I have addressed in a prior blog the silliness inherent in the admonition that we are what we watch, listen to, or read. That such admonition is hogwash is evident in the fact that in order to be what we watch, listen to, or read, we totally have to refuse to interpret anything with which we come in contact.
If we see murder in a movie we replicate it. If a writer describes an adulterous relationship, we dive into adultery. If an artist sings ‘grow a big booty’, we do so regardless whether we are male or female. Clearly, only after we totally have lost all comprehension whatsoever is it possible to become what we watch, listen to, or read.
We are intelligent intellectual beings precisely because we have power of interpretation of whatever we come in contact with in life.
I am a fundamentalist Christian who loves Christian music (Andrae Crouch, Phil Driscoll, Kirk Franklin, Rachael Lampa, Casting Crowns, Kathryn Scott, 4Him, etc.), but who also appreciates music by Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Billy Ocean, George Benson, Sade, Lionel Richie etc.
Some Christians, fellow fundamentalists in particular probably consider me an anomaly. How exactly does a fundamentalist appreciate such secular music? When I say the song “Sitting up in my room” by Brandy in the LP, Waiting to Exhale blew me away the first time I heard it and still remains one of the best composed love songs I am aware of, a fundamentalist probably wonders how exactly it is possible I am a fundamentalist Christian — a position I am confident to say is a well thought out position.
My reasoning on this is quite simple really. If I refuse to encourage wholesome music via willingness to purchase music that for the most part is wholesome, I encourage production of the “shake your booty” type of music, music my children will have to endure outside the home, music I will refuse to buy. So when my children are in High School and other kids are tooting ‘shake your booty’ music, my children have nothing to offer other than “Jesus is Love” by the Commodores or Jesus I Love You by Phil Driscoll (yet another great composition).
This way, my kids get labelled religious nuts. High School is tough enough than to add such unnecessary labels to my kids’ challenges.
By the way, Jesus is Love, which is sung by a secular group, is one of the best composed songs about Jesus ever, period.
The way I see it, when my kids’ friends pull out the ‘shake your booty’ song, my kids can pull out “Color of Love” or “The Long and Winding Road” by Billy Ocean; “Penny Lover” or “Ballerina Girl” by Lionel Richie; “Wait for Love” or “Your Secret Love” by Luther Vandross; “ I just can’t stop loving you” or “Heal the World” by Michael Jackson; “Kiss of Life” or “Love is Stronger than Pride” by Sade. My point is, for every unwholesome song other kids can pull up, mine can pull up an wholesome one sung by a secular artist. This way at the very worst my kids get labelled Nerds who love wimpy classical type music. But consider, Nerd is a compliment. Religious nut, not so much.
If as a Christian I do not expose my kids to wholesome secular music, I starve them of good alternative music and drive them into the arms of the “shake your booty” group. Like it or not, teenage kids will experiment with music. Better to give them a wholesome head start.
But is it only kids who need wholesome music about life, love, community etc. in their lives? Clearly not. I need wholesome music as well. Look, I love me some love songs about Jesus anyday, but I do not spend all of my life (spiritually speaking) with Jesus only. If Jesus expects me to love my neighbor, “Color of Love” by Billy Ocean reminds me of importance of love in the reminder that in reality there is no color to love — love takes whatever color is necessary to accomplish its objectives. In “Your Secret Love” Luther declares he will not be a secret lover — a virtue much cherished by fundamentalist Christians. In the song, Love is Stronger than Pride the group Sade declares along with fundamentalist Christians that Love Never Fails. In this lies another beauty inherent in secular songs. Unlike what typically is possible with Christian songs, there are many different forms of expressions — philosophical questions, satire, assertions, whimsicality, fantasy etc. There is beauty in this diversity within context of wholesome music.
Some may argue some of the secular artists I mention sang songs that are not so wholesome. Think “Mystery Lady” by Billy Ocean; “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson etc..
When I ask my kids to read the Bible and they read about David committing adultery and murdering the husband of the woman on whom he forced himself, what exactly am I doing to their minds? Turning them into adulterers? Might as well let them listen to “shake your booty”. That is much less dangerous than an adulterous murdering mindset.
Much the same as I expect my kids to filter what they read in the Bible with principles of morality, so also I expect they will learn to filter what is unwholesome that is produced by an artist who typically produces wholesome music. The Bible is filled with wholesome stuff we are supposed to love to be, and unwholesome stuff we are expected to learn to detest. I expect no less from my children’s interaction with music, movies, books or any other media they interact with in this life — that is, expect they will discriminate between right and wrong and choose right.
If we will expose our kids to what is wholesome early in life and teach them principles for making good choices, we create a better foundation than the isolationist foundation that turns them into “deer glaring into headlights” when eventually they run into people much different than they are in High School and College.
My Dad was a conservative Christian who surrounded us with music by Kenny Rogers, and Classical Opera music while I and my siblings were growing up. One of the fondest memories I have is Kenny Rogers blaring out “”But you never count your money while you’re sitting at the table” in our “every room wired to Dad’s stereo house (yeah, every room was wired to receive the music).”
In so far as books are concerned, however, I grew up in an isolationist context such that it was not until I entered High School that I came into contact with novels by James Hadley Chase. For those who might not know, Hadley Chase novels are crime novels.
If ever there were secular books that could make a Christian kid want to stay morally upright, you need look no further than Hadley Chase novels. You see, every Hadley Chase novel ended with evil deviants in the novel paying in some form or the other for their crimes. The only guy who seemed to get away with minor repercussions was coerced via blackmail into criminal activity, hence there were mitigating circumstances. Rather than induce me towards a life of crime, Hadley Chase novels reinforced in my mind the expectation that crime or evil does not pay in the long run.
Is there a better lesson we can teach our kids? I dare say I am not sure the Bible did a better job of dissuading me than did Hadley Chase novels.
If we will not trust our children to read, watch, or listen with discrimination and interpretation, the distrust we evince can be debilitating as opposed to life enhancing. I choose to expose my children to what is wholesome in every sphere of life, then trust them to make right choices.
We are who we choose to be.
I end with an anecdote.
As a divorced single guy, I am on the lookout for a new romantic relationship. I met a lady sometime and we agreed to hook up for a date. When I got in contact with her, she suggested we meet up in a hotel and spend the night together. She did not know I was a fundamentalist Christian. She also had no idea I just watched a movie in which a guy was suckered by a girl into the same situation, with her boyfriend breaking into the room, pretending to be her husband, at which the poor guy ran off leaving his wallet and other valuables behind. Between my fundamentalist sensibilities and the lesson from the movie, I graciously declined. Turns out she was not interested in any other plans. Guess I was wise to decline.
We are blessed with powers of interpretation, induction, and deduction. Let us encourage their use both in ourselves, and in our children or loved ones.