Parental Company in the Realm of Music

When I was about twelve, I was belting out a hit song in the shower: "Having my ba-a-aby. I’m a woman in love and I love what’s going through me. Having my ba-a-aby. What a lovely way to say how much you love me." Paul Anka's song was playing non-stop on the radio and the catchy tune engraved the words in my mind.

Leaving the bathroom, I overheard my parents talking (in Bangla, my mother tongue) "What is this 'having my baby' song?" Dad asked.

"Oh my goodness," Mom said. "Do you think she knows about what she is singing?"

Mortified, I realized how the words of the song had sounded to my parents' ears. I wasn't having anybody’s baby, for goodness' sake. Why, then, was I singing about it at the top of my lungs? Thanks to the magic of listening through my parent's ears, I was confronted with the absurdity of one particular song's lyrics.

As we accompany our children into the world of music, their own hearing is sharpened. Our presence in listening to their music as they first venture into pop culture, perhaps even more than our opinions, provides clarity in their own process of discernment. This means reading the lyrics on CD jackets and tuning into their radio station in the car. It may mean banning headphones, allowing them use of the family entertainment system, and staying in the vicinity while they listen. It might also mean discovering God already at work in popular music.

Remember Maltbie Babcock's hymn? "This is my Father’s world. He shines in all that’s fair." While Babcock might have been writing about nature or scenery, Richard Mouw applies the word "fair" more broadly in a book with the same title as the hymn. In an interview with Christianity Today, he made a case for God taking pleasure in some aspects of popular culture:
Common-grace thinking says clearly to me that God isn't exclusively focused on saving souls. Obviously, I don't know whether Barry Bonds is going to end up in heaven, but I think God likes it when he sees him hit a really fine home run. And I don't know whether Tom Hanks is going to end up in heaven, but I do believe that when I take delight in a good acting performance that I'm taking delight in something that God wants me to, that God himself delights in.

And so, while I care deeply about whether these people are going to be saved, my interest in them cannot be exhausted purely in soteriological (having to do with salvation) terms. I can enjoy good musical performances, good works of art, good pieces of writing, because I think God takes delight in them, because the God who called his creation good also says let there be good music and let there be good art, and on occasion looks down on the works of some unbeliever and says, "That's good; I like that."
A key part of our job, then, within the world of pop culture, is to discern with our kids when God might be saying, "That's good; I like that." Together, we go on the hunt for signs of beauty, truth, faith, and love, obeying St. Paul's wise counsel: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things." (Philippians 4:8) This is our diplomatic call, even in the realm of music.

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