Deliberately provocative (and not original,) but hopefully with good purpose…
I was listening to my MP3 player on ‘shuffle’ mode as I was working the other day. If I am near by and a song comes on that I do not want to listen to then I will press skip- as I rarely get round to deleting anything, and there is a random accumulation of all sorts of stuff on there. However I had hands covered in tile cement and so was stuck with whatever song emerged.
In this case it was Third Day, singing a song called ‘Anything’. I have confessed previously to a past leading worship music. I was that bloke with an acoustic guitar whipping up soft rock anthems. Third Day were an American Christian band that did a couple of worship albums that I really liked 10 years or so ago.
So much has changed since then for me however in terms of how I approach worship generally, and worship music particularly. Some of this can be summed up in this song – here are some of the lyrics;
And I want to hold You
Even though You can’t be held
Because You’re so much more
Than everything I’ve ever known
I’d give anything
I would give anything to hold You
This song is one of many worship songs that are themed around intimacy with Jesus- and to the ears of the uninitiated, they seem to have lots in common with the language used in popular music to describe sexualised love.
A couple more examples that many of us will have sung many times. Both of them I have really loved singing in the past;
I sing a simple song of love
To my Savior, to my Jesus
I’m grateful for the things you’ve done
My loving Savior, my precious Jesus
My heart is glad that you’ve called me your own
There’s no place I’d rather be
In your arms of love
In your arms of love
Holding me still
Holding me near
In your arms of love
Then there is this one;
The simplest of all love songs
I want to bring to you
So I’ll let my words be few
Jesus, I am so in love with you.
Matt & Beth Redman
To be fair, Redman appears to have been thinking about this himself, although I do not really think that this is a ‘bloke’ issue alone;
Am I being unfair do you think? All these things have to be viewed within context. If our primary (even only) expression of worship is contained within church services, then the cultural carrier of our understandings of who God is, and how we should relate to him, will be the music that we sing, and the cultural references that drive this stylistically will be all the love language that we hear in the charts.
However, I no longer primarily worship God through large gatherings, and all this erotic Jesus love language seems rather odd from a distance.
Does Jesus require this kind of devotion in our following of him? Does he value it? Does it make us better followers, more inclined to live as Agents of the Kingdom of God? Or is it a bubble of sentimental excess that has little relevance to real life?
The ‘bloody’ bit of the title of this piece by the way is suggestive of another dynamic of all these love songs- the climactic event; the consumation of the relationship, is the death of Jesus on the cross.
Once again is there anything wrong with this ? It too has to be understood within the context of a theological monoculture of substitutionary atonement. The young man whose blood had to be spilled to save the few, the carefully selected beautiful few, who have this special individual relationship with their saviour.
Except I find myself outside this context too. The narrowness of the understanding feels wrong, feels distorted, feels like ‘God made to make me feel exclusive’. God made to be mine and not yours.
Whatever the theology, there are other songs to be sung. Songs of deliverance, songs of protest, songs of lament, songs of community and songs of hope in the presence of doubt and fear.
Songs calling us to love-in-action, not just love-in-abstract.
I think it’s inappropriate, and this sounds very prim but think it just does and should not fit. That said, I’ve read and heard that people who hold a position of ‘care’ are often the subjects of patients/clients/members of the congregation falling in love with them in a romantic sense, because they feel that this person can ‘save’ them in many different senses.
My elderly Mum tells me that there was a spate of Polish Catholic priests running off with women in the congregation at one time, although I don’t know of the details! I guess Jesus must have had women falling at his feet, but there is nothing I know of in the bible to suggest that he bought into this in any way, despite weird propaganda saying that he did.
I expect priests and the like are trained to hold adoring fans at arms length, and also suspect that some people exploit this too..which explains why I think it’s not the way to think about Jesus.