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A song that changes the world, and doesn't just get reviewed
These days musicians don’t revolutionize music—Spotify does. That’s the revolution we're used to when it comes to music. But not a real revolution. Even the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, a song about a revolution, in the end taught us deconstruction, not how to build a better world.
That deconstruction is embodied in Pitchfork, a music blog, that impales musicians. Music becomes another item to evaluate and consume—it gets objectified with a number, as if a narcissistic 500-word essay wasn’t enough! It strips the humanity from the artist and positions the critic as more important. The Onion wrote a funny article about Pitchfork. The Onion declared that Pitchfork reviewed music as a whole and gave it a 6.8. Here’s the lead:
Music, a mode of creative expression consisting of sound and silence expressed through time, was given a 6.8 out of 10 rating in a review published Monday on Pitchfork Media, a well-known music-criticism website.
According to the review, authored by Pitchfork editor-in-chief Ryan Schreiber, the popular medium that predates the written word shows promise but nonetheless "leaves the listener wanting more."
If music is really inspiring and uniting it is almost unratable. But then, again, how often does that happen? Contemporary musicians have created a product to be rated—whether it’s in a hipster’s critique of it, whether or not they can sell out a venue in a certain amount of time, earn a Grammy award, or get enough radio time to be recognized.
This season we are trying to see the poetry in the Bible as something we can relate to. It seems to me that when music is commoditized like this, analyzed and deconstructed, it only becomes relatable because the same thing happens to us on OK Cupid. For me the music of the Bible is meant to do many things, which we will explore this season at the PMs: celebrate, revolt, express longing, romance, power, transcendence, and hope.
This isn’t just a contemporary problem. In Europe, particularly, where aristocrats dominated the music landscape and only special, highly educated people were producing music, Hadyn / Mozart / Beethoven had something of a clique, even. And for the most part, these pieces were co-opted by the state (when I say “state” I mean government) and used for nationalistic purposes.
Even songs that changed the world are still used by the state. Here’s the perfect example of how this has happened. In 1792, this French song was written. It was the first European march song written and it literally lead the peasants, three years later, to overthrow the aristocracy in France and cause the French revolution. That song actually changed the world. The heads of state were so bent on that not happening again that after they created their republic, they made that song their National Anthem—completely stripping it of its power.
The state actually got something that the church didn’t get (I think the state has used music that could inspire us to bring the Kingdom of God here, for its own purposes), which is the unity that comes from a stadium singing the “National Anthem” or “God Bless America," a unity unparalleled in the church. For the most part, we like to rate our worship music, like Pitchfork rates music. And why shouldn’t we, when it is produced, marketed, and sold in precisely the same way as pop music? People bring that same evaluative deconstruction to their relationships and as they “church shop” too.
That’s one of the reasons why writing songs is exciting for us—because it gets us to relate and connect to God personally and lead others to do the same, while still embracing it as a community. Singing songs in other languages, too, helps us to realize that our community isn’t just local. It actually is global and the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ is alive and we’re bringing it.
I think that’s the reason that music has been so central to our faith—the songs of the Prophets, the psalms of David—they are important and guide us to worship God, among the ever-present Spirit, into what Jesus is doing next.
Music has been the hope of the captives. The Jews always found themselves in captivity in the Old Testament—most famously was when Pharaoh and the Ancient Egyptians held them captive. Under captivity, with God speaking through Moses, it’s easy to lose hope and to lose courage.
They probably felt like a lot of us do now. Under one of the worst empires of the day, with no way out, nothing practical to sustain us except for our faith in God. The Israelites were under Egyptian captivity, and after a long and arduous journey the Lord delivered them from Pharaoh’s Army when Moses parted the Red Sea.
They don’t know it at the time, but in Exodus 15, when they are singing the Song of Moses and Miriam, celebrating their freedom from the Egyptians, it would be that very song and story that would continue to keep their hope alive, as they fell into captivity again and again. The real freedom that Jesus offers us is what they were waiting for.
When our enemies do us wrong in the U.S., we are told to “never forget.” That song, unfortunately, isn’t one that keeps our hope alive, but keeps our anger boiling. How many wars can we fight based on that idea? How many people can die because of it?
I hope we sing for the liberation that Jesus has given us, the freedom that we have in Christ, the promise of total newness—I hope we don’t sulk in our anger, our rage, whether it is justified or not. I hope we don’t pervert the song of the revolution into a song about a love affair with a nation or a song that leads us into war.
The Israelites not only praised God for the great Exodus from Egypt, but longed for a Messiah that would deliver them, not just from political oppression, but from their own internal captivity.
We sing it every time we break bread and eat together—when we observe communion, drinking and eating the symbols of the body and blood of Jesus—we’re imagining and celebrating and remembering the radical, dangerous act of God not just parting the Red Sea and delivering his people from Pharaoh’s army. But God becoming human, entering humanity, and redeeming humanity by his life, death, and resurrection among us.