Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Tale of Two "Gravity"s

Music has always been a big part of my life. As a small child, I listened to the Music Machine and Psalty the Singing Songbook records. In my teens, I discovered Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Twila Paris. The music I listened to always came from a Christian source. In fact, my first job was working at a Christian bookstore—selling Christian fiction, Christian music, Christian T-shirts, even Christian breath mints. (Testamints. Clever, huh?)

"Christian Music" is that odd genre that is defined more by its worldview than its actual music. And the worldview of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM for short) is mostly and specifically evangelical. The genre has its roots in 60s/70s hippie culture (Jesus music) but has shifted through the years to its current state of bland praise-pop. (Yes, that's a generalization!) I started listening in the mid-80s, so by that time the music reflected the Christian culture of the time. However there are artists who have worked both within and outside the CCM bubble who tweak, challenge, and question the evangelical conventional wisdom of the day. Examples include Nichole Nordeman & Sara Groves from within; Derek Webb from without. These are the artists I kept listening to even as I questioned, rejected, and eventually reconfigured everything I learned about God. (I'm reconfiguring every day, in fact.)

Yesterday a song called Gravity by Shawn McDonald came up in my iPod mix. That song really took me back--in more ways than one! Listening to that song reminded me of another song, of the same name, from a group called Out of the Grey. Both songs have been favorites of mine for different reasons. Both songs are worth a listen. Additionally, each of these songs pinpoints a separate instance in my own spiritual journey.

The lines in Shawn McDonald’s song include “I don’t want to fall away from You / Gravity is pulling me on down” and “Don’t let me lose my sight of You.” In the song, he feels gravity is pulling his focus away from God. He seems to imply that "gravity" is sin and temptation, or perhaps worldliness in general. The song has a  "stop the world I want to get off" vibe—a desire to go to heaven and leave earth behind (i.e., very Christian emo.)

The song, and the way Shawn sings it, is filled with longing--which is probably why it appeals to me. It reminds me of a confusing time in my life, when I wanted to want to attain that elusive feeling of loving God and feeling his presence. For me, the song represents my longing to feel the way that praise band worship leaders feel when they are emoting breathlessly on the church stage about God’s awesomeness. It caused a lot of what's-wrong-with-me introspection. I identify with this particular song in that way, although it’s probably not the way it was intended.

The second Gravity song, this one from Out of the Grey, defines gravity a bit differently. It’s a song about the "gravity" of life; how trying to float above it (like a balloon) is not the answer. This song recommends actually feeling the gravity, and allowing it to "pull you to your knees." The song (and a major theme of the album, which is also called Gravity) is talking about both the gravity of sin and the gravity of real life. It is a reminder not to deny this grave reality: that there are some really shitty things going on in the world.

As I mentioned earlier, these two songs pinpoint two separate instances in my own spiritual journey. The first was when I was deep inside the homogeneous, Christian evangelical, politically conservative bubble. My own sin and guilt were vague and were wrapped up in odd little behavioral tasks that I didn’t fulfill and sexual impurity of the mind (and the hand). Ironically, in the Christian culture I knew, anything “social justice-y” was labeled "legalism" and “a gateway to liberalism” (and worse). Thinking about these songs has made me realize how many mixed messages there are in this subculture. No wonder Shawn and I were both confused and filled with vague, existential longing for heaven!

The second song is a fairly good indicator of where I am today. The world is in a grave state. There are so many who are being oppressed, who are poor and hungry. It is overwhelming. Compared to most, I am marinating in riches and privilege. That's the gravity that's bringing me to my knees these days.


belongfellow said...

Ah, CCM. I've told your jaw-dropping Twila Paris story a number of times over the years, usually while in line for an autograph session and most recently at Kansas City Royals fanfest, where I managed to say profoundly, "Thanks for coming today."

It's interesting that in the '80s I was listening to some Christian music that was well beyond my understanding of the world at the time (basically, anything that wasn't in the praise God! category, Out of the Grey being a good example. I'd forgotten about them.

Kevin said...

HA! I totally forgot about that. It reminds me of when we used to trade CCM cassette tapes [!].

badabeam said...

Back in the 80's in Chicago, on the same night...Amy Grant was playing at the Rosemont Horizon on her Unguarded Tour and U2 was playing at the United Center or whatever it was called back then (for either Joshua Tree or Rattle and Hum). Of course I went to Amy Grant!!!

I don't listen to much CCM any more, but recently got turned on to The Future of Forestry.

Kevin said...

Yeah I would've gone for Amy too. Today, I also would choose Amy for nostalgic reasons. She was on the cover of AARP recently. Erg. (BTW thx for the tip on TFoF I will google.)