Too simple for cliche… or is it?

If there’s one reservation I have about Christian music is that it can so easily border on the cliche. There are so many loaded terms and symbols and catch phrases in the Christian sub culture, so many Christian songs, and in particular worship songs seem like a simple haphazard arrangement of any number of different ones. Like most of you, I can detect these trite little dittys a mile away. I’ll be listening to some Christian radio station, hoping for something decent to listen to when something like this will start blaring over the same tired old contemporary rock beat and mindlessly simple heart and soul progression (G-Em-C-D):

Your name is Holy and Awesome

(a song that I just wrote in 10 seconds)

Verse

We worship you Jesus

We come before you and look upon your face

In your holy sanctuary

We lift up our hands and receive your grace

Chorus

Your name is holy and awesome

Powerful and mighty Oh Lord

We come before your awesome presence

And receive your holy Word

Verse 2

You are so awesome God

We praise Your holy name to the ends of the earth

The mighty father of his children

And we exalt your great name with shouts of joy!

Bridge

Your name is holy and awesome (repeat incessantly)

I just literaly in 10 seconds spouted out as many phrases and cliches as I could and that could very well be some CCM single released on Moody radio by some mid-level Christian artist. Or some “famous” CCM artist and their “WORSHIP” CD (the ultimate cash cow)… they will have that one crappy original song along with 10 well-known worship songs that are re-arranged with the same creativity that a talented high school praise band could come up with. (on an aside, if you are an CCM artist and want to release your own “worship” CD, at least pick some worship songs with well conceived melodies and some thoughtful lyrics… don’t pick the trashy commercial worship songs and do your personal karaokee version of it… you can put lipstick on a pig….)

I guess I should add the caveat that I understand why worship music has to be formulaic and I don’t mean to trash all of it, Lord knows I employ a lot fo those well-known formulas in my own worship leading… and I must say that most of the crap is weeded out by a worship consumer (yes that’s right) that is increasingly becoming more selective in their tastes. So I think most of the material that finds its way into congregations are of pretty good quality…

All of this is just to say, that it is at those times when I listen to some bad Christian radio, that I’m thankful for a handful of Gospel artists who’s songs bear such simplicity that they demolish any notion of cliche. Don’t ask me to explain exactly how this works, but this isn’t that much different from the good food that you eat or good writing that you savor…. there is a kind of uber-intentional, well-thoguhtout simplicity that finds its way into art that blows away even the slightest hints or thoughts of the cliche, but rather takes you a deeper profound level of thought, and in this case, worship.

Case in point:

Falling in love with Jesus

Falling in love with Jesus

Falling in love with Jesus

Was the best thing I’ve ever done.

In His arms I feel protected

In His arms never disconnected

In His arms I feel protected

There’s no place I’d rather be.

Obviously, you can feel free to disagree if you think this is just a mindless set of fluffly cliche offerings that ahve no meaning, yet I have to say that I find this, for the thoughtful Christian worshiper, to be a song that you could sing over and over and over again… with each time resonating differently in your soul. I’ve been listening to this song a bunch of times today, and each time, I’m asking… do I mean this? I’m kind of in a wrestling match with God.

I guess the one way to test if this song, by the great south african Gospel and jazz singer/guitarist Jonathan Butler, is truly cliche is to see if I can come up with a 10-second simple worship song of my onw that can rival this one. Here goes:

I Love You Jesus with All My Heart

(Another song that I wrote in 10 seconds)

I love you Jesus with all my heart

I love you Jesus with all my heart

Receive my praise, all of my days

I love you Jesus with all of my heart

You are worthy of the highest praise

You are worthy of the highest praise

The king of kings, the lord of Lord

You are worthy of the highest praise

Hmmm… I wonder if I led that song at church, could people take those words, which I just mindlessly scribbled on the page, make it their own and genuinely, authentically connect to Christ in worship? After all, even though I just typed those words in jest, we do want to love Jesus with all our hearts, He is the King of Kings, He is worthy of the highest praise… yet is there a difference? Furthermore, could a song like “Your Name is Holy and Awesome” be a genuine worship song? I guess my heart says, perhaps… even tho even reading those words, knowing how glibbly I wrote them, makes me feel uneasy.

Anyways, in the 20 minutes between when I started this entry, I’m not exactly sure anymore. I just thought of a really simple song that I love to sing, “Prepare the Way”… the lyrics are:

Prepare the way, preapre the way, prepare the way of the Lord (repeat)

Jesus (repeat)

You are the light of the world (repeat)

You are the King of the earth (repeat)

I can say wholeheartedly that I’ve worshipped through that song. I don’t know if Charlie Hall spent days and hours composing that seemingly simple song (I coudl imagine that) or if he came up with it on the spot in worship or even scribbled it on a square of TP while taking a crap (I could also imagine that, tho I don’t want to)… either way, I can worship through it. I guess the key to its “worship-ability” has less to do about the effort and success of the composer as it does the extent to which it reflects truth about God. Perhaps?

OK, I don’t know what I’m saying anymore, but here are some questions I’m left with for consideration:

  • What is the role of the cliche in art? So much of worship is heavy handed, explicit… whereas some of the best joys of art are in the subtle, the nuance, the whisical… yet that seems to me not to translate as much in worship music, why? Must worship music always be cliche, heavy handed, explicit in its lyrical content?
  • To what extent do we place stock in the artist’s effort, skill when assessing worship music. If a non-Christian or nominal Christian writes a biblical sound worship chorus, is that a legitimate song worship God to?
  • Why and how and should we evaluate worship songs? I know I’ve been doing it, but is it right? What does or should evaluating worship songs entail? What should be the criteria?
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