My first introduction to worldly music
Is Jars of Clay a Gateway Drug?
We joined an Independent Fundamental Baptist church when I was seven years old. Every Sunday morning and evening our butts (excuse me, bottoms) were planted in maroon colored chairs carefully arranged in a rented strip mall storefront. Beyond that, nothing in our lives really changed. Mom still lit up a cigarette and threatened to beat my ass as soon as we got in the car. We still listened to “worldly” music on the radio as she asked me if I got anything out of that sermon about honoring my father and mother.
Things started to change after the first revival meeting that we attended. The Sunday night service started just like all of the other Sunday night services. A subdued audience quietly sang about being washed in the blood of the lamb. We sang a couple more songs, then there was a puppet show. Two silly puppets, with lots of jokes that even the adults guffawed at, illustrated how Jesus could use even small children to bring people to Him. Afterwards, an evangelist stood in front of the pulpit, spittle dribbling from his mouth, as he pounded his fists with a heavy thud and preached against the evils of the world. He told us that we couldn’t win souls for Jesus if we stood on a fence with one leg dangling on the Christian side and one leg dangling on the worldly side. We had to make a choice.
At the end of the service, we all bowed our heads and closed our eyes. The pianist played “Just As I Am” as the evangelist implored people to come to the altar and rededicate their lives to Christ by renouncing worldly things. I felt my mom brush past me and I heard her soft sobs as she walked forward to kneel at the wooden altar. I opened my eyes slightly, and saw a small group gathered at the altar. One of my friends was up there. Tears sprang from my eyes and I knew what I had to do. I had to renounce my worldly ways and ask Jesus to come into my heart.
When I approached the altar, my Sunday school teacher put her hand on my shoulder and asked if she could pray with me. I nodded, so she prayed. She asked me to repeat after her, “Dear Lord Jesus. I am a sinner. I ask you to come into my heart and take away my sins.”
After the service, Mom mingled with the other adults as I ran up and down the hall with my friends. I heard Mom say things like, “That was such a beautiful sermon. I felt convicted. It’s amazing how we don’t even realize just how worldly we are. We must all do better.”
When we got in the car, she told me she’d beat my ass if she ever caught me running with the other kids. She waited until we were a block away before lighting a cigarette and turning up the radio.
I was so confused. I thought that we weren’t supposed to be worldly anymore. Didn’t she go up to the altar, too, to ask Jesus to cleanse her of her of her sins? Isn’t swearing and smoking and rock music sinful and worldly?
Eventually, we were no longer allowed to wear pants. Pants were made for men. We weren’t allowed to go to the movies, lest there be an R-rated movie playing at the same time as our PG movie and an unbeliever see us and think we were watching the bad movie. We weren’t allowed to listen to rock music, except for Mom and Dad. We were especially not allowed to listen to Christian rock because it was even worse than plain old rock and roll. I didn’t really understand how Christian rock could be bad just because they used electric guitars and drums to praise Jesus instead of pianos and hymnals. But, Pastor said that Christian rock artists were the biggest hypocrites because like the evangelist said, they had one foot on the worldly side of the fence.
I went along with it until we visited my aunt and uncle and they took us to their Southern Baptist mega church. The praise team took the stage and rocked out for Jesus as the crowd raised their arms and swayed. It certainly seemed more worshipful than our quiet lip-synched hymns.
My aunt and uncle bought me a Walkman for my birthday when I was 12. Mom used to drop us kids off at the library sometimes on the days when she had to work half-days or when she had to run errands. On one trip, I discovered the library’s tall case full of cassette tapes. Mom told me that I could check out classical and opera tapes. I didn’t dig the opera, so I checked out classical tapes. At one point, I realized that Mom had stopped checking our bags to see what items we had borrowed, so I got ballsy on the next trip. I still loved Jesus and I wanted to be loyal to him, so I only opened the drawer marked “Contemporary Christian.” I grabbed the first tape I found and buried it under a stack of Nancy Drew novels in my bookbag.
Once home, I grabbed the tape, Much Afraid by Jars of Clay and popped it into my Walkman before heading outside with an ice cream bucket to pick raspberries. As I wandered through the thick woods with the sun and the stinging needles of the raspberry vines piercing my skin, I absorbed the music. I listened to that tape every single day until I had to return it. The seeds of worldliness had been laid in my heart, so on the next trip to the library, I checked out another Jars of Clay tape along with a Michael W. Smith tape.
Was that the beginning of the end?
Mom and Dad were never around. Eventually, I introduced my younger siblings to my worldly music. They loved it. From Jars of Clay, we moved onto Superchick and Relient K.
Things got really out of hand when we graduated to the local Top 40 station. By then, our parents had ceased to care what we listened to, as long as we didn’t bother them to, you know, parent us.
I used to wonder if that first Jars of Clay tape and my small act of rebellion are what led me away from the faith. In a way, maybe they were. I think that the biggest factor was the hypocrisy of our Sunday brand of Christianity. That, and all the questions that were never answered.