I’ve stumbled across the argument of “what is and isn’t Christian music” my whole childhood. Does a band “count” if it’s not signed to a Christian label, even if the members are Christian? Are only bands that use the name “Jesus” or “God” Christian? If three members are Christian, but one isn’t, what then?
I have trouble with overtly Christian music. With my background of spiritual abuse I have a hard time engaging healthily with anything very openly and obviously Christian. I get angry about theology or presuppositions or what I perceive as shallowness of lyrics. Then I pause and get angry at myself for being judgmental about musical styles or lyrical content I don’t enjoy, but that I know has been life-changing for another friend or loved one. It’s a destructive cycle.
Fortunately, God doesn’t exist exclusively within a culturally-defined label of “Christian.”
In the Colorado summer of 2014 I sat down with Rock on Purpose’s very own Mary Nikkel one-on-one for the first time in the eight years I’d known her to just…chat. At this time my mind was screaming that I needed to Just Get Over my trauma from my second spiritually abusive church that I left just two days later. I needed to Find My Grounding in the Bible ASAP, my mind said.
But my heart sobbed to be understood for its wounds. To be heard. To be validated. I wanted to hear my heart with my ears, not just my mind. I wanted to be comforted by Scripture or Christian music, but both left me in panic attacks and confusion bordering on suicidality.
I still sink into screaming matches with God over the feeling that I don’t have a place in Proper Christian Society. But…then I am reminded of the moment I heard Nothing More for the first time on the radio while driving back from coffee with Mary.
I found more songs by them. “Christ Copyright” slammed my ears with words to my own thoughts incarcerated in my heart. “I’ll Be Ok” and “Here’s to the Heartache” left me in exhausted sobbing fits on the floor as the hope of healing balanced the anger and bitterness of earlier (and later) tracks.
Nothing More taught and empowered me to bleed the anger and bitterness and process through it. They called injustice out for what it was. They screamed for me. They shared my broken spirit. I learned to feel again through them after years of being told not to.
Nothing More started me on a search for art. At first, I figured I was just a bad Christian who had finally snapped. But with each book or band or film I connected with, I found God smiling behind His hand going “I’m here too,” even in the most unlikely places.
Nothing More sang about an injustice we wouldn’t feel if God hadn’t created us in the image of a God that Defines Justice. Breaking Benjamin wouldn’t be asking “why?” in loud and soft tones if there wasn’t a stirring in the soul that needed more. Starset wouldn’t be able to capture the majesty of the cosmos if it wasn’t something to be in awe of.
I’m sure, for some people, Nothing More wouldn’t be good for their spirits. Breaking Benjamin may encourage another to court misery. But then again, Red, or Skillet, or even Lauren Daigle could be twisted by a broken world.
There are many artists and musicians that are encouraging to my fellow Christians that are discouraging and alienating to me. I can’t listen to these musicians or read these authors because my heart will dwell in pity or heartache of past spiritual abuses where the good things were twisted into weapons. But it is my responsibility to moderate my artistic intake, not the artists to mitigate what they create.
While Nothing More sings anger toward God and the church, they still acknowledge God and the church. Me? I was a half-a-step from burying my head in the sand and pretending none of it existed. Nothing More empowered me to campaign to find truth, to break the “copyright” on salvation mere mortals had claimed to have on it in contrast to my desire to abandon faith altogether.
Nothing More, Breaking Benjamin, In This Moment, and others opened a door for me to find out that the God who created art itself cannot be defined or constrained by a label or set of parameters. They also taught me how God can reach His children, no matter how hurt or damaged or angry. He cares enough to find us– even if it’s through secular screamo rock music.
September Grace is a curator of stories with an emphasis on film. Specifically, horror film. She is a tentative Anglican and blogger, an apprentice mail whisperer at a postal outlet, and owned by a black feline floof named Faust. Her plants seek global domination, and she has a distinct lack of awareness for where she is at any given moment–especially if you start talking about film. You can tag-along at September’s blog, thedoomeddiva.com, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram.