In 2003, the #1 country hit for seven consecutive weeks was a song called Have You Forgotten. Written in the midst of the nationwide debate over a potential invasion of Iraq, it came to give voice to the perspective of middle America:
I hear people saying, “We Don’t need this war!”
But I say there’s some things worth fighting for.
What about our freedom and this piece of ground?
We don’t get to keep them by backing down
They say we don’t realize the mess we’re getting in
Before you start your preaching let me ask you this my friend:
Have you forgotten how it felt that day,
To see your homeland under fire and her people blown away?
Have you forgotten when those towers fell?
We had neighbors still inside going through a living hell.
And you say we shouldn’t worry about Bin Laden,
Have you forgotten?
The events of September 11 caused tremendous trauma and uncertainty for all Americans, forever altering our perception of invincibility. For folks in small town USA, an important piece of the healing process was found through the country music that followed. Right, wrong, or otherwise, songs like Have You Forgotten wielded the power of music to both reflect AND shape culture. The pro-intervention mindset that already defined red state politics is mirrored without ambiguity, but there’s something more. As millions of people throughout the flyover states listened to and sang along with these words on repeat, a powerful idea took hold – that opposing an invasion of Iraq is equivalent to forgetting 9/11. My objective at this point is not to venture into the politics of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but to simply observe and stand amazed at the unmatched power of music to simultaneously reflect AND create a culture’s worldview.
The three songs below have a LOT in common – they were all written at nearly the same time, all by white male country music stars, all in response to September 11. But think about the vastly different influence that each of these songs would have. The aforementioned Have You Forgotten drives toward a political end of military intervention. Toby Keith’s absurd Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue gleefully pictures the targets of an American counterstrike with “the whole wide world raining down on you.” And Alan Jackson’s beautiful and poignant When the World Stopped Turning is a simple reflection leading up to a call to love (I’m not even pretending to be neutral, am I?). As an 8th grader in the middle of country music territory at the time of the attacks, I realized that I learned a LOT about a guy based on which of these songs he liked best.
It is a dynamic that can be observed universally – from nightclubs to churches, rural ranching communities to Compton, from Nebraska to Newfoundland to Nigeria and back again. Music gives voice to a culture’s ideals while establishing new territory or creating an ethos behind those values.
This is why music is so important in the life of a gospel congregation. The words being sung are a revealing component of the true doctrinal priorities of a church. But they’re even more than that – the lyrics burrow themselves deeply into the hearts and minds of members in such a way that they play an active role in forming the future culture of the church. A congregation who sings halfheartedly will eventually become one who is halfhearted in their zeal for the Lord and His mission. Experience-driven lifestyles will manifest themselves among the regular participants of experience-driven worship services. On the positive side, enthusiastic singing of theologically robust truths will bear fruit in more nooks and crannies of congregational life than you could ever imagine.
In the next post, I’ll share the impact of a few powerful songs in my own life and thinking, so stay tuned!