the words of tim walker

the cutting edge

image courtesy of flickr.com/creative commons/by judy baxter

“Jesus is the real thing.” (insert any corporate logo that has been modified to make a powerful, salvation message.)
“‘Like’ (insert FB icon) Jesus.”
“Jesus died for ‘my space’ in heaven.”

oh, we Christians are on the “cutting edge” of pop culture. well, if cutting edge means about ten years too late.

sure we’ve had moments when it feel current, even hip.
like when Jars of Clay released their first CD or dcTalk became Jesus Freaks.
but other than that, we usually are followers instead of leaders when it comes to culture.

but there is one area where we lead the trend.
yes hipster naysayers, there is one aspect of the contemporary church where we were lead pop culture.

you see, the church was all over this talent search trend decades before our weekly new reality, TV-singing competition show debuts.

we put people on stages every week in the 80s and 90s to cover some of the best CCM songs of the day.

now, we didn’t necessarily judge a person’s performance with immediate feedback from a panel, but we did move things along in a very spiritual, passive aggressive manner.

maybe it was raised hands.
or an “amen.”
maybe it was a “bless him, Lord” if it was a somewhat awkward rendition.
maybe it was silent whispered prayers, “Lord, help me get through this.”

but thousands of us who were musically inclined and believed we could faithfully replicate our favorite CCM songs would go to the Christian bookstore and rummage through cassette tapes (pre-CDs) called “accompaniment tracks” for just the right version of our desired tune.

some stores even allowed you the luxury of standing in a booth or closet to sing along. other stores would simply put out a cassette tape recorder and headphones so you could awkwardly sing off-key in the music section of the store.

then we would take these tapes to the sound man, and sing from the stage of our local churches in the hopes of recreating the emotion and connection we had with the songs we heard on the radio. we didn’t think we were sandi patty or michael w. smith or jars of clay (even if we were just one person), but many times we envisioned ourselves as a good pitch-hitter for them.

and sometimes our song choice exceeded our abilities, but we still chose the song anyway because we really, really liked it. and we knew we could play the grace card for those missed notes out of our range.

yes, pop culture fans, we were karaoke before karaoke even made it big in America.

so the next time you watch a singing competition on TV, or download the latest single from an idol or voice, remember that there are pioneers who braved the platforms of many churches across America years before those starry-eyed hopefuls.


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2 thoughts on “the cutting edge

  1. Oh, yes, I’ve spent plenty of Friday afternoons in the sound “booth” (three-sided closet) listening to accompaniment tracks for “special music” the next day (yes, Saturday, Seventh-day Adventists and all that). Nothing like learning a song and memorizing lyrics the night before.

    And my church didn’t have a tape deck for years. My dad and I had to bring his “nice” portable stereo with us, hook it up—resting on the pulpit—with a microphone pointed to the speaker. We were so legit. lol

  2. I had the honor of hearing a lot of those auditions live before the Sunday morning or evening performance. Working in a Christian bookstore gives you that awesome opportunity. To this day I can’t hardly stomach El Shadi and I get the uncontrolable shakes at the mere mention of Carmen’s “The Champion”.

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