I had an early dentist appointment the other day. Don’t worry, it was just a cleaning, thanks. But as I was lying there with hands in my mouth and bright light in my eyes, I did something I often do in doctors’ offices: I tried to pay attention to the music that was playing. More often than not, it’s a “mix” radio station including everyone’s favorites. Just bland enough not to be offensive but just catchy enough to be pleasant.
I’m not sure why I started this habit of focusing in on music in public places. It’s not just at medical offices, though that is often the most prominent. I pay attention at coffee shops, grocery stores, anywhere music is played publicly. I guess at least part of it is because I love music so much, but also, I often find out at least a little something about people by the music they listen to. I guess I suppose that I can ascertain a bit about the owner of the establishment. For example, the walkway outside Church of the Cross’ PO box always plays the best straight-ahead jazz, including hard bop while the salon next to our PO box filters out the sound system with “smooth jazz.” There’s two competing sensibilities going on here but none of this is really my point. Please forgive my excursion(s).
So here’s my point, as I was paying attention to the music in the dentist chair, it was indeed a “mix” station including “hits” from the “80′s, 90′s and today!” They played the usual suspects, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow and the Eagles (a Byrd motif, I guess? – yes, I spelled it that way on purpose. Music nerd humor.). Then, they slowed things up a bit with “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman and then came the song that really got me thinking: “All Summer Long” by Kid Rock.
While I find it amusing that Kid Rock has been so sanitized that he’s now being played in medical offices, it was the utterly detestable content of the lyrics (not to mention the travesty that he made out of the original music for his lyrics, from “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd). Consider the chorus:
And we were trying different things
and we were smoking funny things
Making love out by the lake to our favorite song
Sipping whiskey out the bottle,
not thinking ’bout tomorrow
Singing “Sweet Home Alabama” all Summer long
Fine poetry that it is, this song represents for me a painful reminder that our culture has, perhaps reached a crisis of morality. Far from being offensive to most people, Kid’s (or is that Rock’s?) lyrics conjure up wistful memories of the “good ‘ol innocent days.” The more sophisticated “indie” version of this might be Wilco’s song “Heavy Metal Drummer,” which begins:
I sincerely miss those heavy metal bands
I used to go see on the landing in the summer
and hits its stride with:
I miss the innocence I’ve known
Playing KISS covers, beautiful and stoned
Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s primary lyricist, in fact, goes a bit farther than Rock. Whereas Rock just sort of longs for the good days of yestersummer, Tweedy actually refers to getting stoned as days of “innocence.”
But the problem here goes beyond just rock lyrics fondly remembering the past. Remember where it was I heard the Kid Rock song: in my dentist’s office. While this initially seems like nothing, and perhaps it is and I’m making too big a deal out of nothing (which I’ve been known to do), I think it’s telling that everywhere we go, we are bombarded with the glorification of sin. We have reached a crisis of morality.
While I will be the first to remind you that Christianity is more than just morals, I am deeply concerned, especially as a parent, that I can’t even take my boys to the dentist without them hearing something that contradicts God’s plan for our lives. As a pastor, I pray for discernment for my people and that they/we fight against passive living. When we don’t pay attention to the things going on around us, that doesn’t mean they aren’t going on around us and, as much as we might like, it doesn’t even mean that they don’t affect us. When we don’t pay attention, the next thing we know, we’ve got a loop of Kid Rock singing a catchy chorus about smoking illegal substances, drunkenness and fornication playing in the back of our minds and we don’t even know where it came from. And then it’s not long before we start to think: “Well, that’s just a catchy song,” it doesn’t really mean anything.” Or does it?
We shouldn’t be surprised that the world around us glorifies sin, but, I think, we should be quite disturbed that we are so passive about what’s going on around us. Please know, I am the last to argue for the church as a bomb shelter. I am the last to advocate withdrawal from the culture around us and submersion in the “Christian subculture.” But I will be among the first saying that Christians need to be more aware and we need to practice, then practice discernment.
Biblical discernment does not come easily or naturally. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture, saturate ourselves in prayer and surround ourselves with believers. We, in all honesty, must learn to think differently. Believers are no longer the people we once were (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have literally been transferred from the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of Jesus in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13). Our minds are being renewed, so that we should no longer be like the world (Romans 12:2).
We should think differently. This means learning to think about what surrounds us. It does not mean we should simply shelter ourselves from everything, though we should not pursue sinful material and media. Instead of throwing everything away, we must strive to filter everything through the Gospel. This is much harder than simply listening to “Christian” music. It means that instead of jumping up out of the dentist’s chair when Kid Rock comes on the radio, I try to understand the best way to communicate to my children and my church where what Rock advocates falls short of biblical ideals.
The fact that we can’t even go to the dentist without being bombarded with sin is indeed a crisis of morality and it should not surprise us, but the answer is not more morality it is the Gospel. How might we think and act differently if we grasped this and applied it? What if we really lived like everything must be filtered through the Gospel? Would catchy choruses so firmly implant themselves in our brains and would we take sin quite as lightly?