I was driving in the mountains the other week and I turned on the radio in my car. It was tuned to WHYY, Philly’s NPR station, 90.9. Of course, out in the Poconos 90.9 isn’t public radio, it’s Word FM! I jotted down the name of the artists I was listening to because I was so intrigued by them! They were really catchy, to be honest, hook after hook, just great, candy-coated music. Word’s motto is “Positive & Uplifting.” Good thing, too, since George Costanza agrees.
I was amazed at how the music really did lift me up. The radio DJ was telling me that my life had a purpose, and that the radio station had the plan of making our lives better. Even though it is named “Word” (presumably after John 1, when the disciple that Jesus loved called him the Word), I didn’t hear about Jesus. But I think they were getting there, and I was only listening for ten minutes. I think they were more interested in making the audience feel good than talking about Jesus, which I think is the purpose of radio music anyway, and they’ve managed to market it to the right audience. Here are my reactions to the first three songs I heard.
“Hello My Name Is” by Matthew West
Matthew West is from Nashville. That’s where all the great Christian rock stars are born. And his new country rock song “Hello My Name Is” is really encouraging. I didn’t mind how laminated it was. And even though it’s about ten years past its prime, in terms of style, I still got a kick out of listening to it. West talks about the old names that he pasted on himself (“regret,” “defeat”), but now that’s he’s a Christian, his name is the “child of the one true King.” That King goes nameless (and ironically, he also goes nameless in “Amazing Grace” the song West says he is singing in his hit). Even though this declarative song is personal and not worshipful or meant for someone who doesn’t know the King, I still like the story and I can get behind it.
The chorus is contagious. I might be singing it for the rest of the week! I love how appreciative West is of the love of God. “What love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called His children.” It’s a great message of forgiveness, transformation, and being made new.
That newness was a theme in the songs to which I was listening. The best thing Christians can share with the world is how they’ve been changed. And though this song seems to be for the audience that’s already been transformed, it’s still good that they are talking about it.
“Write Your Story” by Francesca Battistelli
Francesca Battistelli is a pop artist, who is copying Katy Perry (formerly Christian, mind you), and I love her voice. That’s my favorite part of the song. Unlike West, who is declaring his new identity in Jesus, Battistelli is asking God to rewrite her and make her something new.
I’m not sure I got the song. The refrain declares that she is an “empty page,” an “open book.” Well, God has already made us new, and he’s already written himself on us. That happened in Creation, and Jesus completed that work. I think being a Christian is about realizing that, not just asking God to do it again. “Let me be Your work of art,” she sings. I love the submission she is engaging in, but again God has already made us a work of art.
I don’t think she is trying to be grandiose, but I really had a hard time when she sang, “I want my history / to be Your Legacy.” I’m not really sure what that means, but I think she is trying to say that the Church, the Body of Christ, should be his ambassador on earth. She, only 29, is already grappling with her mortality (or at the least the end of her career): “When the music faces, I want my life to say…” She is concerned with leaving behind a Christian legacy. In some sense, it seems like she’s never going to get there because she keeps asking God to complete her, and when she does, it’s really only for what she leaves behind. When does the Christian life get going? I think the Sidewalk Prophets answer that question.
“Live Like That” by the Sidewalk Prophets
Even though the Sidewalk Prophets, another Nashville act, begin their song by contemplating their own mortality and their concern with what people will think of them. I’m discouraged because I don’t just want to be a memory. I want to be a world changer! I want to be less concerned with how people will remember me, and how I can be a Jesus follower now.
But as the rock band continues, I really like where they go. They asked, “Was I love? / Was I Jesus to the least of us? / Was my worship more than just a song?” Great questions to live our life by, really. We are to be Love, like Jesus is.
They betray the relational and incarnational power of Jesus when they write “People pass / And even if they don’t know my name / Is there evidence that I’ve been changed?” I think it’s important to be an example, but the best way for someone to really see Jesus in you is through a relationship, not just a reputation. But I can go with them because don’t we all want to show the world the love Jesus gave for us?
It’s probably too easy to deconstruct these artists. They are less than perfect. I think, generally speaking, the content of their music is good. But the radio station and the subculture that it is perpetuating may not be. It seems like many things Christians are creating “rock” for their own people, as opposed to entering the rock world and helping people follow Jesus. I think we should be evangelizing and deepening our faith. The lack of accessibility of these songs (I had no idea they existed until I bumped into them in the mountains) and the lack of direct worship makes them a bit too consumable for my taste. But at the very least, I was uplifted for a moment!