Spotifying Christianity

By Joel A. Hess

I used to hate the radio. My ears were first awakened to rock-n-roll in 8th grade by the Go-Go’s, Joan Jett, Flock of Seagulls, Men at Work, The Police etc. When their songs came on the radio, I stopped everything and listened to every detail. I stayed up late, unbeknownst to my parents, scanning stations hoping to hear a favorite tune. They were like treasures. The songs became precious to me not just because I loved them, but also because of their rarity.

Soon the meager offerings of the radio could not satisfy my desire for great sounds and beats. I suppose I became a snob at this point. My apologies. It wasn’t simply because I had superior taste (though that’s part, ha), but also because certain songs were played over and over, rendering them boring. Looking back, I have repented over my scornful assessment of many popular artists. For example, I hated Bruce Springsteen at the time. His album Born in the U.S.A. saturated the market. Fact is, He’s brilliant. Now, he is a regular in my rotation.

By high school, I rejected the radio altogether, except for a wonderful little show that aired Sundays at 10 PM on WLAV in Grand Rapids, MI called Clam Bake. The DJ opened my minute musical collection to groups like Half Man Half Biscuit, the Stranglers, the Cure, Siouxsie, the Banshees, etc. Quite honestly, the stranger the name the more I assumed it would be good.

This two-hour program was not enough. As soon as I got a job, I spent it at the record—cassette—store. I would roam around there for hours listening to everything at the booths and taking chances on bands I knew nothing about. What a joy to find something I liked! I had completely left the super highway of music and ventured into an exotic Willy Wonka sort of world of sounds.

So, imagine the tingling down my spine when so much music became available for free on the internet! I distinctly remember sitting in my office at my first call in Chillicothe, Ohio, searching for any band I could dream up on Yahoo Music. At that time, the foothills of Appalachia and living not far from Highway 23 had introduced me to all the old time country greats like Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Buck Owens. I was like Spock regaining his memories on Vulcan after returning to life through the Genesis project. It literally blew me away.

Today, I can listen to everything for free on Spotify! Frankly, I think I have listened to everything. Why not?! It’s all available at the click of the play icon. No commitment needed! It’s music porn, I suppose.

Of course, I cannot imagine giving that up. Yet, strangely, I long for the radio days. I want a DJ to spin a record and choose something for me, maybe even talk about it for a second. I want the host to give me some unasked-for gifts. I might even want to be relieved of the burden of choosing!

No doubt, there exists an obvious correlation between Spotify’s instant gratification and American Spirituality. We want God to be like Spotify. We want to play the stuff we like. We don’t want anyone to talk to us either. Just play what we select and be quiet. Maybe even stop Him half way through a song and go to the next.

We want to play the song that tells us God doesn’t care what we do. We want to play the song about how God only cares what “those” people do. We want to play that song over and over. We want to choose exactly what kind of words we hear. If we are happy we want to only hear happy songs. If we are sad we only want to hear sad songs. We want to be affirmed. Or some of us in a sadomasochistic manner actually love to be put down! Give me what I want to hear, and be quiet.

Yet, a good church and pastor won’t let that happen. No, a good church is more like a radio station that plays what the DJ wants to play. God is spinning the tunes as the whole spectrum of God’s Word is broadcast throughout the year. And you might have to hear stuff you really don’t want to, like how much you suck at being a neighbor, or how God forgives that guy you gossip about. Still, you will also hear the DJ tell you that you are forgiven when you don’t expect it or when you feel don’t deserve it.

Soon it may become your favorite station worth tuning into every Sunday morning with every song precious to your ears.