By Willoway Brook: A Review
Denise Levertov's Poems of Faith

The Limits of Alt-Ism

HippyAs one who has spent some years at the Cornerstone Festival, what someone has termed Christian Rock's "biggest and baddest rock fest," and as someone who has spent a fair amount of time critiquing Christian music (a la the "lyric test", banality, and mimicry) and listening to the critics and (yes) whiners about Christian music, I'd have to say that there are limits to alt-tism, that is, the attractive belief that the alternative to what exists is always better.

My critique of Christian music led me to folk music in search of honesty and authenticity.  However, while I found some honesty, I also discovered a wide-ranging conformity and an emphasis on angst, a kind of study of the underbelly of life, nothing to lift your sights higher than your circumstances.  An example of the former is a the prevailing anti-Bush-ism of the folk world.  Walk the halls of the annual Folk Alliance convention wearing a Bush button, and you'll definitely feel like an outsider.  Mention Christian beliefs and you will be regarded with suspicion.  Inject too much hope in your music, and you'll be viewed as sentimental and non-authentic.  There's a kind of reverse conformity at work in this alt-music culture, only the minority nature of it makes it worse in that it leads to an elitist mentality and the associated idea that anything popular with the masses cannot be good.  I left that world.  It's tiresome.  The folk subculture is no better than the evangelical subculture.  Nor is the alternative Christian subculture better.

When I listen to music now, read, or see a film, or consider doing so, I simply ask three questions: Is it true?  Is it good?  Is it beautiful?  That really captures what Scripture commends.  In other words, does it fit with objective reality, does it commend what is good or at least prompt me to good behavior, and is it excellent in its aesthetic form?  It's not an all or nothing test, and it may be worth listening to, reading, or seeing something if it does one of these things well and not another.  But these are the questions to ask.

Look at creative offerings this way and labels become meaningless.  If it's true, good, or beautiful, it's God's.  He gets the glory.  And we conform to the image of Christ, not the image of a group that thinks it has a hold on what culture should look like.