FLASHBACK FRIDAYS: WEEK 41 (Albums with labels? Without labels?)- Is it heretical or blasphemous to be encouraged and inspired by ‘non-Christian’ music?

Why do we have labels? I mean sure we label things to identify them and make sense of them, but does hanging onto them once they’re defined by us, do us any good? If they’re inanimate objects, sure labels are fine, because the outcomes and consequences of us still having them, isn’t that great or profound. But if we’re dealing with living, breathing people, then labelling people can lead to all kinds of outcomes, of which none are encouraging nor edifying. Or if we’re dealing with music or food or movies, and then the labels place limits on what we can or can’t watch/listen/eat etc; then our views on the world and on society could become skewed and warped. Who’s the culprit then? The parents of the child who is deemed to have an unconventional view, or is it the rest of us, who are obsessed with labels, ultimately being the ‘thought police’ or ‘action police’ with regards to what we do, say, think, and whom we interact with?

Now I can’t speak for all of the issues plaguing society at this very moment- and if I were to try, it’d probably fill a book with no clear resolution on when’s a good time to label someone/something and when to abandon labels altogether. But since I’m an avid fan of music (in particular CCM music and worship music!), let me briefly give you a quick rundown on why labels, at least in the music industry, can be destructive and counter-productive. You see, all throughout my life, I was exposed to Christian music, which in and of itself is not a band thing by any means. It was a great time in my life, and helped me structure my solid foundation around Jesus Christ. Artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Carman, Delirious?, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, Natalie Grant, MercyMe, Third Day, Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin, David Crowder*Band, Matt Redman, Jeremy Camp, Building 429, Tenth Avenue North… the list goes on and on; but what these guys and more did for me back in the day, was to show me that even though the world can and will persecute fellow believers for our faith, the music avenue shows us that the voice of Jesus and our relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can be amplified across a worldwide medium and as a universal language that we all can understand; resulting in lives that are more receptive to Jesus Christ, and hence more people giving their lives over to Him. I love that. I absolutely love that. I’m a Christian, so hearing good news stories is a part of why I’m hopeful and optimistic for the future.

But the downside to only listening to and only being exposed to Christian music is that I did not know any other type of music until only a few years ago. And I’m dead serious. Sure, I heard a few ‘inspirational mainstream’ songs on my local radio station, however I seemingly quashed their existence in my head in favour of music that was explicitly about Jesus. I was of the opinion that music that didn’t mention Jesus at all, and did not point to Him; was not inspiring at all and wasn’t worth listening to. And while I know now that music of all types has a message (yes, all types, including metal!), let me just say that during the time when I was solely listening to Christian music, I was unofficially placing a label on my music listening habits. ‘Hey, you’re a Christian, so only listen to Christian music, otherwise you’ve backslidden, you’re not a Christian anymore, you won’t be allowed into heaven if you listen to other music that doesn’t explicitly glorify Jesus’- were all of the thoughts that I was telling myself; and might have been the thoughts that the devil was speaking to me. In that way, labels aren’t helpful. Because even though Jesus isn’t explicitly talked about in many of the mainstream pop songs, He does have the power to speak through music that isn’t explicitly about Him; just like in the Bible how Jesus spoke through the burning bush and through Balaam’s donkey. I actually wrote a blog about this a couple of years ago; but to sum up that blog here, let me say that in my opinion right now, all music can inspire, and all music can/does have a message about God. It’s whether that message is helpful and is something to live our life by- that’s the million-dollar question.

This past few months, my brother has been writing a blog series called Momentous Mondays: Most Influential Artists of all Time; where every week he speaks in depth about one artist (for 100 weeks!) and about how they have shaped the world in terms of their discography and their life outside of music. I think it’s an ambitious feat, and I’m continually in awe of his Herculean efforts; and even now I’m seeing the change in Jon’s music habits and by extension mine. Shudder to think, this time last year Jon wouldn’t’ve been contemplating this blog series because maybe around 85% of these artists aren’t classified as Christian artists. But one thing I know about God, is you can’t place limits or labels on Him.

Sure, you can put a label on almost anything. You can say ‘listen to this, eat this, watch this, only talk to this person, only talk about this person, or this topic!’. But once you start bargaining with God, asking Him to back us up- that is something He won’t do. God is a God who cannot be contained. There’s a question that’s been floating around the internet that I’ve heard that’s supposed to trap Christians and it goes something like this- ‘Is God able to make a rock so big that He can’t hold it?’, or something along those lines. And for those of us who don’t fully understand the implications of what is being asked…well we’d answer yes or no, right? But this type of question is supposed to trick us, supposed to place limits and labels on God. Because if we say yes then God’s not all powerful because, sure He’s made the rock, but it is too big for Him to handle, so therefore He’s not God. And if we say no, then God’s not all powerful either, because He can’t make the rock. Whichever way you look at it, God’s not powerful due to the way the question is structured. But once we realise that the question is flawed and instead focus on the sovereignty of God and the fact that everything He is leading us to is the absolute best for us even though we may not be able to see it at the time; we can carry this line of thinking into music too.

Throughout the duration thus far of Jon’s musical journey through many artists that has obviously extended and expanded his knowledge of artists in today’s society and in years gone by; I have undergone a similar appreciation of music from artists not overt in their faith. Prior to this year, I assumed that I could only be inspired to a certain extent, from mainstream artists. Oh how wrong I was. Does Jesus only give gifts to us if we believe in Him? Does He shower us with blessings and curse everyone else who rejects His name? Well, God certainly does that at the end of time when He separates the sheep and the goats (and that’s another discussion altogether!); but as far as this life is concerned? Nope, He blesses everyone and that includes non-Christian artists. I guess it’s up to the individual artist as to what they each decide to sing about, but that doesn’t mean that God cannot use the songs we least expect to bring glory to His name. It’s actually quite the opposite. In fact, I’ve found of late a few mainstream albums that have spoken to me immensely of late- even more so than albums from fellow believers.

This topic isn’t going to be talked about and then forgotten about, because there’s always going to be that one person who thinks that organs are the only pure instrument, and that the electric guitar and drums are from the devil. But as long as I’m still breathing, while I predominately want to immerse myself in songs about Christ or the Christian life; I won’t shut the door completely on mainstream music. Jesus has given us a whole other avenue of expressing His love for us and our love for Him; so as I leave you all this week to permeate my mind with mainstream music that glorifies Jesus, let me provide you all with 15 albums that have been impacting over the past few weeks and months- in terms of building me up and reminding me that there is something bigger than myself to reach for and fight for. And you guys can take a listen, or not…and let me know if God spoke to you and the intricacies and mysteries of the universe.

Josh Groban- Bridges

Maren Morris- GIRL

Martina McBride- Reckless

Daughtry- Baptised

Carrie Underwood- Storyteller

Cimorelli- Sad Girls Club

Avril Lavigne- Head Above Water

Alessia Cara- The Pains Of Growing

Keith Urban- Ripcord

One Republic- Native

Rachel Platten- Waves

Selena Gomez- Revival

VERIDIA- The Beast You Feed

Owl City- Cinematic

Sara Bareilles- Amidst The Chaos

Until next time, guys!

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