Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Christian music and choirs

 In the past couple of decades, we've seen a good number of white Christian artists featuring black gospel choirs, for example: Third Day and the Cobb Mass Choir on Offerings and U2 on their live album Rattle and Hum.  However, I can't remember the last time I heard a black Christian artist, say, Donnie McClurken or CeCe Winans, with a stodgy choir full of old white people moaning along to "How Great Thou Art" as though they were already fearing the pastor going over 15 minutes in his sermon and thus making them late for lunch. 

Maybe there's something to this.  I feel like since I've been at City of Refuge for the past two plus years, I have heard things preached by my African-American pastor that I never heard in white churches, as well as things preached by the same pastor that I've never heard preached by other African-American pastors.  It's interesting, and I'm sure most of our visitors see it the same way, that although the majority of the church membership is black, the worship music is much more like you'd find in a contemporary white church (i.e. three guys with guitars, playing mostly music of the Hillsong and Passion variety, along with one black female singer).

I noticed the color line in typical preaching after creating a William McDowell station on Pandora.  It's great, because I'd never really get to listen to Bishop Paul S. Morton, Juanita Bynum, et al. without this station.  But also, I noticed the black gospel music tends to have a lot more preaching and ad lib by the lead singer than the typical song by a white artist.  It's funny, because you do have white artists producing this type of music, but it's usually categorized in the "prophetic worship" sub-genre, specifically with artists such as Rita Springer, Misty Edwards, and Jason Upton.

The defining characteristic of this station seems to be having a choir backup.  Being Pandora, it decides to throw curve balls in there (Hey, you like Jeremy Camp, you must like Shinedown, right?), so it gave me some Hillsong with a choir.  Okay, I like that.  Then it throws me Chris Tomlin with a choir.  I'm sorry, by the time we've reached Chris Tomlin, we've moved beyond black gospel.  I gotta shut this down now, so I don't end up with the same thing that happened to my Jason Upton station when I told them I liked Spanish worship, too.

But like I said, I hear things from the black church in America that I don't hear from the white church in America, and vice versa.  In the first example, I rarely hear white pastors encouraging believers to fight for victory in the spiritual realm, blood covering, claiming and standing on the promises God has for you (while not straying into name-it-claim-it theology).  Secondarily, I hear a lot more holiness and social justice preaching from the white churches, but the latter to a greater degree than the former.  I guess because the average income of a white American is so much greater than the average income of a black American, we have more white pastors encouraging their congregations to give to help across the world; black churches are more closely tied to their own community, so the giving focus is on here and now, on those who need help within our own ranks.  Both are equally good and important to be preached, and the fact is we're missing the balance.  All of this leads me to believe that God is intentionally giving these separate revelations to different communities not to divide us, but to prove to us that we need to bond together, to listen to each other, be the body and help each other out.  Hello, didn't Paul talk about this?  One part of the body can't go to another and say, "I don't need you."  This is just the realistic application.

And so we get back to the choir issue.  Even Eddie Izzard recognizes this:

If this isn't the right video, I apologize; I'm in class right now.  But bottom line: most white Christians don't realize how good we have it; most black Christians, on the other hand, rejoice exceedingly in spite of what they don't have.  My African friends here at SLU tell me they are most surprised by Americans' ungratefulness.  Larons, who is from Nigeria, said his biggest culture shock is going an entire day without losing electricity.  Naomi, a Kenyan and a track/cross-country runner, worked for a month or so at minimum wage and paid for her younger sister to go to school for an entire year.  Anacletus, from Ghana, worked over a course of several years to bring his wife and later his son to live in America with him, and was most surprised by the considerably higher average income of even the "poor" we have.

No wonder there aren't any black Gospel artists recording with choirs full of old white people.

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