There is this blog post that I wrote a couple years ago making its way around the internet again the last few days. It's a spicy little rant that I wrote on a plane as I was coming home from a long "Christian music" tour, and I was tired, cranky and sick of the copious loads of b.s. that I had continually encountered in the religious circles that I found myself in. The blog post was angry. It wasn't all that articulate or even very well thought through, but it did call a spade and some people appreciated that. Of course, it made some people angry too. Some said that I was arrogant and cynical, and maybe I was.
I ended up deleting the blog post because, as I thought about it and discussed the issue through the next year, I realized some things. I realized that the issues I was upset about don't just exist in the tiny bubble that I was living in. They exist everywhere. The issues I saw were just a small piece of fruit on a much larger tree planted within a much larger orchard. I actually ended up writing an entire book about it called The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse.
So imagine my chagrin when my road manager told me a couple of days ago that people were texting him all day about that deleted post that I wrote years ago...
Why is it that the CCM post is by far my most "viral" blog post ever? Is it because it's more true or honest than other blog posts I have written? I don't think so.. Is it because the content was more informative than other posts I have written? No. I think it is for the same reasons that football is more popular than the symphony.
Both a sports team and an orchestra are made up of highly skilled, highly trained, and highly rehearsed human beings working together for a common purpose. The great athlete and great musician have both put in countless hours of hard work and have achieved a level of mastery both mentally and physically of the 'game' that they are playing. But symphonies don't pack out stadiums…
So why is it that 50,000 people show up to the football game but only 500 show up to the performance of the Rachmaninoff concerto?
I think it has something to do with the fundamental difference between the nature of the goals of a football team and the goals of an orchestra. An orchestra rehearses together to focus their talents into a single vision: the piece. They work together to build something beautiful and grand. A sports team also must learn to work together, but it is for the purpose of defeating the opposition. The entire purpose of a sporting event is competition. An orchestra is more like a construction team trying to build a beautiful piece of architecture together, while the sports team is more like an army trying to defeat an enemy.
When your team comes to my town, and my team crushes your team, I somehow feel powerful. I am on the right side of the battle. I am part of the winners and we are better than you. You don't get that at the symphony. You don't really walk away from listening to Bach feeling superior or powerful. If anything, it is a humbling experience. An experience of wonder and beauty, but not of conquest or tribal pride.
So, what does this have to do with my blog post?
Well, what is it that made this particular post get shared thousands of times and others get largely ignored?
In my opinion, the infamous CCM blog post was not nearly as "beautiful" as other posts that I actually spent time crafting and shaping. It was an unedited rant. Just guttural angst vomited onto a laptop keyboard. Sure, I think there was truth in it, but I honestly don't think it was the truth that made it spread. It was the guts. The blood. The lines that could now be drawn in the sand. Us. Them. Those of us who feel justified in hating most mainstream Christian music. Or those of us who love Christian music and see how much of an ass this Gungor guy is. The battlefield was setup. Now, go, kill!
I made the mistake of perusing some of the comments that were left on the reposted post yesterday. They get really mean. Name calling and below-the-belt personal attacks on both sides. Parental warning here. Some of the comments below are not suitable for young audiences.
"I've never called you creative. A copy, yes. Clone, maybe. Creative, no."
"The real problem with the “Christian Music Industry” is that Michael Gungor is a part of it. Get a fucking life. Your are a joke just sitting around stirring up meaningless conversation. No one gives a shit about you or your opinions. Asshole."
"You're an idiot."
"Michael, without a doubt, from this post, you sound like an ignorant, stuck up oaf, attempting to veil your attempts at basin someone who violates a pet peeve of yours…"
Where there is passionate blood shed, there is social media sharing.
My point here is that I think most human beings in our current mainstream level of consciousness are often drawn more to competition than cooperation, and the result of this is a world that gets divided up into camps of 'us and them', and the world is a worse place for it. The reason that I deleted the post was not because I was afraid of calling out the b.s. in the Christian music industry, but because I think the way I wrote it was a bit too emotional and narrow.
I say it was narrow because like I have said, the problem does not lie solely within the Christian music industry. There are plenty of people and industries that wade behind the true innovators and pick up the crumbs to insert their messages into a previously alive creative medium. There are plenty of TV shows, Disney movies, boy bands and pop albums that are every bit as soulless and zombie-like as the most generic Christian songs on the radio. And there are songs that have been arguably been created within the somewhat imaginary "Christian music industry" that are full of life and innovation and soul.
So, in hindsight, I think this post was too narrow and the emotion it was written in a way that lends itself to a fight rather than a discussion. And for that I am sorry.
What I do stand by after the years that have passed since I wrote this post is that there is too much fear in the world and we ought to create and behave from a place of passion, belief, and love rather than truing to homogenize, pander, and cater with our art. But while I enjoy making art with an edge that speaks against the things that ought to be spoken against and for the things that ought to be spoken for, I also want my art to be more like a symphony than a football game.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-competition. Competition can be good fun and even helpful at times. But here's something that we sometimes don't think about… Competition is not as effective in nature or in human history as cooperation is.
Human beings didn't evolve to the top of the food chain because we are the biggest, strongest or fastest. If competition were the highest rule of the universe, then wouldn't you expect some sort of giant shark-dragon-monster at the top of the food chain that just easily defeats all of its prey with its venomous fire balls or something? Instead, you have these relatively small, slow, and fragile creatures called human beings who can't even survive a winter without fire, clothing and shelter. Sure we can use our opposable thumbs to make weapons, but that's not really what has made humanity thrive. It is our developed ability to empathize, communicate, and cooperate with one another.
And this is not just about humans. If you look at nature, there is love and cooperation everywhere. Ants building cities together, whales forming families and clans that spend their whole lives together, parents sacrificing their own lives for their offspring, cells working together to keep life going… Cooperation towards a greater good can be found everywhere we look. In some ways, the most "fit" are not the biggest, strongest and fastest but the the most empathetic and cooperative.
So why don't we as a society value cooperation as highly as competition? Why must there be a loser for us to be interested? Why is the most boring part of American idol when all of the singers sing together?
Because we want blood!
The result of this type of thinking are a world full of 'us vs them'. A world plagued with things like concentration camps and bad religion and Roman arena games where thousands are slaughtered for the public's amusement. But is this really the kind of world we want to build?
Tribal, competitive thinking allowed for societies to develop certain helpful things through history. But when these tribes start getting nuclear bombs, the world is in trouble. I think we are at an important juncture of our development as a species. We either will learn to cooperate and empathize with the "other" or we will continue to try to conquer them. And if it's the latter, we are all in trouble.
You see this on a global scale, but you also see it down to a personal scale. Down to a, "what should I post on my twitter feed?" scale. The world we live in is built of small decisions. So what kind of world do we want to build?
I, for one, don't want anything to do with drawing more lines in the sand between people. I'd rather be a part of trying to erase them.
At this point in my life, I have no desire to bash Christian music or anybody's music really. But I do still think we ought to be wary of the fear and b.s. that plagues not just the religious world but our world as a whole. My conclusion about the matter is this: spend your energy on things you believe in, and do them honestly and to the best of your ability.