How Tenth Avenue North Suprised Me

As I’m writing this I’m listening to Tenth Avenue North’s album, The Struggle. And I’m enjoying it. That really surprises me. Let me explain.

CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) is what you might call a “movement” that begun around the 70’s in response to the resurgence of interest in Christianity. Amidst the anti-authority cultural upheaval of those years a small band of people begun to “reclaim” what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. And their intentions were awesome. Guys like Keith Green rose up in the movement’s midst and really got things rolling. See here and here for more info if you’re interested.

Since most people won’t click through to those links (gasp!) I’ll give you a quick summary: things in CCM (the music part of the movement) got… well, bad.

Here’s what I mean. By the time the 90’s rolled around, Christians had got accustomed to having “Christian” music. “Listen to Rock and Roll? You must be crazy! I have all the Christian music I could ever want!” And maybe you see the issue with that: music was increasingly evaluated according to its Christian-ness and not its quality.

That’s not how art should work. Christians don’t get a free pass on their work because they’re singing about Jesus.

So what does that have to do with Tenth Avenue North? It means that my snobbish (I’d like to write: absolutey blameless) heart was disarmed as I listened to the whole album in one sitting. Its unabashedly “Christian” in content and theme, and yet… it is robust in its understanding of suffering! Such a surprise. And I’m so glad.

Just take a look at these lyrics (slashes are line breaks):

“We are free to struggle / We’re not struggling to be free”

“All I hear is what they’re selling me
That God is love; He’s isn’t suffering
And what you need is a little faith in prosperity
But oh my God I know there’s more than this
If You promise pain, it can’t be meaningless
So make me poor if it’s the price for freedom”

“We’re all strangers here,
So it’s alright if you can’t, / Stop the tears that you cry.”

“We take our secrets / To the grave
Spend our lives out in the shame
Afraid to show our needs”

“You break me to bind me
You hurt me, lord, to heal me
You cut me to touch me
You died to revive me
You break me to bind me
You hurt me, lord, to heal me
You cut me to touch me
You died to revive me”

If you’re not a Christian then I don’t expect some of those lyrics to make sense.

But as a disciple of Jesus, Mike Donehey’s musings give me an compelling starting place.

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