From Contraband to Teaching Tool
I was raised in a moral home, high on religiosity and regulation, but low on gospel. In that traditionally Catholic meadow my musical foundations were developed around a monolithic console stereo with a turntable and an eight-track tape player that belted out everything from Carole King and Stevie Wonder to Janis Joplin and Elvis. I can remember sitting on the shag carpet in my add-on den in the suburbs of New Orleans with my back leaning up against the vibrating speakers imagining myself playing in the band and becoming enamored with what I would later find out is called “the groove”.
Years later I would learn to play percussion taking up the drum kit as my mainstay and forming a local band called Fresh Young Minds which became highly popular in the early 90’s around the New Orleans music scene. God converted me during that time translating me from a bitter atheist into a green believer and I no longer pursued music as a profession; however, my love of music has never died. After battling rabid non-beat Gothardites and a stint with radical fundamentalism whereby I almost literally burned about seventy-eight CDs that were not “Christian” enough, I landed in a confused marshland not sure of what to listen to or whether I could even listen to anything at all without feeling guilty or overwhelmed by hyper-analysis.
Fast-forward to the present: I have a wife and four daughters, over a decade in the faith, pastor a local church, and have found a new love for music. I had gotten burned out on the CCM rotations after they seemed to me to be generating more cheese than gold. At some point I also did not believe that I could stomach yet another love song to Jesus that sounded like a sensual ballad from the star struck to lovelorn. And so I began to uncover my old discs and listened to forbidden rock fruits and nibbled on jazz-ensembled nectar and asked myself exactly why it was that I almost burned all of this creativity?
For the first time I saw these songs as gifts rather than enemies. Sure, some were rotten but I quickly found out that even the rotten fruits were good in that they taught me how to think through the volatile topic of music biblically and became examples that I could use in teaching the proper use vs. the improper use of creative talent. I began for the first time to see that I didn’t have to throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater as it were and could instead take each song on its own merit to see if it had any redeemable qualities. Suddenly my musical acumen was not about castigating an entire musical genre but in taking the opportunity and time to listen, analyze, and learn. Later, I would see the tremendous benefit in applying this approach to my children and their schooling.
I found a great sale on refurbished mp3 players and bought three of them; one for me and one for each of my oldest daughters who are ten and twelve. I loaded our players with a variety of songs and tunes including two albums by Anathallo, some Thelonious Monk, the White Stripes, and a few Verdi arias. Their assignment was to listen to the songs and be ready to discuss them with me. They were armed with notepads and pencils as we sat down in our den listening to a few tunes from the selection on our Bose acoustic wave machine. We discussed dissonance and syncopation and crescendos and dynamics and tone and timbre and harmony and bass and counterpoint and rhythm; every aspect of appreciation. I gave them print outs of the song lyrics and we combed over them biblically to see if their subject and message melded or conflicted with Scripture and we talked more about chord structures and arrangements and whether they even liked the songs at all.
What I discovered is that instead of making a long list of musical do’s and don’ts and tabooed types, we should see music as a tool: a tool to teach our children how to discern for themselves what is worthy of discovery and what is worthy of the trash heap. Far more productive conversations have come from this type of discussion and discourse than from me simply banning certain bands from our home.
Give your children the tools they need to figure things out for themselves and you’ve stimulating their minds to think biblically with a critical eye while equipping them for life. Simply ban, dodge, and restrict their choices and you’ll only end up stirring the flesh.