Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Contemporary != Cool

August 18th, 2010, Promulgated by b a

Following up on Gen’s earlier post, I’d like to make a few practical comments on the issue. I grew up in a presbyterian church that transitioned from traditional hymns (organ and singing congregation) to contemporary music featuring a lead singer (who was also the pastor) with a wireless mic, drums, and guitars. While I can’t tell you how every kid reacts to contemporary music, I can give you my reaction (as well as some of my friends). I also went to a conservative protestant college where this type of praise music was all over the place. Given that background, I don’t think you can put me in the “Grumpy Gus” category. You also can’t charge me w/ being “afraid of change” or “stuck to old ways” because for me gregorian chant, polyphony, and other forms of sacred music are new. The contemporary worship is what I’m more used to. I was immersed in it for more than a decade. My thoughts can pretty much be summed up by this wsj article (hat tip to Saving Our Parish)

“And the further irony,” he adds, “is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.”

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.

So now we’re having this same debate in the Catholic church and I can’t help thinking that contemporary masses are a pathetic imitation (of contemporary protestant worship) of a pathetic imitation (of contemporary popular music). Now, I’m not questioning the motives of people trying to make the Church relevant. I think it comes from a good place. This clip from Sister Act shows the mindset of those who push for contemporary music.

wow – thugs are coming off the streets into the church! Who can argue with that? Notice how bitter and old the head nun is. She’s so mean, isn’t she? Look how Whoopie allows the young postulant to really express herself. How enlightening! Well, it’s a nice story and somewhat uplifting, but I don’t think it plays out this way in reality.

In the next video, you decide whether this is really cool or just a lame imitation of coolness? Do young people really like this or is it just that old people think that young people like it?

I’ll admit that I like rock music. Being a child of the 90s, I have 2 guitars (which I don’t play well). I still occasionally dust them off and play very bad renditions of Pearl Jam, U2, or Neil Young. But I like this music outside of mass. We are Catholics. We have a rich tradition of sacred music. It is beautiful in and of itself. There’s also a certain beauty in the uniformity of worship throughout space and time. How amazing to think that we can celebrate a liturgy almost identical to what was celebrated in 16th century Spain, Italy, Norway, or France. Using the lesson learned from the “Mixed-Up Chameleon“, let us say that Catholic mass should be Catholic mass and Rock music should be Rock music – let’s not get them mixed up. Because if I’m gonna listen to rock music, I want the real thing.

Beware: as a friend likes to say “the dissonant notes could make your brain splatter on the wall”. And to answer your question, “yes, I did just post a clip of Velvet Revolver on Cleansing Fire”.


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