by Kate Bluett
Maybe I should begin by explaining that I’m a bit weird when it comes to music. I can forgive bad music for an awful lot if the words are good. Contrarily, bad lyrics can completely ruin good music, in my opinion. It’s all about the poetry, in short. And if a poet is going to go so far as to set his words to music, he’d better be sure to write music appropriate to the words. If, for example, he’s going to write a poem about how Jesus makes him happy, he should not–but NOT–set this poem to an angry tune, with a cruchy hard-rock guitar so loud he has to scream his happiness-about-Jesus in a voice of demonic anger. No, I didn’t make that example up. I saw it at a nightclub. And yes, the singer was sincere in his happiness about Jesus (at least, I assume he was, since all of his songs, whether they sounded angry, mellow, or depraved, were about the peace he felt as the mention of Jesus’ name). The singer looked to be only fifteen or sixteen years old, so I chalk the bad writing up to youthful inexperience (like I do with Keats, who probably would’ve branched out and gotten better had he lived past the age of twenty-four).
These are, of course, minor flaws. Keats is a beloved poet (not by me, but by many), just as Handel is a beloved musician. Praise and worship music is beloved; so why did I rag on this song? Because I took it personally, of course.
Silly, some might say. You can’t take art personally! (Topic for another time: Oh, yes I can!) But this isn’t art. Yes, it’s verse. Yes, it’s music. But while worship and art can be united in one work, any art work that claims, first and foremost, to be worship, really must hold itself to a higher standard. It has not only to enlighten me, but to uplift me. Me: not just my emotions, not just my aesthetic sensibilities, not just my reason, but the whole of me. Myself, lifted up as an offering to God. What’s more, the music of worship is meant to be sung by the worshippers. If a poet, therefore, is going to put words in my mouth in writing a song, he better be sure those words belong in my mouth. Jesus is neither my T-shirt slogan, nor my boyfriend. He is my Savior. If you are incapable of expressing that in poetry, please stop publishing your songs. Because if you don’t, sooner or later I will be asked to worship with your music.
You’re darned right I take it personally. I can forgive secular music for for having crappy lyrics. I can forgive Joe Shmoe on the radio for telling me way too much information about his girlfriend. But the minute Joe asks me to sing along, he’s raised the bar. He’d better be able to clear it.