I saw two quotes today on Facebook...
the first was posted by Len Sweet - “First we sing. Then we believe.” Abraham Heschel
The second was in a comment on Sweets post. "Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” It is often attributed incorrectly to Plato. More likely, it is a variation on a saying from Andrew Fletcher.
Both quotes have me thinking about the way that what we sing... or even listen to... works its way into our subconsciousness and helps to shape who we are, how we think, and how we see the world around us. In church, it is obvious that the songs we sing are very important in shaping our theology. Few people remember a sermon. None speak it as they do the laundry. Many will find themselves singing a catchy tune that they sang in church later on.
But it is true beyond that. The music we listen to on the radio and sing when we aren't thinking says a lot about the way we see and experience the world. I worry about girls who listen to misogynistic rap music, to African American youth who listen to music that repeatedly calls them "niggers," to young boys who listen to music that objectifies girls as nothing more than sex objects. I'm struck by how important the role of the musician is in any culture but especially in one like ours that is so shaped by media.
I've heard Sweet play with the quote from Psalm 139 - "how can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" asking if maybe the question church musicians should be raising is, "how can we sing a strange song in the Lord's land?" I think musicians of faith should be asking both and framing them in creative ways that both speak to culture and offer the possibility of transformation in and out of the Church. That doesn't mean that as Christians we only sing songs that mention Jesus by name. Instead, it means that we look carefully at the meaning of a song and ask the good questions - is this humanizing? does it push us towards wholeness? does this song communicate something that either makes the world a better place or shines a spotlight on an area where change is needed?