Where is God in modern music?

Last night my brother Eddie and I gave a presentation at the Murrayfield Churches Together’s faith development group, Sundays at Seven, entitled “Where is God in modern music?”

I won’t go into what we said — you should have been there! Where were you? — but I simply want to say that we drew heavily on two books.

A Matrix of Meanings
A Matrix of Meanings

One of the best books that we found while researching the topic was A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture (Engaging Culture series) (Baker Academic, 2003) ISBN 080102417X by Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor.

Detweiler and Taylor look at not only music but television, advertising, film and other major mainstays of modern culture. They argue that while a lot of other commentators berate modern culture as being Godless that is not their purpose in this book. Instead they’d like to find a healthy, Christian attitude to contemporary culture; to find what’s right with pop culture. They’d like to see people open to the possibility of listening beyond the image (going deeper), listening to what is actually being said: prophetic messages of justice, the environment and poverty; songs of hope, abandonment and displacement, the sort of things we would expect to find in the book of Psalms, for example. It’s challenging and eye- and heart- and spirit-opening stuff.

Beyond Bullet Points
Beyond Bullet Points book cover

In terms of our presentation, we used Microsoft PowerPoint, and followed the advice given in this excellent book: Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft Powerpoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate and Inspire (Microsoft Press, 2005) ISBN 0735620520 by Cliff Atkinson.

Atkinson’s approach to PowerPoint presentations, you’ll have guessed from the title, is to sweep away those boring bullet points and to draw on the success of modern television and Hollywood: tell a story. As he says:

The basics of good storytelling have been an open secret since Aristotle described them 2,400 years ago, and today you can tap into the power of these classical ideas by applying a story structure to your PowerPoint presentations.

Well last night we did, and it seems to work very well. It gave our presentation a very clear structure that I’m sure helped the audience as much as it helped us while delivering it. (There are some very good articles to download from Cliff Atkinson’s Sociable Media website. Highly recommended.)

As well as the visuals presentation we also played snippets of music (some songs downloaded from the excellent Apple iTunes store). Eddie chose some songs: Mylo, Robbie Williams, Mary Mary, Switchfoot. I chose others: Rage Against The Machine, Motörhead, Slayer and Soulfly. As Eddie said, “I’m sure that was the first time that some people there had ever heard Soulfly!” I dare say it was, and probably the last, too!

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

4 thoughts on “Where is God in modern music?”

  1. Many moons ago, on accepting the offer of a lift to/from work from a colleague I was slighty startled when he announced that as he had recently found god, he only listened to Christian music – his interpretation of this was somewhat limited and I endured this delight for an entire summer. You know there is only so much Kenny G (is that who I mean?) you can hear before you want to stab someone in the eye. Glad to see things have moved on since then.

  2. So glad our book proved to be a firestarter
    for your church community. That’s the kind
    of feedback, Barry and I love to hear about….


  3. Thanks Craig. Your book I found so life-affirming and exciting.

    And as I was driving back home from church this morning I found myself listening closely to the lyrics of the Black Eyed Peas’ new single “Lady Lumps” and wondering where is God in that? What’s that song *really* saying? Good stuff.

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