On Tuesday, February 1 Seattle Weekly’s music blog “Reverb” posted an article related to the loss of music’s cultural impact because of the proliferation of “the shuffle”. You know the feature that every digital music player has which enables you to jump around your musical library or playlist with seemingly no rhyme or reason. One minute you could be overwhelmed by the raw simplicity and power of the now-defunct White Stripes (tear), and the next mellowing out to the ethereal tones of Iceland’s Sigur Ros… You could go from a country classic like Johnny Cash to something a little harder like Living Sacrifice… if you don’t recognize some of these band names, that’s because I have eclectic taste in music. Because of the shuffle, the songs, and not the message, the bands, or even the albums, are ends unto themselves without context or background or growth. This trend has become even more entrenched in our musical culture because we can just jump on iTunes and buy a single song at a time rather than being forced to buy an entire CD or album. As John Roderick claims in the Seattle Weekly article this has essentially neutered most of the music and bands we listen to where they are mere commodities which to consume rather the forces for cultural change or commentary. I tend to agree with Roderick, except that I more mourn the loss of the artistry of the album and the desire of people to stick with a band or musician through good and bad records.
Now, I have never been a “shuffle” guy and for this reason: I like music in context. I like bands, I like listening to albums in their entirety, and often I’ll collect an entire band’s corpus even if I don’t like a particular album just to see how the band is maturing or immaturing. I rarely, and I mean rarely, buy just one song on iTunes. If I like a song by a group, I’ll do the research see if they are band I’d like to check out further and then buy a whole album… sometimes digitally, sometimes I’ll kick it old school and buy it on vinyl… but that’s just me.
What really strikes me about the whole “shuffle” mentality is how it even effects the way we view religion and spirituality. At one time people lived in one location for most of, if not all of their lives. They had a grocer, they had a mailman, and they had a church. They were born, baptized, discipled, confirmed, married, had children, grandchildren, and then were buried within the same spiritual climate their whole lives. There was long-term growth, history, relationships, and context.
Because the options were more limited, people had to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” in one church family or leave the faith all-together for a practical atheistic or agnostic existence.
Today, because of the “shuffle” mentality and the ease with which we can travel and have access to literally hundreds of houses of worship (both physical and virtual) we don’t feel the need to grow up in one spiritual context. We get bored, we get upset, we hit the next button on our spiritual iPods and church shop… or what’s worse we hit the next button and leave Christianity all-together for something
more “mystical” or exciting like Buddhism, or Islam or New Age Crystal Worship in the Trees… then we get bored with those and hit the next button again and go on to something else.
What we are left with some sort of hybrid view of the world, God, and our place in it rather than growing and maturing in the faith of one spiritual context… this is called syncretism and it’s probably the most pervasive religious experience of people today… especially those from the Boomer Generation on down. We don’t like one religion so we make up our own amalgam of several “taking the best” from each… That’s why I think most young people consider themselves “spiritual” though and not “religious” – which basically means they have a sense of a god and the spirit-world but don’t want to get their lazy behinds out of bed to explore any of those things in any detail or be disciplined to practice a faith that actually matters or could potentially change their lives. If it requires anything than it doesn’t feel worth it.
As Roderick mourns the loss of the cultural impact of music, I reiterate that concern except as it pertains to the Christian faith… It’s time for a return to the religion that can have personal and cultural impact… and it’s time for we as Christians and church leaders to call people out of the “shuffle” spirituality and to exercise a little commitment and discipline… Like anything else, it’s the long-term relationship that brings lasting change.