Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Another Observation about Contemporary Song Texts

Going back to Saturday's topic of shortcomings in contemporary worship song texts:

(And that is the topic. Please don't comment on how much better--or worse--you think contemporary music is than traditional, and please don't comment on contemporary vs. traditional worship issues. --Thanks!)

I believe strongly in the biblical principle of equality among members of the dear Lord's body, the church. That is a given in my congregation, as it is (or should be) in all United Methodist churches. In fact, I pray often and hard that throughout the whole Body, we may all come to embrace this principle of living in Christ.

That said, I am troubled by how exclusively masculine so many contemporary song texts are. If we were talking about traditional texts (smile), we could certainly level the same charge, but with this BIG difference: contemporary songs, by definition, have been written during the past twenty-some-odd years. Only during my nearly half-century of life has American English come to be relatively gender-blind, but that is the common language situation today. We should be singing, in large part, in the common language in our contemporary worship.

And mind you, I'm not talking here about language descriptive of God, though I have thoughts on that issue as well. I'm talking about our language concerning our fellow human beings. Like it or not, "man" no longer commonly means "the human race" or "humanity." It means a singular male human being. It's no longer either generic or plural.

So why in the name of all that's holy should so many contemporary worship songs still utilize generic masculine words and phrases? Why do so many current writers fall back on archaic usage that, frankly, offends a whole lot of non- and new Christians unnecessarily...and not a few of us old Christians, too? In my opinion, it smacks of a smug disregard for the need to present the Good News of Jesus Christ in a language that those seeking the Christ can understand without stumbling. The words people sing should lead them TO God, not away from the church.

[rant over...for now.]

7 comments:

John said...

(And that is the topic. Please don't comment on how much better--or worse--you think contemporary music is than traditional, and please don't comment on contemporary vs. traditional worship issues. --Thanks!)

Yeah, God forbid that someone should disagree with you. I guess that would be "off topic". Sheesh.

Poor Mad Peter said...

Language has been a problem in both traditional and contemporary church music from day 1. In the latter, part of the problem, I suggest, is that so much contemporary music arises from a conservative theology. Hence, masculinist God-talk and (frequent, IMO) expressions of horror-theology like substitutionary atonement, etc. In a sense, only the form of music has evolved--not the lyrical substance.

Psalmist said...
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Psalmist said...

That's a good theory, I think, Peter. I wish I understood, however, how keeping androcentric language about people--not God--is in any way conducive to reaching the very people most likely to look for a contemporary vs. a traditional service of worship. In short, I don't think the writers think about this or, if they do, they cling to the androcentric language because that's what they associate with "good church" language, or angrily so as a "witness" against "pc." There's a certain refusal to consider the other above oneself in that mindset, at least so it seems to me. And again, I believe that creates a stumbling block to many.

Interestingly enough, when a song addresses God (rather than when it refers to God), the problem largely vanishes. Yet another reason to keep the focus on God when writing worship songs!

Psalmist said...
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Psalmist said...

John, I've removed the reference to you in the hymn/song survey and ask you to please forgive me for singling you out.

I really don't mind disagreement at all, just so long as it's disagreement on the stated topic (language of contemporary worship songs).

I understand that contempoary vs. traditional music/worship is a hot button debate that quickly degenerates without much of substance being said. That's why I'm specifically narrowing the topics I choose to blog on. Believe me, at some point when I'm wearing my "traditional worship" hat, there *will* be posts that critically analyze that corpus of texts, too.

SingingOwl said...

Rant on, sistah, I'm with you.