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Friday, March 31, 2006

Faith Alone

I'm not exactly sure where I heard about this documentary called Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?, but I've been wanting to see it for a few months. With very little information out there (IMDb, as thorough as they are, do not have it listed as of this writing), along with some write-ups and clips on Right Right Right, I was thrilled to see it's now available for rent on DVD. Netflix took a while to get it in, so I had to wait a good month before it was available. Once it was available and arrived in my mailbox, I put everything else aside and watched it last week. I gotta say, I really dug the documentary as a whole, but along with other certain events in my life in the last few years, it stirred up a lot of mixed feelings.

There was a time in college where I was listening to a lot of Tooth & Nail bands, like Slick Shoes, Craig's Brother, Stavesacre and MxPx. I still think highly of these bands (especially the latter two) because they always focused on making good music more than anything else. However, since the label had (and continues to have) openly Christian bands on the label, it was automatically tied to the organized world of Christian music. This is where I had to walk (and continue to walk) on eggshells about when I openly talked about it with people. Why? Because a large number of people who listen to Christian music feel the need to separate the secular from the non-secular. Folks, that's not something I can fall in line with and say it's OK. Music is music to me; it knows no religious denomination, but not everybody believes that.

If a person was to say to me, "I don't listen to secular music," then I feel like asking about how this person feels about wearing clothes made by secular people, eating food prepared by secular people, driving cars made by secular people and so on. Doesn't it sound silly to faction one's own life off because another person's ideas and beliefs? To me it is, but for others, it's a way of life with listening to music.

As a son of a minister (her full title is the Dr. Rev. Gayle Grubbs), religion was never shoved down my throat growing up. There were no fire and brimstone speeches or "rock music is the devil's music" speeches (though there was a concern about heavy metal music's possible impact on me back in high school). For many years, I enjoyed going to a Christian church (Presbyterian, by the way), but I reached a point where I needed to find something else to believe in under my own terms. Since then, I have not attended a regular church service and do not consider myself a full-blown Christian.

I firmly believe that it's important that I have a sense of faith in something deeper than what's tangible. As someone who hadn't believed that for a number of years, I started realizing that things usually do work out (though they rarely work out as I thought they would) or simply pass in time. I think of faith as having hope when there are no tangible signs of things will work out. That's a pretty basic concept to me, so it puzzles me when people who claim to be strongly of a certain faith act all pissed-off and miserable all the time except for when they're in church or at a church-related function. I wonder what's sinking in and what stays on the surface.

So it doesn't come as a surprise to say seeing Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? really struck a chord with me. Just like Hell House did, it stirred up a lot of different emotions. Overall, filmmakers Vickie Hunter and Heather Whinna do a good balancing act of people that are very much involved with Christian music and those that criticize it. The documentary doesn't present the believers or critics in ironic or funny ways; rather, it gives them a chance to speak their minds without coming across as brainwashed fools. There is some attention to the hardcore, black-and-white kinds of Christians, but the rest is a big grey area filled with different viewpoints.

One of my favorite sections looks at how marketable the genre has become. From talking about the Christian rock alternatives to "secular" rock bands to the kinds of merchandise you can buy, a number of homeruns are hit. As someone who is disgusted by a crappy band getting airplay because they're openly Christian, I was glad this was looked at. As someone who resists various techniques of brainwashing via cautions of slippery slopes, I was glad this was looked at. Preying on weak-willed and directionless people is something that religious fanatics go to town on. Seeing some critiques of that act was also a nice touch.

One segment in particular features Dan Sinker from Punk Planet and his critiques of how the whole world of Christian music is set up. If one were to come out as a Christian band, then, as Sinker says, this band agrees with a wide, but particular, range of thought that may or may not be for everyone. Like him, I feel a little suspect about a band that openly waves their faith in people's faces. If a band were to openly come out as a Christian band (whether as a band of Christians or Christians using music as a ministry), you might as well add the line of, "I want to be stereotyped/I want to be classified" to the subtext. There is so much good music out there, so I wonder why people put up these large boundaries of perception. If religion is meant to be all inclusive, then why do a number of its followers put up tall fences?

Faith is a personal and private thing for me. Talking about your faith is like talking about your bathing habits. Not everyone bathes the same way, nor do we believe the same way. Of course, people want to come together and share similar beliefs and ideas, but I think it all goes back to a personal relationship with one's self and a higher force. I don't believe there is one ultimate belief that everyone must follow. I know what works for me.

I've been told by others that I am a Christian, but I don't brand myself as one. There are so many influences from other trains of thought that I can't paint myself back into the corner of one train of thought. I can't relate to those that feel they must convert as many people as possible to their train of thought. No matter how hard these people try, I know deep down that the only way a person changes is by his or her decision. Shoving ideas down people's throats who don't agree doesn't lighten up because there is resistance. Quoting scripture may be a good reference point and a way of showing one's knowledge of The Holy Bible, but I can only understand someone when his/her actions and words are put into use outside of a church. Just because you have a "What Would Jesus Do?" sticker on your car doesn't mean you're a safe driver. Just because you went to church on Sunday morning does not mean that it's OK to act like a total jerk to the checkout clerk at the grocery store. I know it's easy to sit back and pretend you have some sort of armor with openly expressing your faith, but it doesn't mean a lick if you can't use it in your own life and in your own ways.

4 comments:

Josh said...

Hey - great write-up from the Observer. I read it recently and within a few days I heard one of your KRLD traffic updates for the first time.

It was a profoundly weird experience, like running into a blogger on the street or at a party.

Anyway, congrats on the article.

Eric Grubbs said...

Thanks Josh! Good to see you back in the blogosphere.

Sarah said...

Right on - I agree with most of your thoughts about people's faith and its relation to others.

The "Christian music" thing really bugs me, actually. If you want people to know how you feel about your faith or to associate your music with your faith, OK, but can't you just do that by acting in a way that reflects your faith (good deeds, not religious zealousness), or occasionally singing about it? Instead of labeling yourself a "Christian" band and then shoving it out there and making the music all about that. Most "Christian" groups I've heard are really pretty awful, but they have droves of fans who follow them because "They're Christian, man. I love Jesus."

I'm bitter.

Sarah said...

And I still remember back in high school when I felt strange because the only place in my town where I could buy MxPx CDs was the local Christian bookstore...