I don't listen to a lot of popular music. Rock 'n' roll, country, rhythm 'n' blues, jazz. Most of it goes on without my ears.
On my iPad, my most listened-to Pandora stations are Yo-Yo Ma Radio, full of classical music featuring the cello, and Ali Akbar Khan Radio, which plays the music of India (where I spent part of my boyhood), featuring the sitar and tabla drums, which I once could sort of play.
But Don H. Compier has me thinking that I may be missing something. His new book is called Listening to Popular Music, and is part of the "Christian Explorations of Daily Living" series from Fortress Press.
Compier is dean of the Community of Christ Seminary at Graceland University in Independence, Mo., and also has taught at the Episcopal seminary in Berkeley, Calif., and is on the adjunct faculty of the Kansas School for Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas.
He knows what to look for in popular music -- starting, as he himself did, with the Beatles -- to make listening to it what he calls a "spiritual practice, a way to focus and meditate."
He's convinced that "an artist's lyrics may even give voice to our prayers."
But he offers this caution: ". . .music can be a helpful instrument in our spiritual lives, but it is never an end in and of itself."
Compier even drove me to find this YouTube version of the Rolling Stones playing their controversial "Sympathy for the Devil." He remembers the raucous watershed year of 1968 in which it appeared and contends it made an important statement. In the song, he writes, "the Stones had the unflinching courage to call it like it was -- the devil was on the loose, and we couldn't evade responsibility for the sad state of affairs."
Popular music, in Compier's view, is art, and "from a Christian perspective, our capacity to birth beauty is a chief indicator of what it means to claim that we are made in the image of God the Creator."
In the end, Compier wants us to understand that "the wideness and extravagance of God's grace can work through any and all artists to shower blessings on anyone of any religious tradition or none."
There is more to Compier's argument, but surely it's one worth engaging. And maybe now I'll more often punch the "Beatles Radio" choice on my Pandora -- a testimony to my high school and college years -- along with "Radiohead Radio," a testimony to the fact that I'm perhaps not hopelessly outside of popular culture.
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A STATUE OF NO LIMITATIONS?
A 45-foot-tall statue of the late Pope John Paul II is about to be unveiled in Poland. In the minds of many Poles, that's life-size.