some great 'tender' songs we sing. But, at least in my life, there are at least 40 other moods my spiritual life takes. I just think we're in a rut---it's either santitized KLOVE or Will and Grace.

At 10:40 AM, Blogger scott m said...

I've been mulling this post for some time and my response to it is ... multi-layered. (I'll pause to allow everyone to recover from their shock. [g])

First, on the specific topic of musical styles, I do tend to agree that all that is considered "praise and worship" music tends to be soft rock or easy listening with bland, simple, and repetitive lyrics. Now, given my background, I have no aversion to repetition and 'breath prayers', contemplative prayer, and lectio divina are disciplines I have found helpful over the years. But much of what is considered praise and worship music is simply boring and lacks the helpful qualities of the above. There are lots of exceptions and artists like the Robbie Seay band and Chris Tomlin tend to point toward what this subset of the genre should be and often isn't. But there seems to be this sense that other musical styles cannot be 'praise and worship'.

Personally, when I think of more challenging and adrenaline based styles, I tend to run toward dance and punk. Nothing would thrill me more than to turn Noel loose in a rave format. Losing myself in music and dance has always been a spiritual experience for me. It would be nice to experience that as worship of our Lord.

I can appreciate a metal song or two (if done well) just as I can appreciate some rap and even (don't tell my wife) the occasional country song. But in heavy doses, less so. Still, even for contemplative styles, I tend to gravitate more toward folk and blues than soft rock. Heck, I like classical, medieval, and even gregorian chant styles in certain circumstances. I do find it frustrating that only soft rock (and happy, smiley soft rock at that) is the only thing you tend to encounter. That's certainly not the only season of my life or faith. It is, I suppose, the least objectionable. And if your goal is not to challenge or offend, then it might help. (Ironically, though, I've read a lot about division and controversy over even the inoffensive pap we call praise and worship. The mind boggles.)

As far as the "Mark Dristoil" (I assume that was deliberate though the play on words shot right over my head) quote goes, though, I do not find myself reacting positively at all. I'll ignore the fact that it's clearly not a factual account of his thoughts (since Will & Grace first aired in 1998), but rather a contextualization of his visceral reaction at the time. That sort of thing doesn't bother me. Everyone tends to do it.

But the heavily layered stereotypes embedded within it do bug me. First, the actual difference between men and women (other than the enculturated ones) are more a matter of degree than anything else. When we say that the primary need of many women is security, that does not mean they don't also have a need for respect, purpose, or accomplishment. The fact that the primary need of many men is respect does not mean we do not also need love, comfort, and security.

His characterization seems to imply that he associates deep love with sexual expression. The characterization of intimate love and adoration for a male figure (apparently, any male figure, even our God) as 'homo-erotic' immediately repelled me for that reason. I suppose it is true that many men have difficulty separating love from sexuality, but that has more to do with our culture than anything innate. And I must admit I'm clueless how anyone can read the gospels and leave with a mental model of our savior as 'warrior'.

Of course, I've yet to read anything posted by Driscoll that impressed or connected with me. Clearly, I'm not his target audience. But I see little helpful in his comment.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger tom cottar said...

hey, scott. good thoughts. ...thanks for weighing in. When you state " First, the actual difference between men and women (other than the enculturated ones) are more a matter of degree than anything else." ....you're saying that the basic difference between 'male' and 'female' are a matter of degrees? That 'masculine' and 'feminine' are possibly different degrees of the same elements? Just trying to clarify.

After listening to 5 or 6 of his sermons, I'm sure I don't agree with everything he says, but he's asking some good questions (I'll try to regurgitate and dissect them later next week...)

At 7:35 PM, Blogger scott m said...

Well, on the physical/hormonal level, the male/female differences are obvious. And while there's a big part of me that screams, "Vive la difference!", the physical is not the most important thing that defines us. Important? Sure. But in our hierarchy of identity, I think most of us would consider it of lesser importance to our identity than either spirit or mind/emotions.

Spiritually, I see man and woman alike as Eikons of God. (I really like Scot McKnight's term. I like the sound and nuance better than image.) Though cracked, we are both full Eikons or image-bearers of God. I see no evidence that we each received just a part of the image.

So the physical differences are clear, but not defining. And there is no deep spiritual difference.

That leaves the mind and emotions. And while there are clear differences here, I stick by my statement that they are more a matter of degree, emphasis, and importance, than existence or absence. While the Mars/Venus picture helps us keep in mind the different emphasis, priority, and style of communication we have so we do not project too much of ourselves onto the other, the reality is we are all from Earth. We're more similar than not. And we all have a mixture of traits that are considered "masculine" and "feminine", though even that list tends to vary a lot from culture to culture. But there's no emotion one gender feels that the other is incapable of feeling. There's no thought or perspective that the other is completely incapable of grasping, though it may be difficult.

Of course, the lines are not nearly as clearcut as the categories above make it seem. For instance, we know the additional testosterone washes males receive reduce the ability of the two sides of our brain to communicate and other effects. Similarly, we know some of the female hormones enhance different traits in women. But the key thing is that the physical aspect is influencing, emphasizing, and modifying traits we all share. Similarly, the state or crackedness of our spirit certainly influences our mind and emotions. How could it not? And the way that works out is infinitely variable, for good and for bad.

