One morning before church started a few years ago, I heard a song being piped in over the loudspeakers. I recognized it as a song by “Our Lady Peace,” a rock band that had a few hits in the 90s.
The song kind of sounded like a Christian song and I nodded my head along waiting for church to start as the following verse played:
“Down here in the atmosphere, garbage and city lights, you gotta save your tired soul, you gotta save our lives.”
Amen! That’s what I’m talking about. God, you gotta save our lives. Then the next verse was played:
“Hope you remember me, when you’re homesick and need a change. I miss your purple hair.”
Wait, what? Did Jesus have purple hair? I don’t remember that particular detail from the Bible.
“OK,” I thought to myself, “that’s a little weird. I’m not sure Jesus had purple hair but you know, when the sun is setting just right over the Dead Sea maybe it was kind of purple. I’m still with you.” And then the next line came in:
“I miss the way you taste.”
Ohh, this is one of those songs where it sounds kind of Christiany. You think at first that the guy is singing to God but he’s actually singing about someone else. OK. That makes sense. It’s a weird thing to play at church, but once I heard the lyrics I knew firmly where I stood.
But sometimes contemporary Christian music isn’t that clear. Sometimes you don’t get the purple hair clue. So to save you some guesswork, I’ve outlined the 4 types of songs most commonly found in Christian music:
1. God singing to us.
In these types of songs it’s almost like God picked up an acoustic guitar, sat down on a big log and said, “Hey Jon, come here. I wrote this little ditty I want to sing from you. Not diddy, like the rapper, who will always be Sean to me, I mean ditty like a song.” The lyrics are meant to be listened to as if God is singing directly to you.
2. Us singing to God.
Table turned. This is a message from us to God. It’s a cry, an act of praise, a modern day psalm if you will. A good example of this is the Brandon Heath song that’s popular right now, “Your Love.” When Heath sings “your love is the only thing that matters,” he’s not singing to a girlfriend or to you. He’s singing to God. Incidentally, the song “Your Love” by Brandon Heath is very, very different from the song, “Your Love” by Nicki Minaj. Those lyrics aren’t interchangeable. I promise.
3. God & Us duet.
This is where it gets tricky. In this type of song it’s like a conversation between God and the listener. You have to really tune in to know which lyrics you’re supposed to sing and which verses God is supposed to carry.
4. Song about love.
In this type of song, a Christian recording artist breaks away from the previous three types of songs and writes about love. As in for a significant other that he or she loves. Mat Kearney’s new song “hey mama” is a perfect example of this approach. The beat of it kind of reminds me of Michael Franti. In the song, Kearney lays out his heart for a lady friend, a “Tennessee Queen.” Someone he’d like to kiss who has “Cherokee eyes” and “golden thighs.” Whoa Kearney! But before you get in a huff, and say “dirty lyrics,” allow me to throw out … the Song of Solomon card! Boom! This song is nowhere near as physically expressive as that book of the Bible. (And it’s a great song, the lyric “You’re Mississippi and I’m Oregon, you’re sun tanned and I’m porcelain,” is brilliant.)
Hopefully we cleared up a few things today. Of course, you could always argue that “there’s no such thing as a ‘Christian song,’ but I’ve heard that so many times it turned my hair purple. Like the Dead Sea or the Sea of Galilee.
What’s your favorite Christian song right now?