Monday, November 24, 2014

Shazam! Hallelujah!

My wife recently introduced a friend to the most important mobile-platform application ever devised. With this app you can instantly identify any recorded music overheard in any environment. No more "What is this song?!? I know I know this!" No more "Note to self: Remember to purchase this song hours after having heard it." No more delayed gratification or missed opportunity. Now there is only ... Shazam!

Shazam! Hallelujah!

Our friend was awestruck by the Shazam app. And rightly so. It is truly awesome. The world of sound, right there at your fingertips. You may be thankful for your friends or your family; me, I'm thankful for my app.*

There are some limitations though - or, to be fair, some limitations on the devices where this precious app is stored. Shazam! works by listening to broadcast music and comparing what it hears to a digital music database; if it can't hear the music, it can't make the match. So if your device is too far from the music source, or the volume on the music source is set too low, or if there are other ambient noises overwhelming the song, Shazam! can't identify it. When that happens your best bet is to lift your device up to the music.

This limitation can lead to some awkwardness. For example, imagine that you're in your favorite local coffee shop, and you hear an unfamiliar song piping through the PA. You don't know the song, but you like it, so you Shazam! it. Unfortunately, you're sitting right next to one of those ubiquitous men's Bible study groups crowding every coffee house. They're all "Bro" this and "I just wanna" that, with their big macho Bible study voices, and Shazam! can't hear the music. So you raise your hands in the air, as you might in an act of worship, and you try again.

Shazam! "The HIV Song." You just worshiped Ween.

Not really, of course, but it does strike me as funny how the songs we invest ourselves in carry messages that, in another context, we would never admit to believing. If songs of the people (which is, essentially, what pop songs are) mirror the moment in which they're written, then they do in fact reflect what we're preoccupied with. And frankly it's not a big leap from preoccupation to idolatry. In these ways, the pop songs we find ourselves humming to, find ourselves laying down money for, tell the truth about us in uncomfortable ways. Who can deny what we learn about ourselves when we learn what song has burrowed its way into our brain? Shazam! "I wanna be a billionaire so freakin' bad ..."

TWEET THIS: It's not a big leap from preoccupation to idolatry.

Our money, our power, our prestige, our friends, our family, our Bible studies, our Bibles, our coffee, our apps, ourselves - all of these have the capacity to lead us into idolatry. We bend our knees before all of them without stopping to consider the cost; we close our eyes to their shortcomings, their incapacity to do what we expect idols to do - to save us from ruin and misery and worse. All of these are songworthy; none of these is worship-worthy. Sometimes it takes Shazam! to catch us in the act.

I'm not freaking out about idolatry, for what it's worth. If everybody does it all the time, it's hardly worth freaking out about. But still, being reminded that we're doing it is a gift: it's an opportunity to redirect our focus, to let our idols off the hook and let them be simply human - or simply things, as the case may be. Idolatry is silly; the Bible demonstrates just how silly it is:

The carpenter ... makes an idol
and bows down to it.
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
“Save me! You are my god!” ...
No one stops to think,
no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
I even baked bread over its coals,
I roasted meat and I ate. ...
Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” (Isaiah 44)
If it's silly, we can laugh at it. And if we can laugh at it, it loses its power.

TWEET THIS: If it's silly, we can laugh at it. And if we can laugh at it, it loses its power.

So I'm not complaining; I'm just pointing out something funny. I'll leave you with my most recent accidental act of idolatry, a song I discovered via Shazam! when I lifted my iPhone up to the heavens. Hope you like it.

*For the record, I'm thankful for friends and family too. Relax.

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