I had a class in college where the professor allowed us bring in a song as part of a show and tell. It wasn’t something you were required to do, just if you wanted to. The professor was great. He was the type of guy who cared about you deeply and could have celestial conversations as if they were something everyone ought to ponder at any given moment.
Being a Christian university, I was a little nervous about my song choice. It wasn’t that the song I chose was laced with profanity or anything vulgar, it just didn’t follow suit. Up to this point, mostly worship songs had been presented.
The song is called “My Heart” and it’s by a band called Paramore. It isn’t technically a worship song by a worship band, but to me, that’s exactly what it was about. The last minute or so of the song, the lyrics repeat in a screaming crescendo, “This heart, it beats, beats for only you. My heart is yours.” Is there anything more appropriate to say to our creator?
I played the song and waited anxiously, knowing the screamo part was coming. I stared at the projector screen, gluing my eyes to the PowerPoint presentation of song lyrics I had put together. It’s difficult to let others in on something that speaks to you in an intimate way. If they just don’t see the art in it will they ridicule it instead?
When I finally got the courage to peak over my shoulder, I found the students mostly indifferent, but the professor’s reaction left me reassured. Here was a man in his 60s with his legs crossed and eyes closed. He was gently nodding his head up and down and his lips were pursed as if he was trying to dissect the flavors of a fine wine. I had taken over his class with a punk rock song and he was enjoying every second of it.
After the last scream, a harsh roar permeating your ears, I waited for his critique. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something simple, “Very good Matt. That particular genre of music can remind us of the depravity of man and our longing to be reunited with our creator” In a moment of affinity, he perfectly described why the song was so important to me.
Fast forward to today. I frequently pick up and drop off students for youth events which means that almost every week I have a new DJ gracing my passenger seat. I thought my rules were simple; keep it clean. However, just recently, I’ve come to question exactly what this means. When it comes to music, context plays a huge role, making “keep it clean” a not so simple rule after all. Sure, some songs are just about unchecked primal instincts and those I still avoid. Other songs, however, while laced with an occasional swear word or angry prose, also have a lot of depth and speak to the reality of tragedy among humanity.
When I first set this rule, I was very staunch, insisting that all music played in my car have a positive message. Then I realized how fake I was being. For example, a teen would play a song by the late Chester Bennington and Linkin Park and I would ask them to turn it off, citing that lyrics such as “I’m one step closer to the edge and I’m about to break” don’t line up Biblical values. Yet, just a few moments later after the teen had been dropped off for the night, I’d rock out to the same song on the way home.
It reminds me of a commercial I’ve seen recently. A Dad is driving around his teenage children and they have some sort of generic-dance-rhythm pop song on. Dad is clearly annoyed. Smirking he says, “This isn’t music.” Cut scene and the Dad is alone in the van, jamming out to the exact same song.
Too be honest, I was trying to do my job the best I can and my intentions were always to be a good influence on my students. Yet, part of me wonders if in my attempts to be a good youth pastor, I missed out on an opportunity. The truth is, we have all experienced “one step closer to the edge and I’m about to break” moments. We might not have expressed it in those words or found solace in screamo music, but we’ve all been angry and upset.
Recently, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park committed suicide. After reading up on some the abuse he went through as a child, I imagine he really felt some of what he was singing. What if my students are really experiencing some of the song lyrics they sing about? What if that is why they relate to them in the first place?
More and more I am realizing that as a youth pastor, my job isn’t to censor the real feelings or situations of my students, its to walk with them through those moments. To just throw cheesy positive one-liners at them in hopes of overshadowing hurting situations, isn’t effective. Instead, we can take a cue from Job’s friends who were doing pretty good before they opened their mouths:
“Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
I don’t always like the music that gets played in my car, but if it can open the door for a more meaningful conversation and celestial conversations, then I can overlook some foul language in the process. In the words of a great friend of mine, “I can’t help my feelings, they’re how I feel.” I don’t think the songs students play always reflect a deeper issue, but when they do, I hope I can be attentive.