Yes, but is it worship?

Yesterday I wrote a little about secular music, guilt and right and wrong. I've been thinking back on that a lot, and want to explore a little more.

It all started with a post by Russ that asked why a Christian musician (that is a musician who happened to be a Christian) would need to explain his choices of secular music in a secular setting. Apparently this chap was feeling a little tug on his heart because of it.

We all love it when Christian music gets play in secular media channels. The blogsphere was all a-flutter when American Idol featured a rendition of "Shout to the Lord", a perennial worship anthem. In fact, Idol has been much more Gospel-friendly this past year in general. I remember in years past when Mandisa was lambasted by Simon after singing the Mary, Mary hit "Shackles". Maybe Ricky Minor is having a good effect on the show.

I remember several years back the buzz over MercyMe's big hit, "I Can Only Imagine". I remember hearing it on regular soft-rock and adult-contemporary stations, and thinking "Man, we sing that in church!" Very cool. It even has the J-word in it! Nice! (Idol felt the need to remove the J-word from "Shout." But Dolly Parton still got to sing "Jesus & Gravity" on the same show.)

So I began to think about other "religious" songs that have made their way into popular music. I guess once in a while, we need to just feel good about singing a "God" song. I'm not talking about secular artists that do some "Gospel" tunes once in a while, like Dolly, or Charlie Daniels or even Aretha Franklin. I'm talking real spiritual ditties that have snuck in under the radar. Bear in mind not all of these songs are real "Praise and Worship" songs, but some simply open to door to a more spiritual way of thinking.

The granddaddy of them all has got to be "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum. The irony of the song, of course, being that Greenbaum is Jewish. Maybe that accounts for such theologically questionable lyrics as "Never been a sinner/I never sinned..." Truthfully, Greenbaum didn't write the song as any great profession of personal faith, but simply because he thought a Gospel song would sell. Yet, there it was, Number 3 on the US charts, Number 1 in the UK, Australia and Canada, J-word and all.

Grandma would then have to be "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison, released a year later, in 1970. This song was written as a spiritual exploration, although Harrison was not a Christian. Instead, it is a song of praise to the Creator, no matter who you call Him. It's got a lot of "Hallelujah" chorus' in it, so it goes on the list. It's my list, anyway.

In 1980, Pete Townshend released "Let My Love Open the Door" on his Empty Glass album. While the song is not lyrically an obvious worship song, Townshend, in the liner notes from his 1996 compilation album Coolwalking... said that the voice in the song is actually the voice of God. "Jesus speaks." he says simply. Who knew? No wonder Audio Adrenaline covered it.

Moving up into the big leagues, we can't not talk about Creed. The estranged son of a minister, Scott Stapp wove his questions about faith and God into his music. A lot of people felt good banging their heads to "My Sacrifice" and "What If" - Hey, man, we're singing about God!!

"Higher" got a lot of attention (It must be about heaven, right?) Wrong! It's about lucid dream therapy to deal with Stapp's nightmares. Buzz! Thank you for playing. But... "My Own Prison." Now there is a song about faith. Especially about coming to realize that we really do create our own prisons by refusing to let God forgive us. This song is deep stuff. I love the second verse: "I hear a thunder in the distance/See a vision of a cross/I feel the pain that was given/On that sad day of loss." Who do you suppose the Lion who roars in the darkness is? (See? - read your bible and everything takes on new meaning!) And "Arms Wide Open" - wow.

Time for the big boys. Let's start with U2. Let's skip right to the Joshua Tree, even though U2 has always had Gospel influences. So prevalent are themes of faith in U2's music, that some Episcopal churches have taken to having "U2charist" services, with the band's music as a liturgical theme. Very cool. Bono is a professed Christian, and has stated that he is "holding out for Grace" as his means to salvation. So say we all. (the religion of Battlestar Galactica is a whole 'nuther post!)

My favorite here is "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." While some view it as a rejection of faith, I see it as an honest assessment of faith. it's about taking what we know and making it into something we believe - about understanding that all these things we've been taught are right, that God really is enough.

Of course, the Big Dog himself, out of Belfast, Northern Ireland - Van Morrison. Van is unabashedly Christian in his roots, and it comes through in his music. I'm not talking about "Whenever God Shines His Light" - although I should be. It's a great song, complete with the J-word. Twice! No, the big "snuck it under the radar" song is "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You." That's right. All those years, and Rod Steward was singing a prayer... a worship song written by one of the best known stealth Christian artists of the last fifty years.

There are blog posts galore dealing with the idea of secular music in worship settings. In fact, just Google "SECULAR MUSIC IN WORSHIP." Got that, Googlebots? Worship music in the world, that's another thing.

Personally, I like leaving my windows open at the gas station and pumping up the Third Day.


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