I was leaning into the fridge and looking for a snack when the blasphemous lyrics popped into my head from out of nowhere.
It was a line from a song by a band my husband and I had recently seen in concert. Their songs are relatively clean, any crude or uncouth language typically warranted by the dark life circumstances they detail, things like broken homes and hurt people. This band sings about these things as a way to cope with a sinful world, not in order to praise them; however, it is not a Christian band.
Hence, the blasphemous lyrics.
Of course, any of the other multitude of inoffensive lyrics could have struck me, but it had to be these words specifically negating Jesus’ power to save. Now, the point of this is not to discuss the band’s artistic choices or to decide whether the lyrics are poetically warranted. We know that even the psalmist cries out in despair at times, questioning God. The point is, I did not feel comfortable singing the line from the song out loud; I knew it was not a phrase that I should confess. We all know, though, that refraining from singing a part of a song stuck in your head is much easier said than done.
This incident and many like it made me consider how the music we listen to becomes what we believe and confess.
The Kind of Music We Listen To
When I was in high school and college, I listened to a lot of pop radio. I don’t think I need to tell you the state of pop radio in twenty-first-century America. I was a well-educated, well-churched young woman who could, thankfully, distinguish the wheat from the chaff, but I still listened to the chaff. I knew, and still know, many songs that are not wholesome and that do not promote Christian things; songs that are, in fact, distinctively anti-Christian. I consistently had these songs and lyrics running through my head. I was constantly singing them with friends and teammates and brothers and co-workers.
Today, my life is filled with the music of the Church. I live directly behind the Lutheran school where I teach and the Lutheran church I attend; I hardly ever drive, so I do not listen to a lot of radio anymore. In fact, most of my days are spent singing and teaching hymns, psalms, and the liturgy. Now, my job description calls for this immersion in the music of the Church. If I was working in an occupation not directly related to the Church, I would not be singing hymns and liturgy as much. For better or for worse, I don’t typically turn on hymns when I do drive or when I work out or when I’m cleaning. And while specifically religious music is wonderful, beautiful, and edifying, secular music can also provide great joy. We know that not all secular music is terrible.
Music of the Church
All this exposure to the music of the Church means that there is very different music stuck in my head these days than there was ten years ago. Lately, I haven’t been able to get “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” (LSB 594) out of my head—I mean, who can resist humming that cheerful tune? I also find myself humming certain psalm tones when I hear the words of a psalm I have taught to my students. Usually, my husband will whistle a random hymn while I subconsciously absorb it; minutes later, I will be singing that hymn to myself and wonder where it came from. At times, a certain word or phrase will put me in mind of a line from a hymn that I will, without fully realizing it, start singing and get stuck in my head for the rest of the day. This morning on my walk to work, I was humming “Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay” (LSB 505), and it took me a minute to figure out which hymn I was even humming.
None of this is of my own doing. It is the music that is forced upon me, so to speak. It is mostly a tribute to my parents, my pastors, my teachers, my boss, my co-workers, and my husband.
What Is Your Confession?
Of course, at other times, I will be singing any number of secular songs, but I have realized recently that I seem to get hymns and liturgy stuck in my head more than anything else. So now, I might be skipping down my apartment stairs to go for a run singing about Jesus and His love for us. Or washing the dishes and humming about Christ’s resurrection. I do not purposely try to sing these things (other than when I am in church or attending a virtual hymn-sing); this is simply the music I am exposed to.
What kind of music are you exposed to? The music that is stuck in your head not only indicates the values you are instilling in yourself (and most likely your family), but it also becomes the message that you share with yourself and with the world. The music that is stuck in our head is the music we end up singing out loud. Our song becomes our verbal confession.
We must then consider what we want to confess. We must consider the words we are absorbing and subsequently verbalizing. Far be it from me to throw the first stone; the reality is that we all, myself included, will continue to absorb lyrics that do not befit children of God.
Imagine, though, if as God’s people, we were constantly singing, humming, and whistling prayers and praise to the triune God.
It doesn’t take our sin away. But it constantly reminds us of—and compels us to confess—the One who does.
Find hymns praising Christ the Savior in Lutheran Service Book today.