I have two distinct memories of music as a child. One is of playing under the chairs and among the robes in the choir room while my parents were at practice. My other memory is of some long-past Christmas when my cousins from the south were in town. My cousin Erica had gotten the new Spice Girls CD and was playing it, but I do remember my mom having me leave the room because of whatever the lyrics were. I felt childish and left out.
These two moments emphasize the strange dichotomy I had growing up where I was simultaneously surrounded by music but also totally separated from it. My parents loved music and were heavily involved in church choirs and instrumental groups and my mom played the guitar. We often went to the symphony. At the same time, my music choices were heavily limited,and while as a kid, it was at worst an annoyance or embarrassment. As a teenager, though, it was a little harder. Since I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular rock and pop bands, CCM was really my only alternative, although in my slightly-elitist classical homeschooling circles, CCM was looked down upon by many as being “bad art.”
My tween and teen years are when CCM started to become a bigger force in general, it seems, thanks to technology like the internet or satellite radio. Those years were the times that my peers started to be split into groups. 1) Some were pretty much allowed to listen to any type of music, provided it wasn’t too sexual in nature or laced with too many profanities. 2) Some seemed to believe that listening to only Christian music was the most godly and uplifting choice. I went back and forth between envying and slightly-judging the people in group 1.
High school was a rough time for me emotionally, and looking back, the fact that the music I listened to offered me very little in the way of catharsis or an outlet for negative emotions was definitely a part of that. I remember listening to the Christian radio station and wondering why all the songs had to be so happy and why no one else seemed to be feeling the potent mix of rage and longing that characterized those years for me. I’m generally a pretty resourceful person, so I mined through radio stations and our CD collection and with the magic of this new thing called iTunes, I cobbled together an odd assortment of Christian music that somewhat expressed my feelings.
David Crowder Band’s “Rescue is Coming” was my go-to tune for times when things seemed particularly dark. “Up and Up” by Reliant K I found inspirational (and actually still do, in a way – sometimes I can myself humming it when I’m looking for motivation). Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Fingerprints of God” was really encouraging for a non-femme girl who didn’t really match up with the gentle femininity that homeschooling/purity culture seemed to favor. I also appreciated “Way to Begin” by Krystal Meyers as a song that actually addressed the issue of not feeling close to God. Even listening to these songs now as I write is a complicated thing – a mix of sadness and happiness. When I think of the Christian albums that shaped my teenage years such as A Collision, Five Score and Seven Years Ago, Declaration, Remedy, and Speechless, I feel the disconnect from my peers and from the standard teenage emotional/music experience, but I also feel connected to the support the songs gave me.
Still, I might have gone full-out rebel on the CCM-only rule except for one factor. And since this is a story about high school, that factor is of course a boy. When I was about 12 I fell big-time for a boy who I met through homeschool circles and continued to have classes with (and feelings for) until I graduated at 18. (You may here question my sanity/emotional health/good taste, but hey, at least I’m super-loyal.) He was the very Christian type, and thus in addition to the cultural pressures of homeschooling and Evangelicalism, I felt compelled by those emotions to be a really “good Christian” and listen to the right music and feel the right feelings. This relationship increased my reliance upon CCM, while simultaneously increasing my dislike of it. I wanted so badly to fit in and be acceptable, but I also resented the music and the person for being limiting and not in line with my dreams or my own emotional life.
In this situation, I once again found that CCM by and large lacked the vocabulary for romantic feelings or really any strong emotions that weren’t centered on God. “Love” songs were focused on Jesus, dreams for the future were centered on evangelism or “doing great things for God.” Having these romantically-oriented feelings that didn’t fit in with Christian love songs. In thinking about it, I realize the language we have access to really determines the thoughts and feelings we’re allowed to have, and while CCM was its own unique kind of solace to me in hard times, it also limited my emotional range and somewhat hid me from the fact that pretty much all of my feelings were normal (not necessarily “good” or “healthy” way but “hey, many people feel like this, no you’re not a monster” way).
Oddly enough, the end of that relationship, the end of my CCM days, and the beginning of the end of my desperate attempts to be a model Evangelical all came around the same time. I broke into ~worldly~ music with Coldplay (sorry not sorry to everyone who hates them for whatever reason) and started dating a really sweet guy who played classical piano and liked a variety of music (spoiler alert: we’re now married). I also started realizing that there was more to Christianity than the spectrum of fundementalism -> evengelicalism -> godless “mainline” denominations that I had often been led to believe, which gave me freedom to explore within the faith in which I was brought up.
In the process of writing this blog post, I feel like I’ve actually started to make a kind of peace with my history of CCM and appreciate how it helped me while recognizing the ways it wasn’t that beneficial. I’m still musically-stunted I’d say in that I’ve never listened to the music that seems to define many of my peers. I actually don’t listen to a ton of music now for whatever reason. When I do, it tends to be Coldplay or The Foo Fighters, except when my friend Emily or Becca introduce me to new things. I enjoy no longer feeling obligated to like CCM and happily limit my Christian music exposure to whatever we sing at church. My musical and emotional life have both been an interesting and intertwined journey and I feel I’ve made good progress in both of them.
Bonus discussion question: what song is a must-listen for a 24 year old who knows nothing about ’90s/2000’s rock/pop? If you have one, link me to it and I’ll give it a listen!
This post is a contribution to Dianna E. Anderson’s #PlanetCCM Synchroblog. Be sure to check it out!