We all have something embarrassing in our pasts. All. Of. Us. Even though I like to believe that everyone else around me grew up in a charmed household, it’s simply not true. There’s always something from your past that embarrasses you or causes you to feel shame or you try to keep hidden from the rest of the world. It’s just human nature.
For me, it was the fact that I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything but Christian music throughout my childhood.
Listening to Christian music is so ingrained in me that it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve felt comfortable turning on the “secular” radio station when I’m in the car with my mom.
But Christian music is what I grew up on. Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Carmen, Rachael Lampa, Stacie Orrico, Jaci Velasquez, Plus One, Audio Adrenaline, dc Talk, Newsboys… this is what I listened to. This is all we listened to in my house. (Well, excluding my father who didn’t believe in God and tried to get me to love classic rock as much as he did… but I just wasn’t into it.)
I mean, of course, once my brother and I grew a little older, we sneaked in our secular music. I was partial, as all 90s girls were, to NSYNC and Britney and Christina and Backstreet Boys, but I knew in my heart that was not the kind of music a “good Christian girl” listened to, so I tried to hide it and remember throwing away my Christian Aguilera self-titled album in front of my mom to show her what a good little Christian I was.
And it wasn’t just Christian music that I consumed, but I also tried to stay away from specific movies and TV shows. And most of the books I read from the time I was a teenager until my early twenties were Christian books. In fact, I remember how much I struggled with feelings of guilt and shame when I would pick up a Harlequin romance, scurrying to the back of the library where they kept all of those paperbacks with the purple spines and silly titles and surreptitiously picking out a few romances to read. And then secretly reading them, feeling guilty, and telling myself that I would only read Christian fiction from here on out. Until I found myself, once again, at the back of the library, looking at those naughty-to-me romances.
And so it was this part of my life that always felt vastly different from my peers, especially during middle school and high school. Those are the times in your life when you need to connect with your friends more than ever, and I always felt a little different. Even my church friends (who I was never especially close to anyway) seemed to have a better grasp on pop culture than I did. They could listen to secular music and go to concerts and do all the things the so-called normal kids were doing. Me? I was different. Life for me was different.
For me, Christian music is what I grew up on, Christian music is what I love and what brings me the most peace, and, honestly, Christian music is still my favorite genre. It feels super vulnerable to admit that and to tell the world that I just really want to jam out to Chris Tomlin or Matthew West or Tenth Avenue North when I’m in my car, not Taylor Swift or Demi Lovato or Bruno Mars. It’s not cool, you know? It wasn’t even cool when I was growing up and surrounded by my church friends. And I was obsessed with trying to be cool when I was in my teens, even though I always failed miserably.
Sometime last year, I looked at my main Spotify playlist and realized it was filled with Christian music and I started to feel weird about it. Not because I didn’t love the music, but because I didn’t know if I truly believed in the message behind the words. A few years ago, I would have never questioned the message of my favorite Christian songs, but here I am now, wondering what faith means to me and if it’s authentic to be listening to Christian music. Because even though it brings me great joy and immense peace, do I even deserve that if I’m not sure if I believe in religion anymore?
And then a podcast entered my life. Specifically Good Christian Fun. Honestly, I didn’t know how much I needed this podcast in my life. The premise of this show is that they discuss one piece of Christian pop culture with each episode, whether that be a Christian movie like Fireproof or a Christian artist like Rebecca St. James. Basically, it’s my childhood in a nutshell and it’s so gratifying to relate so well to a podcast. To feel heard. To feel understood. Additionally, every week they bring on a guest to discuss the subject matter with them and before any discussion happens, the guest gives them their “guestimony” (guest + testimony) to talk about their faith background and where they are at with their faith today. It is these segments that have helped me to realize that struggling to come to terms with with the religion I was raised in and what I believe in now is just a part of the growing up process.
But it’s not just the guestimonies that feel so relatable, but also learning about the guest’s relationship to Christian and mainstream pop culture. One time they had a guest one who talked about how jealous she was of her friends who got to listen to secular music and go to concerts. Yes, yes, yes. I’m not the only one. It’s not just me who felt different from my peers. There are people who had the same upbringing as me, with parents (in my case, a parent) that was super strict with the type of media their children consumed and there was no questioning it.
Look, I don’t want to make my mom out to be a bad person because she wasn’t and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything just because I never went to an NSYNC concert. I’m not that much of an entitled brat. It was more of the fact that I couldn’t relate to my friends than it was of rebelling against my mom’s rules. I never really rebelled against them because I liked Christian music and books. I really did! I still enjoy Christian music and read the odd nonfiction Christian book every now and then.
And truthfully, I was so, so lucky to have a mother who cared about me so deeply that she closely monitored what I was consuming. I remember our conversations about the songs Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were singing, conversations that I remember scoffing at when I was a dumb 11-year-old, but now I can see the love and devotion in them. She wanted me to consume music that had the “right” message (which is subjective, I know), and she went to great lengths to help me understand the benefits of Christian music over pop music.
Good Christian Fun has truly been instrumental in helping me come to terms with my affinity for Christian pop culture, and especially my love for Christian music. It’s something that always used to embarrass me because I could never give a good answer for “who’s your favorite band?” and was always self-conscious about my “goody two-shoes Christian girl” answer. But there’s no use in being embarrassed about what we like, is there? So what if I enjoy Christian music more than mainstream pop? So what if I’m still trying to figure out what my faith means, even while singing along to a Chris Tomlin worship song? All that really matters is that we figure out what makes us feel good and at peace, no matter how other people may judge us for it.
Judge away. I’ll be over here dancing in my kitchen to Plus One’s debut album and laughing at all of the memories these songs bring up for me.