A weird thing happened to me yesterday – two different people got in touch with me to ask me to recommend Christian books for babies. That’s never happened before, and it got me thinking. It’s worth asking people for recommendations on children’s Christian books and music, because let’s face facts – there is quite a range available. And by range, I mean some stuff is spot on, and some stuff is ambiguous, and some stuff isn’t good.
Does it matter? Let’s take music to start with. I grew up in a family where we learnt the words to (secular) songs, and I find it impossible to consider a song without thinking about the words (I’ve since learnt that this is not universal). I’ve spent hours trying to figure out lyrics, listening with headphones (my mum was best at this) – and by the way hasn’t Google just taken the fun out of all of that? But I digress. So, I was raised to think that lyrics do matter. Now I am married to a worship leader who chooses songs for our church to sing, and who also writes songs (in his spare time, ha ha ha ha HA!). So he also thinks that song words matter. If we’re singing to God to praise him and to encourage each other, shouldn’t we be singing stuff that’s true? And by true I mean true.
So let’s honour our children by remembering it matters what they listen to and sing along to. Children are sponges (some more than others, as I’ve discovered), and will quickly learn the words to songs even if they have no concept of what they mean. So we should really be explaining things to them for a start, and also making sure we’re teaching them good stuff – dare I say it, sound doctrine.
Here are two examples. I don’t want to point fingers but I think it’s helpful to use examples. Both of these songs are written by people who have written some great stuff, so I’m not saying anything about them as people, but I have comments about these specific songs. Firstly, one from Hillsong kids:
It’s not a secret,
It’s not fairytale,
It’s not made up,
Jonah was in the whale,
For three whole days,
The greatest treasure,
The word God’s people wrote,
It’s in the bible,
Where Noah built a boat,
And it rained and rained,
The rainbow’s in the sky,
To show God’s promises are true,
The rainbow’s in the sky to show the world,
He’s the only way,
For your everyday.
OK. Firstly, Jonah has very little to do with Noah or rainbows. Why put him in the song? It’s confusing.
Secondly, the rainbow is in the sky to remind us that God will remember his promise not to flood the whole earth again, which is quite specific:
13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Genesis 9.
I suppose it does remind us that God’s faithful to that promise (and other promises), but I find the chorus a bit ambiguous. I’m not pinning all of my hopes on God because of a rainbow, but rather because of the resurrection.
And thirdly, “he’s the only way, for your everyday” (not sure if you mean every day or everyday, but that’s a different issue*) – Jesus is the only way to the Father. That’s a wonderful promise. I feel like “for your every day” is quite a vague (and disappointing) ending to this sentence. But OK, the song is about the rainbow (not John 14:6**), however the rainbow doesn’t really show me that God is the only way… does it? If it does I can’t see how, and not sure my children will figure it out either.
So all in all, I wouldn’t ban my kids from listening to this but I would want to talk to them about it, and to be honest I would just put something else on which is clearer and doesn’t mix up Bible stories. And again, Hillsong have written many good songs and I’m grateful to them and to God for that. Please don’t take this as an attack on them.
My other example is shorter. There’s a great CD called “Mr Cow” by Julia Plaut which has many good songs on it. However, the ten commandments one has the refrain “these ten rules are all you need” (in fact, that’s the name of the song). Well… if you mean they’re all you need except for the fact you can’t keep them and therefore you’re desperately lost and need a saviour, then yes I agree. But since my children are naturally legalistic (being human and all), I don’t want to affirm that by letting them think that ten rules are all they need. In contrast, Randall Goodgame’s Ten Commandments song is spot on:
“The ten commandments, no-one can keep them all,
The ten commandments, not even on our best behaviour…
The ten commandments, that’s why we need a saviour.” (from Sing the Bible 2).
I’d rather my children learnt this truth than that they actually learnt the ten commandments (which they will also do, from the song.)
So I hope I’m helping you to see that it really does matter what we teach our kids through music. Maybe this was obvious already? But when I’ve said stuff like this to friends they sometimes haven’t even thought about the words, so I hope it was worth mentioning.
Well I haven’t even got onto books yet. Perhaps we should make this a two parter….
(To be continued)
*Don’t get me started on everyday and every day! But I genuinely don’t know which they mean and that’s not their fault – I don’t have the official lyrics.
**Incidentally, if you want a good song about John 14:6 then Colin Buchanan’s is great (hoo cha hoo cha hoo cha cha). Does anyone know a good one about rainbows?