Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jungle chants and Christian concerts (or my thoughts on Celebrate Freedom)

Whoever thought that having a big annual outdoor concert in Texas around the 4th of July was a good idea... was very wrong.

Really Freaking Hot

We went to Celebrate Freedom on Saturday. It's the largest free concert in the U.S., and it's Christian music. We went to meet Linda and Bill, but we decided not to go until the afternoon, because that day (and the rest of this whole freaking week) the high was 103 degrees. SWELTERING. We came prepared for heat exhaustion - water bottles of ice water, tank tops, umbrellas, the works. I put ice chips down my back, we ate lemon ices, huddled under umbrellas and tried to soak up the sweat, and pretty much hardly heard any of the music until the sun went down. Even then it was in the 90's still, but that felt cool compared to 103 in the sun!

The Culture of Christian Music
In any case, considering my childhood was immersed in the Christian pop scene, it was funny to be at a Christian concert today and not know any of the new bands at all. The big shots were still the old school folks that were big when I was a kid, and they were the last ones to sing and the only ones people really got into. Isaac and I chatted on the way home about our reactions. As kids, events like that were super cool. Midway through college as we analyzed our faith and discovered how much the churches we were raised in were entertwined with American culture - we looked at things like the contemporary Christian music scene with a deep cynicism and were angered by the shallowness, the attempt to evoke emotion (which we saw as manipulation), the way everything is marketed, etc.. etc. This time around, with the cynicism mostly behind us, we could appreciate that it's okay that Christianity looks American within America. Faith is meant to be expressed within a culture.

I mean, in high school in Papua my school went to a village. We hung out with the villagers. We hunted pigs (sorta). At night we had a feast complete with (no joke) potatoes, pig, and jungle rat cooked in hamburger helper. Then they danced - and we joined them - and it was hours of jumping and chanting and swaying. I might not have understood it all, but I could appreciate and love their culture. If a Christian music concert with all of its trappings is an expression of faith mixed with local culture, I can appreciate it and even participate in it, as long as I still also analyze and let myself be guided by scripture rather than the culture.

I guess it's easiest for me to accept the culture of everyone around me, and hardest to look at the culture of my parents, the culture of suburban white USA. That's why even in the depth of my cynicism I began to discover gospel music and LOVED it. I was okay with their passion, emotion, the dancing, the themes of freedom and suffering and blessing. Mostly I could appreciate the truth in it and how the culture and faith had mixed to form this genre of music. It's much harder for me to do that with my own background, because, well, it just seems so uncool. We are at the point now, though, where we can participate and enjoy it if we want to, or step back and just watch without feeling guilty, because we understand that this culture doesn't define our faith.

This is long enough already, so tomorrow I'll post my thoughts about the individual bands. For now, enjoy this youtube video of the fantastic gospel song "I am Healed", and allow yourself to be shocked that I (admittedly very white and unable to dance) was actually in a gospel choir and thoroughly enjoyed belting out that song.

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