I've been performing a little experiment the past week or so: every time I get in my car to drive somewhere, I tune in to a Christian radio station. You may not know it, but this is not my typical behavior. Occasionally, I will listen to the radio if I can't find a CD I'm in the mood for, but I'm always scanning and more often than not, I end up on a secular station. Even then, the chances of me sticking with that station are very slim because there's never more than two good songs in a row. Radio is like prime time network TV, entertainment for the masses with little depth of sound and even less depth of meaning. You wanna know a secret? The best time I have listening to the radio is usually when I've got it on the oldies station.
But back to my experiment. I've been limiting myself to only the popular Christian radio stations here in Knoxville. I think there are three. I've been listening to see how many songs actually say Jesus' name. And the answer is probably less than five percent. Oh there's a lot of "God"s and "Lord"s, every now and then a few "Savior"s, but most often the singer simply says "You." Maybe this is not such a big deal, but part of me thinks it really is. I can't help thinking that the message I'm hearing in most of these songs is no different than what I might hear at a self-help seminar. The other thing I've noticed: I can hardly wait to get where I'm going so I can turn the radio off.
Jason Gray's new album Everything Sad is Coming Untrue, is looking for a place on Christian radio. Will it find a home? I'm not sure, but driving home from the park earlier today I heard, to my surprise and delight, "For the First Time Again" played on the station I was forcing myself to listen to. Soundwise, I think it was quite similar to the songs preceding it. But listening to the lyrics again here at home, and comparing them with those of another song I heard just before it, I'm finding way more difference than similarity. This is no doubt a good thing. And guess what? Jason says Jesus like six times in that one song.
In fact, five songs on the record contain the name Jesus. Naked and alone, no Christ following and no Lord preceding. Why is does this stand out to me? Because it speaks to me of real relationship with someone you call by name, without title and pretense. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the other words. They can and should be used. However, the daughter of a king, hopefully, will have moments with him where formality is not necessary. Lastly, the use of the name Jesus reminds me that I do need this specific person in my life, rather than just some vague being.
A couple more songs “Fade with our voices" and "More like Falling in Love" (which kinda screams SC-squared, but I'm old school and see that as a good thing) have a lot of radio potential based on their pop praise sound. Thankfully, these songs do not just sound good, but the words, if you pay attention, contain just the kind of challenging messages we listeners need to hear.
The next two songs on the record are: "Holding the Key" and "How I Ended Up Here." I see yet another layer of honesty here. Jason lays on truths we “amen” but secretly feel only apply to everyone else. Seriously, when's the last time you answered the question "How are you?" with something other than "Fine" or "Good?" Living in community means more than shaking hands with five people on Sunday morning, more than an evening Bible study in someone's home once a week. Like a poached egg versus one that‘s hard boiled, the difference is on the inside.
My favorite song from this album probably will not be played on the radio because there is no chorus. "The Golden Boy and The Prodigal" does not need a chorus. It is a poem brimming with honesty, not a refrain spewing vain repetition.
Although repetition can be a good thing. Like VOL's “Blister Soul (Reprise)” or Meredith Wilson’s “Goodnight My Someone,” “Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue (Part 2)” reveals a bit more heart than it’s speedier partner. But the original is the one we need at the beginning of the record. A warm-up before the real run.
The following song "Jesus [what? in the title of a song?!] Use Me I'm Yours" sounds to me like a Micheal Card tune. Maybe it’s the piano, or perhaps the sheer vulnerability, but it’s definitely a compliment. And the last compliment I have for Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue is that it does belong on Christian radio. Not because it fits neatly into the mold, but because it pushes against the plastic and raises the bar for listeners. And the bar should be high, enough that it stands above secular radio, in content as well as sound.