This is my second contribution to the #PlanetCCM Synchroblog hosted by Dianna Anderson. Here is my preview post and here is my piece on DC Talk and Race. As I said in the last post, my experience with Christian Contemporary Music has been very positive. However, there have been instances when as an industry, CCM made me feel quite conflicted and a little embarassed for U.S. Christianity.
I’ve written about my love for Switchfoot before on here, but I had not shared my criticism. So, let me start from the beginning of the story. In seminary, one of my closest friends shared his Switchfoot albums, and from that day since I have been hooked. Switchfoot replaced DC Talk as my (second) favorite band [my favorite band to be revealed in my third and final contribution to #PlanetCCM]. I would play their music everyday, all, day, and the neighbors would sometimes ask me to turn it down, but not that often. Then one day, during a break in a Black Church Studies class, one of the students asked me what music did I listen to. I responded how much I loved Switchfoot, and how I knew all of their songs, and that they were the only band whose concerts I had attended. My classmate observed that Switchfoot in their music videos routinely hides their lone POC member (Jerome Fontamillas). I just nodded my head, but on the inside, I said to myself. “Yeah right! That dude has a chip on his shoulders. Whateva!” Nothing could take away the joy that Switchfoot gave me.
One day, out of curiousity, I went back and watched some of Switchfoot’s videos on YouTube. I noticed a pattern, in videos such as “We Are One Tonight,” one member’s (guess who?) face could hardly ever be seen, and most parts it was blurry.
Link to We Are One
You can look through their other videos back then, but the pattern persisted. I was crushed. My classmate was right. One I remember attending a Christian fraternity’s party where they hosted Switchfoot, and I had a great time. Except for when I saw a group of POC mocking Switchfoot. I felt embarassed, because I knew that Switchfoot represented a Christianity that was culturally exclusive, through their videos and music.
Representation matters because bodies and where they are position matter. When we talk about the Gospel, where Christ’s body is located is of great importance, and Christians know that at the Resurrection, we are reminded how important our anatomy is. From Keirkegaard to Augustine to Descartes, Switchfoot was deep philosophically, but they also remained in the land of the abstract. It was not until I re-read James Cone’s work the second time around that I came see that Christianity dealt without both metaphysics and the meta-ethical, and did not divorce the two. In fact, Christianity dared to say that we could not have a relationship with God only through the realm of speculation; we needed to have a relationship with God in Christ and in community with others (the Church).
The strange thing, before “Hello Hurricane,” was that members of Switchfoot named artists from Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, and Stevie Wonder as their inspirations. Yet these artists were just not entertainers, they also had a message: from Johnny Cash’s “The Man In Black,” to Michael Jackson’s “Black Or White”, these musicians spoke to the concrete realities and concerns of their audience. Simply put, it was not about escaping from this life, but engaging it. It seemed like the songs that Switchfoot were putting were about the abstract, the disembodied, and ethereal.
It wasn’t until the news of their releasing of “Hello Hurricane” that I stopped feeling guilty for my enjoying Switchfoot’s music given the change in my theological outlook. In 2010, I noted how I had changed, and Switchfoot apparently had as well. The track, “The Sound: John Perkins’ Blues,” was are great departure from what I had enjoyed earlier. The band had,in its own words, deconstructed itself, realized the audience that it had built, and wanted to go into a different direction.
Now, see, in the late 90’s/early 2000’s there were rock bands that came out, and they are “Christian” but their weren’t under Christian labels. Besides Switchfoot, you had Creed [chuckles, lollers], Evanescence, and others that were under secular labels but had songs that talked of transcendence and were pretty ambiguous. I mean, was Creed talking about heaven? or were they talking about experiences with drug addiction in their song “Higher?” We all know thanks to Captain Hindsight what that song was about.
This trend back then obviously says something about Planet CCM. That the Contemporary Christian Music industry had an image problem and a general cultural problem at that. When Switchfoot realized the position that they were coming from, being honest about their context, that’s when I believe that they changed they way they saw themselves. Like the music video by DC Talk for “Jesus Freak,” “The Sound:John Perkins’ Blues” by Switchfoot featured African American Christians during the Civil Rights Movement. The message: “Hey look! White evangelicals aren’t the only Christians around!” Context matters. Bodies matter. Race matters. Representation matters.
Contemporary Christian Music has been able to talk about race in a way that Evangelical churches haven’t. Another band I became a fan of during grad school was Relient K, and their track, “Failure To Excommunicate.” “Jesus loved the outcast; He loves the ones the world loves to hate.” Relient K was able to call out U.S. American evangelicalism for judging People of Color, and rightly so. Yes, criticism is fine, but one must go beyond criticism to work to create space for reconciliation, as Switchfoot may have done with “The Sound.” What would be wonderful if CCM bands could talk about the place of women, and their rightful place as equal in the Church. Instead we have a book by Relient K condoning sexist stereotypes of women and the Newsboys being part of the Quiverfull movement. As I noted in my research about Race, Gender, and CCM in an essay 6 years ago, [Representation] “is the physical manifestation of the white North American cultural idea by conforming to norms and standards imposed by those in power in order to appeal to the public with that is familiar to it. In other words, it is sinful for the Contemporary Christian Music industry to follow the norms of racist, anti-Kingdom work of the Marketplace. Planet CCM, You can do better. Context matters. Bodies matter. Gender matters. Representation matters.