Some years ago I made a disparaging comment about Precious Moments figurines in a theology class. Immediately a hand shot up accompanied by a hurt expression and the comment, “But I love Precious Moments figurines!”
That isn’t the first time my cynical and iconoclastic streak stepped on somebody’s toes, and I suspect it won’t be the last. But everybody’s entitled to their opinions: I’ve just learned to be more diplomatic in how I express mine.
I say that as a preface to my extreme dislike for the popular David Crowder Band song “How He Loves Me.”
If you like this song, more power to you. (The fact that the video has more than 7 million views on YouTube suggests you have abundant company.) But I really don’t like this song for a couple reasons.
First, it isn’t a good song for corporate singing. It’s awkwardly paced and quickly leaves the silver haired congregants behind.
Second, if the pacing is awkward, the lyrics are even more so. I’ve never been a fan of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” romanticism of much contemporary Christian music. Twenty years ago when I was in university, I blinked in incredulity at the lyrics we were asked to sing in chapel. Sorry, but I’m not interested in singing about Jesus holding me in his “Arms of Love.” As an English major, I knew about 17th century poet John Donne’s blushing theocentric eroticism “Batter my heart, three person’d God“. And I’d read about medieval saints like Catherine of Siena undergoing a mystical marriage to Christ. But that didn’t make such themes any more palatable for me.
Even worse, the lyrics of “How He Loves Me” sound not only romantic, but also, to be frank, abusive. To begin with, the song is written in the style of personalized romanticism that one finds in nineties favorites like “Arms of Love”:
“And Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest…”
Incidentally, can you imagine a seventy year old man singing that lyric? When you’re that age, a heart that turns violently is a reason to call the paramedics.
But that’s not the worst of it. The romantic longing is accompanied by the fierce outbursts of the lover which are compared to a hurricane blasting the landscape:
“He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.”
Consider how easily this lyric could be construed as a manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome in which an abuse victim identifies with (and thus attempts to justify) their abuser.
To be sure, there are biblical portraits in which God looks more like a hurricane than a romantic consort (think, for example, of Job 38 ff.). And those images are ripe for theological reflection and discussion. But that doesn’t mean I want to sing a mashup in which God is portrayed as a roaring hurricane whose wrath is placated once I’m curled up in the fetal position on the floor.
“How He Loves Me” embodies several of the reasons I tend to find CCM alienating. It’s highly romanticized and individualistic: the emphasis is that he loves me rather than he loves us. And this individualism is manifested when, as I noted above, a twenty something worship leader expects that seventy year old to join in singing how his “heart turns violently inside of [his] chest”. To cap it off, the awkward pacing and disturbing juxtaposition of thundering rage with tender affection leaves me silently staring at the bulletin.