Burn it to the ground

Posted as a comment on this entry at Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog in response to another commenter. Jeffrey’s post was a link to this article by Kate Bowman Johnston.

Gabe – if CCM really did simply exist to perpetuate a sort of music that wouldn’t be accepted in the mainstream because of the way it “edifies the body, lifts God up in worship, and presents Bible truth in good lyrics” then I’d say you had a point. But CCM left those boundaries a long time ago. Even if we could put aside the theological triteness of much of its output (which in itself undermines all three criteria), a few minutes at GMA week will show that it has long since moved on to seeking to present an ‘alternative’ to mainstream culture.

The crossover artists that Kate refers to in her article are helping to muddy boundaries that never should have become so clear, but there remains an attitude within CCM that involvement in that scene is a symbol of the “soundness” of an artist. Lately we are seeing more of a shift, as some of the CCM world tries to push itself into the wake of “coolness” left behind by artists like Switchfoot (not, mind you, Sarah, Bill, or Sufjan whose more independent spirit discounts them) but there is still a very strong in/out attitude forced out very hard through the many organs of CCM.

And it’s precisely these boundaries that have undermined any chance CCM may have had of touching many of us with “bible truth.” That mindset has reduced much of the output of the CCM machine to artistic disaster, but has also twisted much of the content to a simple “God loves me if I love middle class american suburban life” refrain, which is about as far from edifying as it gets. There are spots of light, but they are usually beaten out or end up leaving the industry. Similarly it is all too easy for many of us to appear artistically elitist when we talk about CCM, when most of its key proponents don’t rate artistry as a central part of what they’re about.

(we could also talk about how there is no real difference in approach, or indeed ownership, between “CCM” and “secular” labels beyond the demographic they’re marketing too. but that’s another conversation)

If CCM were to redefine itself to reclaim the mandate you suggest, perhaps more of us who are otherwise “elitist” and “snobs” (because we aren’t comfortable with its insularity and the artistic degradation that has been born of that) would have time for what little was left of it. For a long time I hoped that would happen, but time has made me doubtful, and I increasingly suspect that the best hope is to burn it to the ground and see what emerges from the ashes.

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