Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Swearing on a Stack of Bibles

For some odd reason -- odd because I don't listen to contemporary Christian music unless I'm forced to -- I found myself, the other day, reading a blog dedicated to that musical genre. There is apparently a kerfuffle going on in those circles about the "explicit lyrics" of a song by someone named Derek Webb.

I read the lyrics. I read the frowny-faced comments by concerned CCM fans. And suddenly I had a flashback to 1979, when I was a freshman in college surrounded by members of groups like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and Navigators and Campus Crusade. These were the kind of undergraduates who worried whether saying darn was taking the Lord's name in vain because it was just a bowlderized version of Goddamn, so anyone who actually knew the etymology of darn and said darn anyway was more or less saying Goddamn, and "I really need to pray about this, and if it is a sin I need to repent, because if I don't, when I die God is going to ask me why I loved saying darn more than I loved Him..." We Lutheran students, generally unsaddled by this degree of scrupulosity even in my then-LCMS congregation, would later wonder over our beers what in hell these people were going on about.

But anyway, back in the day, the same subset of Christians were having the same fits of moral outrage over then-CCM-identified-musician Bruce Cockburn's song "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," where he, speaking for all conflicted pacifists everywhere, waxed ironic with the confession, If I had a rocket launcher/some son-of-a-bitch would die. You would have thought he'd actually set the thing off and taken out a few dozen innocent civilians, the way some of the Christian listeners were carrying on. My reaction to that reaction was the same eye-roll I found myself giving this latest episode of goody-two-shoes angsting. I mean -- these lyrics will never (please, God) make it into an Oxford anthology of sacred music -- but if the singer/songwriter's intention was ironic, to call out the sanctimony of his demographic by eliciting a predictable response, then it was in its own way quite clever; although apparently not clever enough to lead the subjects to understand the "gotcha."

In high school my English teacher -- a part-time gentleman farmer and full-time conservative Baptist -- affirmed the judicious use of cusswords in literature. His observation: "When you're up to your knees in shit, there's not much else you can call it."


Mrs. M said...

Good grief.

Author Jill Connor Browne said about the same thing as your english teacher, only I think her version was, "Do people think God's stupid?"

Mary Sue said...

Seriously? This is their biggest issue they have to worry about? Must be nice to lead such a blessed life-- someone want to hand them a newsblog so they can see some real obscenity?

Tom in Ontario said...

The local summer theatre (http://showboattheatre.ca/) uses our church hall for rehearsal space and last week as I was doing other stuff in the church I heard them rehearsing and letting the 'f' word (not "faith") fly a few times. Today one of the actors smiled and said they took those words out of the script.

Last year one of the plays had some discussion of oral sex in it and the night my wife and I attended there were other members of our congregation also in attendance and one of them said SHE was embarrassed just because I was there hearing all of that.

I only rarely curse, and then it's usually a fairly quiet "shit!" but if they only knew the potty mouth I used to have when I was a younger lad.

But, regarding your original post, I remember those kinds of discussions as a teenager in Youth Group. When I think back on it I just have to shake my head and sigh.

And I only recently discovered that Bruce Cockburn (I'm surprised they didn't get upset over his name) was a Christian. Up here in Canada he had some occasional hit songs back in the days of my youth but nothing overtly religious in his lyrics. I guess his is music made by a Christian rather than Christian music.

Beth said...

fovo I would have told them to get over themselves, but sometimes people have a very hard time distingushing themselves from the God they think they're protecting.
Ps The first word is kitty typing; I thought i'd leave it in to give Taiga her fifteen minutes of fame.

Teri said...

I actually think Derek Webb has quality stuff...his lyrics are thoughtful and have real theology, and the music doesn't make me want to die like lots of ccm (with the m in air quotes... "m"). When I heard there was a dispute with the label, I suspected the reason but was pleasantly surprised with the actual song. My question would be: was the dispute with the language or the content? Either way, the lyrics are RIGHT...which makes the dispute all the more ironic.

The rest of the CD is not bad either.

Sheryl said...

Don't know how I missed this post the first time around.

I like Derek Webb a lot. He used to be in a group called Caedmon's call, who I also like.

I'm in what is probably his target demographic (young, but not overly young). I don't have a problem with his lyrics or the tone at all. I appreciate the fact that he is tackling a controversial subject, and taking a controversial opinion (at least among the typical CCM consumers) head on. Sometimes hte only way to make your point is to cuss. I can appreciate that.