What I dislike in statements like Driscoll's (and he's far from the only one to make them) is that they take cultural norms and attempt to make them universal gender differences. And you can't doubt it's cultural. I mean really. If his gut clenched at the 'homo-eroticism' of the image of loving Jesus enough to walk 'holding hands' with him, how in the world could he have managed to make it in first century Christianity? (Or has he forgotten Paul's admonition to greet each other with a holy kiss?)

I did and do agree that it is a problem that we've reduced so much of our singing to a single style with a single message with superficial lyrics. But let's not extend that to a problem with singing love songs to our Lord as if there were something wrong with feeling or expressing non-sexual love for another man.

On the other hand, if we need to modify our language to speak to any spectrum of the American male, I don't have a problem with that. It's pointless to speak to someone in a language they can't grasp. But let's try to be sure to communicate something that looks like the gospel and I see the gospel challenging some of these American gender stereotypes.

How's that for clarification? ;-)

At 5:27 AM, Blogger tom cottar said...

Thanks :p .
Dristiol's comment was not in "extend[ing] that to a problem with singing love songs to our Lord as if there were something wrong with feeling or expressing non-sexual love for another man. His sense was quite the opposite--hence the Will and Grace reference.

As I've said, I don't always agree with him, but he does touch on some nuances [;)] that make me stop and ask, 'hmmm...really?'

My original point was that of the feminization of the church as manifested in our worship. Again, feminine does not equate bad, weak, or inferior by any means. But in my experience, it *does* seem that the pendulum has swung too far in that direction. In a day where political pundits are screaming for 'equal time', where is the 'equal time' [ i hate that expression] for the Lion of Judah who rides into town as King, Lord, Master, and Boss? It's not politically correct--it's a little offensive--because it narrows the roof under which some PC circles want to gather.

{something about the gospel being an offense...}

Again, nothing wrong with what we describe as feminine: a more prominent display of nurture, etc. But in our worship, our giving worth to God, ...surely there's more to it than 'pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die-by-and-by'. Surely.

It just seems that we've forgotten we are at war. It's definitely not popular to talk about our ongoing, spiritual war in light of post-911 events...

At 9:31 AM, Blogger scott m said...

Yes, Driscoll's point was that expressing deep love for another male figure was almost homo-erotic and freaked him out, even years before there were prominent gay characters in TV series. I did get that from his quote. I was just flipping it to show that the quote makes it look like he is largely unable to separate love from sexual expression. Admittedly, that is a problem American men tend to have. Though my expression has been markedly different, I've had my own difficulties making that distinction over the years.

With that said, it's true that a lot of what we currently sing in our churches is gushy pap. I feel like I keep saying that in different ways, but it gets missed. However, in no way does that look like a 'feminization' of the church to me. Rather, it looks like the church trying to focus on the least offensive, most universally accepted music with inoffensive words. Attempts to equate it with the 'feminine' is usually more a longing for the he-man, 'me kill now', bravado of our culture. And I do not find that in the gospel even when imagery of the soldier is used.

For instance, go back and read Paul's use of that imagery. What does he tell us to do again and again?


Stand firm.


Hold fast.

And even flee or run away (specifically from sexual temptation).

I've been a peacetime soldier and those simply aren't the normal extent of a soldier's orders. What's missing? The orders to attack, to charge, to conquer, to take, to kill.

Driscoll and others who make those comments appear to equate 'masculine' with the crusader or conqueror mentality. And while that may be our cultural bias, I question whether it is the gospel. What are our affirmative commands? What are the actions we are supposed to take? Do good, even above and beyond what anyone would expect or require, to those who treat us unjustly. Pray for those who intend us harm. Do not resist when we are persecuted, but rather respond as our Lord responded. Change our culture and those within it not through a 'culture war' or other crusades, but by following Jesus through trial and affliction. Hold fast to him and stand. And in the process of doing that, the other affirmative actions we are commanded to do are things like take care of the orphans and widows, visit the prisoners, care for the sick. It is not to paint ourselves blue and go screaming naked down the hill into battle.

And in all honesty, I'm not sure, but it sometimes seems that many women in our culture today are actually better at a lot of things on that list. The gospel looks a whole lot more to me like a St. Francis or a Mother Theresa than a Knight Templar.

Further, the cultural 'masculine' and 'feminine' discussions don't strike me as extremely helpful as they quickly become caricatures. If anyone actually doubts that, beyond the physical distinctions, it's mostly a matter of degree, stop and think for a moment. Don't you know people of the opposite gender who are actually more like you in terms of temperament, impulses, and all the rest than some of the members of your own gender? I certainly do. There is an enormous breadth and very few actually come close to any full conformance to our particular cultural stereotypes of 'masculine' and 'feminine'.

And you can't study history and cultures without realizing those definitions are largely cultural. Heck, you don't have to go back to the first century or even out of the west. Many of the traits that were considered 'masculine' in 17th century France would be considered 'feminine' today.

So my point was that I agreed with you about the music on virtually all counts (other than your inexplicable affinity for metal), but did not agree with the characterization of it as 'feminine'.


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