Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Version Culture

A couple weeks ago, I heard something that gave me pause. I have a deep appreciation for good music and so, when I hear a piece that is good, I remember it and remember it well. I remember the lyrics, the intonation, the cadence and timbre of the singer's voice, the arrangement; all of it, really. Every single detail. So, on this instance, I paused, because I heard one such song. It was a song of notably poetic verse whose accompaniment accentuates the flow and shape of the song itself. 

Well, that's what I was expecting, anyway.

Instead, what I heard was an attempt to "Christianify" the song. The words had been changed to illustrate a particularly wonderful event in the Christian faith, but I couldn't help but feel that something had been lost, that we were all the cheaper for the mimicry.

Why do I say this? Well, answer me this question: instead of taking an existing song and rewriting it, losing the tone and essence of the original, can we not simply create something new and original with a life of its own?

Answer: we can.

See, in the book of Genesis, There's an interesting little verse that might shed some light on the issue.
"So, God created mankind in His image. In the image of God He created them. Male and female He created them" - Genesis 1:27
Wait. Hold that thought.

  1. We were created in the image of God. 
  2. God creates; He is the creator
Ergo, we were created with the ability to create. Don't believe me? Read these excerpts from various hymns.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
 - Frederick Lehman
Jesus, Keep me near the cross;
There a precious fountain.
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary's mountain
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find,
Rest beyond the river.
 - Fanny Crosby 
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows, like sea billows, roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul
 - Horatio Spafford 
Church, do you not see the beauty in this language? Do you not see the creativity that was poured into poetry and song?

We keep sitting back, recycling songs, Christianifying songs, modernizing songs. Isn't it about time we made something new?

Now, I'll take the current four-chord shuffle that's popular in music today. Blase as it may be, it's at least a start, but the current trend in modern worship music of rewriting the music of an older hymn to make it modern and relevant or, and I cringe at this, adding a tag into the hymn to make it one's own is not.

"But we're creating," you might exclaim.

Perhaps, but, you see, God did not just create; He created well. Genesis goes on to say that He surveyed all of his creation and, at the end, found it very good.

Church, we're falling behind. Our movies are stifling. Our art consists of poppy, feel-good slogans and mimicries. Our music is homogenously bland. (Let's face it, I don't really listen to the Christian station anymore. Once you've heard one CCM song, you've heard them all, musically and lyrically.) Our fiction is staid and stereotyped.

So, Church, I offer to you a challenge. Ironically, it's not one of my own, but rather an excerpt from Neil Gaiman's keynote address to the 2012 graduating class of The University of the Arts, which I find particularly noteworthy and applicable:
"Make good art."