Leaving Long-Faced Religion Behind

So the other day, this regional quartet called Mark209 put out a silly music video for a novelty song called “Have a Good Time,” and now some people are getting all upset about it. Some other gospel artist (I know his name but he’s nobody I’ve ever heard of before) was Facebooking his thoughts on the matter rather bluntly. He thought it was risque, said it “nauseated” him, and wished that Mark209 would just leave southern gospel altogether and go play to the godless masses. Them’s pretty strong words!

So naturally I wondered what all the fuss was about and watched the video myself. If you absolutely need to burn a few brain cells, you can watch it here too, but honestly, it’s really not much to get upset or excited over. It’s just forgettable, vapid and goofy, with some shots of cheerleaders in questionably modest outfits (probably the main thing that’s upsetting folks).

I’m more interested in the general debate it’s brought out regarding what the Christian religion is supposed to look or sound like—in short, whether Christians are even allowed to “have a good time.” To say that this debate is nothing new would be a vast understatement.

The basic message that I think Mark209 is trying to get across in the song lyrics (and by extension, the video), isn’t necessarily a bad one. It’s this idea that Christians don’t have to be serious all the time, that we don’t have to view God as a spoilsport, trying to take away natural human exuberance and joy. Based on some of the rules that certain denominations have prescribed for believers, one could easily get that very impression. (Just to be clear about where I’m coming from, I respect people who come from that background, but let’s just say that when you’re stopping two kids from playing Uno because it’s a card game, or creating earnest skits about why it’s a sin to say the word “darn,” that seems like a stretch to me.)

Steven Curtis Chapman encapsulated this thought much more memorably with his song “The Great Adventure,” back in 1992. The line that probably most had folks raising their eyebrows was, “Come on, get ready for the ride of your life. Gonna leave long-faced religion in a cloud of dust behind.” My own family and I, as proudly and robustly counter-cultural as we are, have always gotten a kick out of that line. Why? It’s not because we’re desperate to join our local chapter of Christian Culture Snobs Anonymous—if anyone needs a word of kindly advice from Peter Falk, it’s those folks. It’s because sometimes, there really can be such a thing as “long-faced religion”—prescribed rules for Christian living that are non-essential, that depend more on personal taste than on Scripture, and that actually fit Jesus’ description of binding burdens on people’s backs.

“Being like the Pharisees” isn’t something I would accuse anyone of lightly, and Lord knows it’s an accusation that’s been used and abused to death in our progressive Christian culture. In fact, sometimes it can turn into its own kind of reverse Pharisaism (Lord, I thank you that I’m not like those uptight fundamentalist fuddy-duddies!) But at a certain point, I think it’s healthy to recognize when it’s time to lighten up. Stop taking ourselves quite so seriously. Remind ourselves that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with having fun. As obvious as that may be to most of you, for some people it really is a revelation.

You might surmise from my last paragraph that my tastes lean loose and casual when it comes to church music and church worship. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was raised in a tiny Anglican church on the 1928 Book of Common Prayer: one liturgy, one organ, one sanctuary, one priest, no band. I die a little inside every time I see a set of drums on a church stage. I cringe when people break into applause during a worship service. I even feel like something’s been lost when people are reading lyrics from a screen instead of holding real hymnals in their hands.

But when it comes to my personal tastes—in music, in film, in art—I simply don’t feel bound to maintain this heaviness that some folks seem to view as so essential to right Christianity. I see no tension between singing the most reverent Communion hymn you can imagine in church and rocking out to the Imperials’ “Trumpet of Jesus” at home. I don’t even see a tension with doing an epic John Travolta walk around the house to “Stayin’ Alive” (it looks even sillier than it sounds) belting out “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog” (er, okay, maybe not all the verses), or head-banging to “Carry On Wayward Son” (though this latter activity may not be practically wise for the old neck muscles—I speak from experience).

There is a proper time and place to be hushed and reverent, and there is a proper time and place to lose the long face. I find it hard to believe that the God who made penguins and platypuses and big schnozzes doesn’t have a sense of fun. (And nobody had better comic timing than Jesus. Seriously, re-read the gospels and watch for the moments where that dry, devastating Jewish humor comes out.)

So, in the end, I really don’t have a problem with what the guys of Mark209 are trying to say. I just think they needed to find a better way to say it. Personally, I’ll stick with this:

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2 thoughts on “Leaving Long-Faced Religion Behind

  1. joshvanklomp

    This is the first I’ve heard of both this video and of the uproar it’s creating. Yikes!

    Honestly, comments like the ones made by Nauseated Artist are ones that make it easy for someone to turn away from Gospel music and from the Church in general. Sounds almost to me like the Pharisees who judged and questioned why Jesus would eat with sinners.

    We aren’t called to completely isolate ourselves away from the rest of humanity. That’s what the Pharisees thought too before Jesus corrected them.

    I’m not saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the video, because I didn’t. It was average to me. But I certainly don’t think it’s reason enough to blackball someone from the industry.

    1. I know, like I said on Musicscribe I really feel like it’s silly to be even having a deep conversation over such a trite thing to begin with—I’m hardly stepping up to defend its artistic merit! It’s just that I think it exposes an interesting debate where I know I have something to say. I agree with you that this other artist (and really, he’s nobody I’ve heard of or promoted on this site, just so none of my readers are left thinking “Oh no, is he from x favorite trio/quartet/mixed group?”) is wildly overreacting.

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