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My half-baked theory about praise songs

October 6, 2007

I’m listening to the local praise-song station, and positively cringing at every single song. Yet I agree with everything in every lyric. It’s not that I’m embarrassed to hear such messages. Something is up.

It occurred to me that the very directness of the message may play a big role in my extreme distaste for praise songs. Augustine said in De Doctrina Christiana that things are more pleasing if they are presented obscurely, and understood through effort, than if they are stated openly. I’ve been listening to this praise station for about 30 minutes now, and haven’t heard a single lyric more subtle than a sledge hammer to the head (repeatedly, for 4 minutes at a time).

But I call this theory “half-baked” because there are a lot of undeniably great songs with openly-stated lyrics. Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”—I shudder to think it—might be the 18th-century equivalent of the praise song: about 4 minutes long, with the same words repeated over, and over, and over. But what is it that makes Handel sublime and these pious folks on the radio so intolerable? I suspect that the difference is the quality of the music. If the music is good enough, you can sing anything you want to it, and it will sound great. If you don’t think so, head over to Rich’s blog and watch the Pearl Jam “misheard lyrics” video. What is that guy singing? Who knows. Do we care? Nope, because the music is good.

Still, I think there is something—a lot—to be said for indirect communication in lyrics. Jesus spoke in parables, after all. If it was good enough for him . . .