Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Uncreatively Titled

I was reading in the West about a song Mr Tim Minchin recently performed which was not allowed to air in the UK, (unofficially) because it was controversial. This controversy, or potential controversy is by no means something new in Mr Minchin's work. Reportedly, this particular song, released for Christmas, compared Jesus of Nazareth with Woody Allen. In the article, Mr Minchin calls Christ a "Jewish philosopher" among other things which, while not entirely false, do not come close portraying the whole truth of Truth Himself.
There were many things in that article that I took issue with, which I will not discuss here for the save of brevity. What I would like to discuss is the impact that songs have in forming our culture.
I bring up the article on Mr Minchin and his song because that was what triggered this train of thought.

The chances are that if you are reading this blog, you've heard or read the phrase "lex orandi, lex credendi" or that you would look it up if I wasn't about to tell you what it means. The phrase "lex orandi, lex credendi" is a liturgical phrase meaning 'the law of prayer is the law of belief.' To my mind, this required basically no explanation, but I will give one anyway: As we pray, our beliefs are formed. Prayer is both formative and performative and it is the former aspect that this saying addresses. To take a crude example, if you pray “Our Father who art in Heaven,” and you do not already believe that God is as a Father to us, and that He dwells in Heaven, you will soon begin to believe it. If you currently hold the orthodox Catholic belief but start praying “Our Mother who art is Heaven,” you will begin to consider the Creator as a mother.

That is why the corrected translations of the Roman Missal are so important. Instead of praying in a wishy-washy butchering of the English language, we have the benefit (as Holy Mother Church intended) of full, rich theological language which leads us beyond ourselves to the One to Whom our prayers are addressed. For, if you treat man as he is, he will not improve; but if you treat him as you would like him to become, that he will.

“But what on earth, or anywhere else for that matter,” I hear it asked, “can the new translation of the Roman Missal have to do with a song by Tim Minchin? He is hardly a liturgical composer.”

Everything! And that, exactly why! You have probably heard it said that “he who sings prays twice.” If you hadn’t before, you have now.

I do not remember which Saint first spoke this truth, but true it is nonetheless. Music is often and rightly called the universal language. If you listen to the Sabat Mater, you know, even if you do not know the language that it is sung in, that it is about sorrow and pain, which ends in hope. To take a vulgar - that is to say, common - example, if I were to play the tune of the McDonalds advertisement, every primary-school aged child knows what it is, or at least that it is related to some kind of fast food. Just a few more examples, to make this point as plain as it can be.

I am, by most standards, not old. Twenty is, except for a four year old, not old at all. When I was in primary school (in the 90s) the music that played at our school discos was music from the 70s up until what was then the present. At the time, the Backstreet Boys, S Club 7, Destiny’s Child and Niki Webster were popular. Also at that time, the words “damn,” “bloody,” “bum,” and “arse” were all non-repeatable swear words which no adult, certainly no teacher, would have said in front  of primary school aged children. Even less likely were you to hear a child insist that any one of those words were not swears.

It is true that there was a lot of innuendo in the music of that time. There were songs about break-ups, and falling in love. The songs from earlier: the 70s and the 80s in particular, boldly proclaimed that “girls just wanna have fun” and issued an invitation to “take on me.” However, this is entirely innuendo, and is of the type that could, by innocent ears, be taken to mean, respectively, that girls enjoy spending time with friends, and that love is worth commitment.

Now, however, song such as “Love Game,” there’s no way to take in a way that fits with the full meaning of the human person.

Music is important, songs allow us to accept messages that, when written, we never would.
What we listen to, forms us.

Do we want to be the type of broken people that most recent songs encourage us to become? Or do we want to be the people we were meant to be? The loved, lovable, wanted and redeemed people we are meant to be?

“As for me and my house, we’re going to serve the Lord.”


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