I’m tired of seeing worship music through racial boundaries. As a black church expat, there was a time when this ideology was a comfort to my gospel weary soul. After years of fighting against Hillsong and the like, I finally buckled down and believed that the best worship music was by white people. I was a junior in college and almost down to my last dollar on a “study abroad” program at USC. My 95 Jetta affectionately known as T-Pain broke down for the umpteenth time while I was swimming in unpaid college bills, a Devil Wears Prada internship, and rigorous studies. It goes without saying that I wasn’t in a “shoutin” mood. I was at the point where if God didn’t come through, I’m clearly getting kicked out of college. I read all the scriptures and said all the prayers, but I wanted to feel God’s presence in the midst of the storm. So at 3am in the basement of USC’s Leavey Library, I willfully listened to Hillsong without complaining that their singers weren’t “soulful” enough. I just wanted Jesus and I didn’t care if He came through a bunch of sensitive neo-hippies singing of God’s love.
After that moment, the tectonic plates of my spirituality completely shifted. The gospel music that I grew up with now appeared significantly lacking. Lyrically, there seemed to be no soul barring transparency or child-like wonder of God’s love. What happened to songs like Second Chanceby Hezekiah Walker or Everything You Touch is a Song by The Winans? Before my very eyes, artists duplicated God-inspired songs until it became nothing more than a mindless prerequisite for making gospel music. Wanting to mature to a deeper level of spiritual intimacy, I got tired of hearing “gospel” songs that make God appear as if He’s a passive genie that only exists to make us comfortable.
Due to gospel’s enduring connection to African-American culture, I subconsciously defined black artists as inferior worship singers. Hillsong, Misty Edwards, and Jason Upton dominated my worship playlist while I distanced myself even further from the politics of mega churches and the gang rivalries of denominations. I abandoned black church culture thinking that I could run from the turmoil within. Having the enthusiasm of a Make-A-Wish child going to Disneyland, I joined a racially mixed church with a white pastor. Finally, people cared about me as a person, and didn’t care less if I wasn’t a part of pastor’s kid royalty. The worship music was also superb, and devoid of the theatrical squalling that’s as romantic as buying a weight loss book for Valentine’s Day. I felt like I found a home where worshiping God was a passionate priority. With heartfelt, sophisticated lyrics, I spent my Sundays talking to God and not about God.
With every progression comes the sobering thought that the grass is not greener on the other side. I started feeling like an awkward outlier when none of the worship singers came remotely close to looking like me. I missed the vocal runs (in measured doses), the weightier tones, and certainly Hip Hop culture. Though these aspects aren’t exclusively owned by minorities, cultural diversity is the breeding ground for creativity.
In shunning black church culture, I came to realize that when you deify a race, you most certainly demonize another. Worship music isn’t white folk’s music. And it’s certainly not a quick fix for bitter, black church expats (forgiveness is). In reality, worship music defies all racial assignments and cultural boundaries. Once we recognize that a spirit of worship can be expressed through any genre and any person, we won’t have to disown ourselves in order to worship God.
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- coiledcreole said: YESSS!!!! I can so relate to this! Nicely worded!
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